Remembering a good man

Ernest Loren Maiocco, a Korean War veteran and a damn good person, died late Monday night . . . on Memorial Day.

I could tell you he was four months shy of turning 80, but that wouldn’t begin to describe the struggles he waged over the final stages of his life when he was in and out of hospitals with a multitude of health issues.

 

In sports we talk about a player’s toughness when he returns to the field a couple weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery. I watched my father demonstrate for 20 years a remarkable determination to live — to continue to be a husband, father and grandfather – that makes anything I’ve witnessed on the athletic field appear trivial by comparison.

 

Please allow me stray from the usual talk of the 49ers to share with you some thoughts about the man I was lucky enough to have as my father.

 

The son of Italian immigrants, my father loved sports. Unquestionably my lifelong passion for sports was handed down to me. I got it from my dad, and he got it from his father.

 

I never met my grandfather, who died eight years before I was born, but I’m told he was big fan of baseball. It’s funny how certain things do not change through generations. My grandfather would come in from working the fields in a farming community in Northern California, position himself on the cool linoleum floor, turn on the radio and listen to summer baseball games.

 

My grandmother would hear my grandfather snoring and she would turn off the radio, prompting him to spring awake and declare, “Hey! I was listening to that!” My grandfather did that; my father did that; I have most definitely done the same thing . . . and I’m almost positive my two older brothers carry on the tradition, too.

 

Many of my childhood memories are wrapped around sports. We had the ritual of the 360-mile roundtrip drive from our home in Richfield (near Corning on Interstate 5) to Candlestick Park to watch the Giants play a doubleheader – back when they actually played scheduled doubleheaders.

 

My father was no passive viewer, either. There might be a certain inherent serenity to the sport of baseball, but that calmness did not exist in my dad’s world. Every pitch of every game was serious business.

 

Shortly after the Giants’ 2002 collapse in the World Series against the Angels, my high-school friend Dave called. I’ll always remember one thing he said: “As disappointed as we are, the people I feel sad for the most are the older Giants fans like your father and mine.”

 

My dad closely followed the 49ers on Sundays. During the week he’d keep tabs via a certain reporter who covers the team. He always sounded excited to receive my phone calls from press boxes across America. While the 49ers were his diversion during the fall and winter months, there was no question that Giants baseball was his sporting passion.

 

As much as we spoke about sports and the Giants, we never discussed Games 6 or 7 of the 2002 World Series. Never. We suspended all dialogue about the World Series after Game 5 with the Giants comfortably in control.

 

That’s just the way it was. We talked about many things but left other topics completely untouched. In that way, my father was a study in contrasts.

 

He was a strict disciplinarian and authority figure as a father when we were growing up. He later became a best friend to each of his three boys and a doting grandfather who would have done anything to spoil his five grandchildren.

 

He was a hard-working man who earned and coveted every dime; yet he was exceedingly generous when it came to assisting family members or donating to his favorite charitable organizations.

 

I’ve never known a person more tough than my father; yet he was also a big softie. He regularly took in abandoned pets. When he finally found one of his kittens, which had wandered away and was unable to escape after getting stuck in a hole, he openly wept.

 

My father served as a signalman on an aircraft carrier for the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. He did not speak much about his experience – always downplaying his contribution and deflecting any recognition. I find it extremely appropriate he passed away on Memorial Day.

 

I asked him several years ago why he didn’t talk a lot about his service to our country. His answer: “I was never in on the action. I didn’t do much.”

 

Another thing about my father: You couldn’t argue with him. I did not say a word. But I know the truth.

 

He did far more than he could have ever known.

 

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The Ernest L. Maiocco Scholarship Fund in my dad’s memory c/o Butte Community Bank, 950 Highway 99W, Corning, CA 96021. The fund will annually provide assistance for a deserving Corning High School baseball player to attend college.

 

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