Extra innings: Batboy column a base for link to father

11/19/2012
BY THOMAS WALTON
BLADE COLUMNIST
The 1948 Zanesville Dodgers celebrate their Ohio-Indiana League championship with batboy George Eistetter, center. Richard Meyers is the third player from the right, behind the head and left shoulder of the man in the jacket.
The 1948 Zanesville Dodgers celebrate their Ohio-Indiana League championship with batboy George Eistetter, center. Richard Meyers is the third player from the right, behind the head and left shoulder of the man in the jacket.

My column back in July about Toledoan George Eistetter, who was a batboy for the Zanesville Dodgers in 1948, has led to a happy set of circumstances for a Texas man who now knows a lot more about his father.

Shortly after the column appeared, I received an email from Billy Stanford in Bridgeport, Texas. He said he believed a man named Richard Meyers played for the ’48 Dodgers and that Mr. Meyers was the father he never knew.

Long story short: Mr. Stanford’s mother and Mr. Meyers fell in love while Mr. Meyers was playing for a team in Asheville, N.C., the previous year. She worked for Bell Telephone; he hoped for a career in the major leagues. She became pregnant and the two planned to marry. It wasn’t to be. The young couple could not get his parents’ approval.

Brokenhearted, Mr. Stanford’s mother eventually returned to her home in Oklahoma. Mr. Meyers was traded to the Dodgers’ organization. He landed in Zanesville in 1948, where 10-year-old Mr. Eistetter was the batboy.

Mr. Stanford was born in Oklahoma. His mother married a man young Billy grew up believing was his father.

He learned the truth only three years ago, at age 60, from relatives because his mother and her husband had taken their secret to their graves.

Mr. Stanford has been searching ever since, mostly on the Internet, for information about his real father. He had Googled the Asheville Tourists and Zanesville Dodgers, and up popped my July 16 column in The Blade. He quickly got in touch.

I forwarded Mr. Stanford’s email to Mr. Eistetter, who was delighted by the inquiry and eager to make contact with Mr. Stanford. They soon communicated by email and in a long telephone conversation. The kid who took care of Mr. Meyers’ bats all those years ago filled in a lot of blanks for Mr. Stanford.

“He [Mr. Stanford] was very pleasant to talk to,” Mr. Eistetter said. “He had prepared a list of questions to ask me, mostly to do with physical traits and personality, including the shade of his father’s hair.”

Mr. Stanford had contacted the team in Asheville and bought a book about the history of baseball in the North Carolina city. “The book has a couple of pictures of him,” Mr. Stanford said. “My wife and I were amazed to see the resemblance between the two of us, including the blond hair.”

Mr. Stanford attributes his own athletic skills in baseball and basketball — and winning scholarships to play collegiate sports — to the genetic contributions of his biological father.

Mr. Meyer’s baseball skills were impressive. Baseball-Reference.com lists his 1948 statistics with the Zanesville Dodgers: He hit .280 in 138 games, with 154 hits, including 30 doubles, eight triples, and four home runs. That was his best year as a pro.

Fortunately for Mr. Stanford, Mr. Eistetter has kept a treasure trove of photos and newspaper clippings from that magical season in 1948 when the Dodgers won the Ohio-Indiana League championship. He scanned and emailed several of them to Mr. Stanford in Texas.

One of those photos ran with my column in July. It appears again today.

Is Mr. Meyers still alive? What a great chapter that reunion would have made to a fascinating story, but the old ballplayer died in Minnesota in 1996. Mr. Stanford was able to track down the man’s widow, but she is quite elderly and not able to provide much information.

Understandably, Mr. Stanford wishes he had learned about his mother’s romance in North Carolina before Mr. Meyers’ death.

“Absolutely I would have liked the opportunity to meet him and visit with him,” he said. “I guess it was a family secret.”

Mr. Stanford was born in December, 1948, meaning he was probably conceived in March. His mother returned to Oklahoma from North Carolina in the fall, seven months pregnant.

Mr. Meyers spent that summer playing third base for Zanesville. There is no indication from Mr. Stanford’s older family members, including his mother’s aunts, that Mr. Meyers ever contacted Mr. Stanford’s mother or inquired about the boy.

Regrettably, Mr. Stanford has no proof, no lock of hair from Mr. Meyers, for example, to establish a DNA link. “That remains my one lingering doubt.”

So Mr. Stanford continues his quest to learn everything he can about a man who in all likelihood was his father. His search has been helped along considerably by George Eistetter’s memories of a hitter named Dick Meyers.

Thomas Walton is the retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Monday. Contact him at: twalton@theblade.com