Even today, 38 years later, Joe Girardi feels his body tense up as he recalls the sight of the red and blue lights flashing in his rearview mirror.
It was June 26, 1984, and he was driving at breakneck speed down Interstate 80 somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania.
Shaking, 19-year-old Girardi slowed down, pulled to the curb and watched in his rearview mirror as the Pennsylvania State Trooper walked to the car.
Girardi was in a hurry, driving west in the 1984 Ford Tempo he bought with the money he’d saved over years by making a paper route — ask your parents, kids — and his dad Ziegel had helped with the laying at the weekend.
The need for speed was so great that day that Girardi caught up behind another speeding car and let it cede the lead.
“Ninety-five, one hundred,” says Girardi now. “That was the fastest ride I’ve ever ridden in my life. I didn’t even know my car drove that fast. I just caught the guy in front of me.”
His emotions changed just as quickly when the policeman got to his car and said, “Wait here. I’ll get the other one.”
The trooper pulled away, pedaling, lights flashing.
For an agonizing hour, Girardi sat on the shoulder of I-80 somewhere in central Pennsylvania. The policeman told him to wait and he did just that.
“I’ve always been a Rules follower,” he said.
Finally the soldier returned.
To this day, Girardi doesn’t know what the guy looked like, how old he seemed to be or anything.
“I was too exhausted,” he said.
But he can still hear the man’s voice.
“What you are doing?” the trooper asked the boy in the red Ford Tempo, who had never had a ticket in his life.
“I’m trying to get home to see my mother before she dies,” Girardi told the police officer.
The man looked at the child. For a few seconds there was silence.
“I’ll let you go,” the policeman said. “Slow it down.”
Even as his baseball team struggled to win consistently and all the sleepless disappointment that comes with it, earlier this week — Mother’s Day week — Girardi was able to recall that story and that long-ago act of kindness.
June 1984 was in many ways the best time for Girardi. He had just completed a great sophomore year at Northwestern University at Plate and Beyond and was now playing for the Cotuit Kettleers in the prestigious Cape Cod League.
But other than that it was the worst ever. Two weeks after driving his red Ford Tempo to the Cape, Girardi received a call from his father, Jerry, from his home in Peoria, Illinois. His mother’s six-year battle with cervical cancer had taken a terrible turn. She had developed meningitis and was hospitalized. She withered. She couldn’t speak. Come quickly.
It’s more than 1,100 miles from Cape Cod to Peoria, 311 of them in Pennsylvania, the state where he now works. Despite his hour-long pit stop on I-80, Girardi arrived at his family’s home late in the evening of June 26. The next day he went to the hospital and held his mother’s hand.
“Don’t forget me,” she said.
Those were the last words Angela Girardi ever spoke. She died the next day at the age of 48.
Joe Girardi’s eyes filled with emotion as he recalled his final moments with his mother.
She was a superstar, a child psychologist who worked to the end, often offering free services to families who couldn’t afford it. She and Jerry raised five children, two doctors, an accountant, a college math professor, and an engineer/baseballman who earned four World Series rings as a player and manager.
As Mother’s Day approached, Joe Girardi recalled the series of sandwiches his mom would make each morning as the kids got going.
“Ten of them,” he said.
Three for Joe?
“Four,” he said, laughing. “I always need one before training.”
And the uniforms. Angela always washed uniforms for her children. And she rarely missed any of her games. She and Jerry would be driving from Peoria to Chicago to see Joe play for Northwestern. When he saw the car pull up, his heart jumped with joy. When it didn’t show up, he knew Mom was having a rough day.
Joe loved baseball and his mother always knew how badly he wanted to play in the major leagues.
But in his sophomore year as a pro, in 1987, while playing for a Cubs minor league club in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Joe considered quitting. He actually shared his thoughts with his old friend Pete Mackanin, who had been his manager the year before.
Looking back, Girardi now believes he considered quitting because he never really grieved after his mother’s death three years ago. He sat in the red Ford Tempo the day after the funeral and drove back to Cape Cod. He went back 4 for 5 his first game. Then it was two more years at Northwestern, more baseball, and of course the engineering degree he’d promised his mother.
“My grandfather died while I was playing for Winston-Salem and I don’t think my mother’s death really affected me until then,” Girardi said. “I was just really desperate about everything that was going on. I had a college degree and was making $900 a month. My mom just wanted her kids to be successful and she loved baseball. I used to think I was playing to keep her alive to give her hope. A few years after she died, I started thinking, ‘Why am I playing?’”
Kim, his girlfriend and wife of 32 years, had the answer.
“You play because God gave you a gift,” she told him.
Two years later, Girardi was in the big leagues.
It still hurts that his mother never saw him doing it, it still hurts that she never met his wife and three children.
But the memories are wonderful.
Especially this weekend when we’re all remembering our moms and the sandwiches they made and the uniforms they washed and the love and support they gave.
Joe Girardi managed to say goodbye to his mother on time, managed to hear her last words on time.
“Do not forget me.”
And all these years later, he hasn’t forgotten the Pennsylvania State Trooper who gave him a much-needed break along the way.
“I’ve often wondered who this guy was and wondered how I could find out,” Girardi said. “I just want to say thank you to him.”
https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/sports/nbcsports/on-mothers-day-joe-girardi-gratefully-recalls-act-of-kindness-from-pa-state-trooper/3231680/ On Mother’s Day, Joe Girardi remembers an act of kindness from Pa. State Troopers – NBC10 Philly