Remembering Walt Szarlacki

When Walt passed away, now five years ago, I didn't really get to write anything, and I feel that I should rectify that. Although we were not blood relatives, we always saw each other at family gatherings from early childhood. Two of my uncles married two of his aunts, and we shared a creepy cousin that we always talked about because he scared the crap out of us. 

Walt played football and basketball at BK, but I don't think he was ever on the baseball team, and that always surprised me. We played in the same little league, which played on the very field now occupied by Bishop Kearney High School. Walt was the Nolan Ryan of that league. He already had adult velocity and could even throw breaking balls. When the rest of us weren't playing against him, we would take every opportunity to watch him pitch. One of the big thrills of my life was hitting a ball over the outfielders in my first at bat against him. He totally had me overpowered with the first pitch. I had never faced anyone that fast. I knew he was going to strike me out, so I resolved to at least take some full cuts and not be a wimp. On his second pitch, I desperately started my swing before the ball left his hands, and accidentally made square contact! I was so shocked that I just stood frozen in the batter's box while everyone was shouting for me to run. (There were no fences on that field, so no automatic homers.) I managed to stretch that homer into a double, with my teammates unable to decide whether to cheer for my unexpected contact or laugh at my inept baserunning!  Of course, that hit was pure luck.  I batted several more times that game and never got within two feet of a pitch!

You can kind of get a feel for how he stood apart from mere mortal youth by looking at his eighth grade picture. 

There is Walt in the center of that Christ the King class, standing literally half a head taller than anyone else, just as he figuratively stood far above us in little league. He was already an adult, movie-star handsome, looking more like one of the teachers than a student.

For all his talent (yes, he was also a top student), Walt was a modest guy and he seemed almost insecure. I once asked him why he never pitched in high school, and he mumbled something about Rip Coleman and Fred Bleier being so good that he didn't really feel he could get much playing time. He was that way about everything. I was always amazed to see how shy he was around women. He had almost no confidence, despite his talent, looks, brains, and the fact that he was always good company. That was Walt. He seemed to be good at everything, but he just went about it quietly and sincerely, smiling and having fun.

Even though neither of us stayed in Rochester, I ran into him many times after graduation when Pat Shatzel or Dan Young would bring a group together to play golf and/or consume vast quantities of adult beverages, both of which we did while laughing all the way. Above all else, Walt was just a good guy, and I wish he was here now, teeing it up or sitting in the next bar stool.

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