Thompson: What Ted Williams left behind

From Wright Thompson at on May 5, 2015:

Claudia Williams found comfort wearing her dad’s favorite red flannel shirt. It smelled like him. Time frayed the threads, pulled apart seams, and years ago the shirt went into a safe. She keeps many things locked away. In a closet next to her garage, her father’s Orvis 8.3-foot, 7-weight graphite fly rod leans on a wall. His flies are safe too, and she can see his hands in the bend of the knots. She feels closest to him fishing but has been only once or twice since he died. Nearby, pocketknives rust at their hinges. His old leather suitcase is there too, in its final resting place after years of trains, ballparks and hotel rooms.

Ted Williams’ daughter Claudia Williams shares some of her father’s favorite treasures — from baseball memorabilia to fishing gear. Henry Leutwyler for ESPN Magazine

Her husband, Eric Abel, comes home from running errands. He’d been through the safes and the storage unit they keep filled to its 10-foot ceiling, hunting for the flannel shirt. She is laughing in the kitchen, a lazy Sunday morning. Eric takes a breath and enters the room. “First of all, Claudia,” he says slowly, “let me apologize; I don’t know what we’ve done with that shirt.”

Suddenly quiet and hiding now, she says, “I don’t wanna think about it,” as one more piece of her father slips away.

SHE IS HIDING from loss, and from regret, hiding from her family’s past, which is always operating the strings of her daily life. Whenever she lets herself go back, she ends up at the same place: the beginning. Ted Williams’ mother gave him nothing but a name, and as soon as he grew old enough, he gave it back, changing Teddy on his birth certificate to the more respectable Theodore. He longed to rewrite the facts of his life. His father drifted on the edge of it. His mother, May, was obsessed with her work at the Salvation Army, abandoning her own kids, and the descriptions of his lonely life exist in many accounts, most notably biographies by Ben Bradlee Jr. and Leigh Montville. San Diego neighbors would watch Ted and his younger brother Danny, 8 and 6, sitting alone on the front porch late into the night. The anger that dominated both their lives started there, on those lonely evenings outside 4121 Utah St., waiting for their mom to come home. May Williams never saw her son play a major league game, even though she lived through his entire career. When she died, 11 months after he hit a home run in his final at-bat, he went through her things and gathered up family photographs. He tore them into pieces and threw the pieces away.

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Originally published: May 6, 2015. Last Updated: May 6, 2015.