Search for father's voice yields surprising results

Jan. 01, 2014 @ 07:45 AM

Somewhere out there, in some forgotten box or a dusty closet or seldom-visited warehouse, lies a 50-year-old reel of audio tape of an interview with the pitching coach of the Chicago Cubs.

The tape exists.

Leigh Ann Young remains certain of that.

The News-Topic carried a story last January about her quest to find a recording of her father, Verlon “Rube” Walker, a baseball player from Lenoir best known as the pitching coach of the Cubs from 1961 to just before the 1971 season. He died at age 42, eight days before Young turned 3. Young, 45, has no memory of him.

When she started her search, she thought finding the tape would be mostly a matter of getting the attention of the Chicago Cubs, or Chicago-area radio stations. Since January, she has gotten more attention than she ever expected.

She has been interviewed by Chicago-area radio stations. Her story has appeared in magazines and on websites aimed at baseball fans and sports collectors. ESPN’s Keith Olbermann devoted more than five minutes to her story in November – which in turn brought a call from the Associated Press.

“It went into virtually every major newspaper in the country,” Young said.

Though she has not found the tape, 2013 was a year of discovery. Everywhere her story gets retold, she makes new connections. People reach out, such as the daughters of two other coaches.

“They were a little bit older than me, so they remember my dad and were able to tell me some stories about him,” she said.

Some who contacted her were women who lost their fathers at a young age and who identified with her quest. Some were touched by her tales of her parents’ love story. Some were baseball fans who revered the ‘60s as a better era for the game. One man in the Chicago area heard her story and dug out an old program that Walker had autographed, and he sent it to her.

“So much has happened, and it all builds on itself,” Young said.

“I still haven’t found the recording, but I’ve found so much more.”

Through all the talking and all the connecting, hearing stories about her father and hearing so many memories, she has felt a growing bond with her father. “I kind of built him layer by layer,” she said.

“There are moments when I touch his memory or I feel him, and I miss him, which is not a feeling I had before,” she said.

And last month, a startling thing happened, Young wrote on her blog, “Baseball Love Story”:

“I dreamed of him. We were sitting in a blue pickup truck drinking coffee. He was wearing a light brown hunting jacket with a dark brown corduroy collar. One hand on the wheel, the other holding a Styrofoam cup. Steam rising. He was laughing. … It felt real. It was warm like flesh and breath.”

And there’s something else. Through Young, former players have reconnected with teammates they hadn’t seen in years. She has stitched back together a measure of the sports family that her father was part of.

“I became a connection for some. I became in the role of my father,” she said. “It’s a side journey I helped with, and in that I felt I became my father’s voice.”

Young still searches for the tape. More and more, though, she can hear her father’s voice in herself.