KEN BLAZE for ESPN.com Matt Stone, reflected in an image of his younger self with Tony Lucadello, finds it easier to deal with the past now that his son is playing ball.
KEN BLAZE for ESPN.com Stone and son Tyler, 7, pose with the beginnings of their new wall.
By Gare Joyce Special to ESPN.com WAYNE, Ohio -- The clay in Matt Stone's backyard doesn't make for easy digging. The wet weather lately has worked against him, and the pain in his right shoulder doesn't help either. No matter. He has been bent over a shovel since he got home from his shift in the custodial department at Bowling Green State University. He has to dig a trench for the foundation of a cinder-block wall he wants to put up before winter sets in. Five feet high, three feet wide. Standing all by itself, attached to nothing except memory.
Look around. Cornfields on one side, wheat fields on another. The neighbor's house well, you couldn't throw a baseball that far. Maybe Stone could have back when, but that's another story. That's for later. Point is, out here a couple of miles outside of Wayne, Ohio, there's not much use for fences, let alone a wall. Matt, his wife, Courtney, and their son, Tyler, have all the privacy they want. "I remember when my father built me my wall in the backyard," Stone says as he shovels. "It took him a few days and about 80 bucks in materials. This is gonna be just like it."
Stone doesn't have a blueprint to work from. Doesn't need one. After all, he spent thousands of hours over eight years in front of that wall. Every afternoon after school he was in his backyard, throwing baseballs against it, making his arm stronger, working on his fielding. That was the soundtrack of his youth, the drumbeat of baseballs smacking those cinder blocks.
Maybe you have a hard time visualizing what this wall is going to look like. If you do, go over to the mantel inside the Stones' house and you'll find this picture a photo of Stone, age 9, in a Wayne Little League uniform, smiling. Behind him, with an arm around his shoulder, is an owlish old man. The lenses of his glasses are as big as baseball cards and the brim of his houndstooth hat is pushed down. The Reds are the local favorite in Wayne, but the man is wearing a maroon jacket with a Phillies patch. He isn't looking at the camera. He's looking at the kid, proudly. The old man came up with the idea for the wall, and not just for Stone. He had a vision. He wanted a wall in the backyard of every kid who wanted to be a ballplayer. He also might have been the greatest scout in baseball history.
KEN BLAZE for ESPN.com Jason Myers, shown at the Tony Lucadello Monument at Meadowlark Park in Fostoria, frequently visits the baseball diamond where he starred as a teen.
Walls of secrets This is a story about walls. The wall that Stone's father built him and the one Stone is now building for his son. Walls in Fostoria, Ohio, where the scout lived. Walls in other towns in Ohio and other states where the scout convinced a parent or a coach that he was onto something.
This is a story about other walls, too. The walls people put up around themselves when they don't want to talk about or even think about the most horrible things. Walls they hide behind for years, where family and friends can't venture. Walls made of emotions as cold and hard as bricks.
Sometimes these walls hide something dark, even sinister. That's not what was behind the walls in this story. No, if you went behind these walls, all you would have found was unbearable sadness.
For Stone, the other walls are tumbling down. You wouldn't suspect Stone was ever a troubled soul or that there were conflicts or darkness he tried to keep in he looks as innocent and happy as the boy in the photo, still the same gap-toothed smile, not even the hint of a worry line. "For years I tried to block things out," he says. "The hurt. The disappointment. But now I've come to terms with it. Every day it seems like I remember something else from that time. Things we did they come pouring out."
It's the same way for Jason Myers. His parents built him a wall in their backyard in Fostoria almost 20 years ago. Then, one day, the other walls went up and shut out anyone who tried to reach him. "It's taken me a lot of years to figure out what happened and how it affected me," he says.
Myers seems more freshly pressed than stressed. Clean-cut. Soft-spoken. So self-assured he almost seems serene. He looks like the first guy you'd call if there was trouble to shoot, if there was a situation to get under control. So it might seem inevitable that he'd end up as an executive with the manufacturing business that his great-grandfather started in Fostoria. The offices are across the railroad tracks from the grain elevators on the south edge of town. Just a couple hundred yards away is the baseball diamond where he starred as a teenager, throwing shutouts and no-hitters for St. Wendelin Catholic High School and attracting the attention of the scout. Some days he heads over to the diamond to catch a high school game or even a practice. Other times he goes over just to reflect.
Chicago Tribune/Courtesy of Lucadello family Unlike other professional scouts, Tony Lucadello kept a low profile at the ballpark.
The field is named after the scout. Lucadello Field. And there's a monument that stands behind the dugout on the third-base side, a gray stone slab with a bronze plate that reads: Tony LucadelloPhillies scoutbaseball's friend
"I can still see him," Myers says, standing beside the monument, looking around the grounds, no sounds other than the low rumble of trains running through town. "Tony would come to the park in his Caprice. He'd be wearing his houndstooth hat and a blazer. Sometimes he'd stand out behind the outfield fence, other times behind the dugouts. He'd move around. He'd be looking under the stands for change that fell out of people's pockets. Sometimes you wouldn't see him but you knew he was there you'd see the car but not him, and afterwards one of us would see a scrap of paper, notes he was keeping, and we'd say, 'We know he was here, but where was he?'" Myers remembers other scouts coming out to games. They'd make a big production of taking their seats down in the first row, right behind the screen. They'd pull out their radar guns and made sure that the people sitting next to them could see the team logos on their clipboards. They'd do everything but pass out business cards and take bows. Show-offs. Thought they were celebrities. Myers says Tony Lucadello didn't fit that profile or any other profile, really. It wasn't just that he had no use for a radar gun or that he seemed to go anywhere but those seats behind the screen. No, Myers says, Lucadello's manner set him apart from all the rest. "It was his values. Tony was the type of man you just don't see anymore. A gentleman, dignified, polite, well-mannered, patient, caring. He is a character that has disappeared in baseball in Fostoria in society. The game, this town, everything it's all different now." It's true. He lived in the bygone era. He was the bygone era.
KEN BLAZE for ESPN.com For one season, Tony Lucadello was a pro ballplayer for the Fostoria Redbirds in Ohio. David Eckstein of the '30s Baseball brought Lucadello to Fostoria in the spring of '36. He was the shortstop for the Fostoria Redbirds of the Ohio State League, Class D. The Redbirds, the Ohio State League, Class D, the town's ballpark all long gone. All that's left are thin rolls of microfilm of the town's long-lived paper, The Daily Review, in the archive of the Fostoria library. That's where you have to go to get the story of Lucadello's single season as a pro ballplayer.
His name first appeared in the paper the week before Opening Day: TONY 'Texie' LUCADELLO, shortstop. Age 18, height 5 feet 7, weight 148 pounds. Born in Texas but home is now in Chicago. Played on four straight championship teams in Chicago semi-pro circles and won individual batting honors three years. Last spring had a tryout with Grand Forks of the Northern League. Worked out this spring with the Chicago Cubs.
You can piece together exactly what type of player he was from the box scores and stories on the microfilm: He was your great-grandfather's David Eckstein, a player who was in the middle of everything, making something happen all the time. In one game against Fremont in May that season, Lucadello went 6-for-7 as a leadoff man, with two doubles and a stolen base. He carried a .330 average through the first month and the team vied for first place in the six-team league. The feisty side comes out in footnotes like this one from June 17: Tony Lucadello, the smallest player on the Fostoria team, won the single honor of being the first player banished from a ball game this season. Tony protested a called third strike a bit too vehemently and umpire Al Jones chased him from the ballpark.
His younger brother Johnny joined the team in mid-summer, but soon after that Fostoria started to fade from the pennant race. Tony's average dropped below .300 by September, when the Redbirds were playing out the string, when the Redbirds' parent club, the St Louis Cardinals, told him that he didn't figure in the organization's plans beyond the season. Still, he went out a winner. The last two games that season, both exhibitions, Fostoria beat the Buffalo Titans, a Negro League team, and Columbus, the Cardinals' Triple A affiliate. By that time Johnny had already gone back to Chicago to finish his senior year of high school. Tony stayed on in Fostoria. He liked what he saw around town, landed a factory job. He met a girl, Virginia, who worked at Edison's Drugstore. He set about a patient courtship. It couldn't have gone more slowly. He dropped by the drugstore, supposedly just to buy stamps. Every day. For weeks. And months. Finally she said: "All these stamps you buy and you never send letters." That's how marriages with a lifetime guarantee used to start. 15 unlikely minutes of fame Jason Myers knows those stories of old Fostoria. He heard Tony Lucadello tell them at the ballpark. Sometimes Myers and his father would go over to the Lucadellos' home and sit in Tony's office for hours while he talked about baseball and the good old days. KEN BLAZE for ESPN.com Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt was one of Lucadello's top discoveries.
Lucadello could have been one of those baseball men who works anonymously for decades, recognized by those in his organization and his peers, known by coaches at colleges and high schools in his region, but otherwise just another name in a team's media guide. But a funny thing happened late in his long career. Tony Lucadello became a national figure. It started when his most famous find and favorite player, Mike Schmidt, hit his 500th homer in April 1987. To celebrate the occasion Schmidt and the Phillies invited Lucadello to Philadelphia. Though he had worked for the Phillies for a couple of decades and for the Cubs for a couple of decades before that, the scout had attended, by his reckoning, less than a dozen major-league games. He didn't do that type of scouting. He knew every high school diamond in Ohio and Michigan and Pennsylvania. He didn't know which gate to go through at the home ballpark of the team that signed his checks. After Schmidt shook hands with Lucadello and posed for a photograph with him beside the Philadelphia dugout, reporters asked Schmidt, "Who's the little guy in the hat?" When Schmidt told them this was the scout who signed him, the reporters pounced on what they thought was a good story. In about 10 minutes they realized this was a great story. Here was a walking, talking slice of baseball history. How far back did he go? The first major leaguer Lucadello signed was his brother Johnny Tony got his signature on a contract for Rogers Hornsby, who was working for the St. Louis Browns. Lucadello signed his first Hall of Famer, Ernie Banks, out of the Negro Leagues.
The man searched high and low for talent. High: He climbed trees to watch top prospects so that scouts from rival organizations wouldn't see him. Low: He once went down a coal mine, lit only by miners' lamps, to work out a pitcher in the middle of his shift. It was an unlikely 15 minutes of fame. Tony Lucadello gave more interviews in a few days than he had in the previous 40 years. It wasn't just a Philadelphia story. The Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune sent reporters to follow Lucadello on the road in his territory. The Post feature caught the eye of Mark Winegardner, a young writer from Ohio who had just published his first book and knew the region around Fostoria. "What intrigued me was storytelling," Winegardner says. "Storytelling is a lost art, and Tony was a master storyteller." KEN BLAZE for ESPN.com When Schmidt reached 500 homers in 1987, Lucadello's autograph became a bit of a keepsake.
Winegardner contacted Lucadello and asked if he could write a book about him. Lucadello was reluctant but his wife had read Winegardner's travel memoir called "Elvis Presley Boulevard," and put in a good word for the young writer. Winegardner spent the spring and summer of '88 with Lucadello dozens of ballgames at high school and college diamonds, thousands of miles in the Caprice. A typical day in Lucadello's life was probably like other scouts'. And like a lot of others in his line of work, Lucadello lamented the state of the game. The fundamentals were lost on the modern player; that was the consensus. But Winegardner soon realized Lucadello was different: He thought he could save the game and he had a plan to do just that The Lucadello Plan, a series of drills for young players' skill development. And the key to The Lucadello Plan was the wall, something that would allow kids to take grounders and work on their arms. He collaborated with a couple of local high school coaches to print up The Lucadello Plan 64 pages of hand-drawn diagrams and typewritten text. What's more, Lucadello claimed he had proof that his plan would work. He told reporters and Winegardner and anyone else who would listen that the two best baseball prospects in the region he worked, from Pennsylvania to Indiana, from Kentucky right up into Canada, had walls in their backyards. He told them that Matt Stone, still in junior high, was the best prospect and Jason Myers, a freshman in high school, was the runner-up. Not just the best Little Leaguer and the best underclassman the best prospects at any level, high school, college, whatever.
The scout hoped "The Lucadello Plan" would create a generation of young ballplayers as fundamentally sound as Matt Stone. Making the most difficult drills look easy "I met Tony Lucadello right here," Stone says, standing behind the fence at Tom Thompson Field in Wayne. "Our team was practicing I was 8 years old and I was out in the field, waiting to take my five minutes of batting practice. At the end of my five minutes this man I didn't know who it was told my coach to keep letting me hit. I didn't understand who he was or what his job was, but I knew he had to be important because my coach did exactly what Tony said. "My father spoke to him, and Tony told him about building a wall. My father said he'd build one for me, and Tony didn't believe him. He said that he had told lots of parents and nobody had ever built his son a wall." That photo of young Matt with Lucadello in the Stones' backyard freezes the moment. The first time the scout saw that wall, the first time that he ever saw a wall that a family built for a young player, the first time The Lucadello Plan seemed like something more than a theory. The scout couldn't have been prouder if Mike Schmidt had hit his 715th homer. A few people in Wayne thought Gene Stone was crazy for putting up a wall in his backyard. A few kids thought Matt was crazy for spending hours in front of it every day, firing baseballs at it. But Gene believed and Matt did, too. Don't get the wrong idea. Stone wasn't just any kid. He wasn't just part of an experiment. No, even before the wall, Lucadello saw something special in Stone's game and in his character. He believed the first wall had been built for just the right young ballplayer. Wayne is only a 15-minute ride from Fostoria. If Tony had a free afternoon, he'd drive over for one of Stone's Little League games or a practice. Or he'd just drop in on the Stones and watch Matt go through his routine at the wall: 100 throws, 100 grounders, throwing out phantom runners, turning double plays only he could see. Afterward, Tony would take Matt for an ice cream and talk to him about the game and about life. Over the course of years, Stone's talent emerged. He pitched and played shortstop. He wanted to play third, like Schmidt, and Lucadello envisioned him moving over there. He was just going to have to fill out a bit. A kid throwing a ball against a wall in a small town. No obvious special gifts. Nothing that would have made him stand out if you lined him up with a bunch of his teammates. It's tempting to assume that the scout saw something that wasn't there. Others, though, confirm that Stone wasn't a figment of Lucadello's imagination or a tall tale for the storyteller. "It was pretty clear that Matt Stone was a very talented kid," Mark Winegardner says. "Everything he did was so fundamentally sound and looked so natural." "Matt was a very good young player," says Paul Feasel, who coached Myers for the St. Wendelin Wildcats in Fostoria. "Out at the high school in Wayne, Elmwood, their motto is 'Country Baseball' and Matt Stone was that an old-fashioned, hard-nosed country baseball player." KEN BLAZE for ESPN.com Lucadello had a habit of keeping his notes brief, as if afraid a competitor might read them.
There's more than testimonials to back up the scout's opinion. Hundreds, even thousands, of players and coaches saw Stone, though they probably didn't catch his name. They saw him at baseball clinics Lucadello staged across the Midwest. The old scout would take Stone and his father on the road. He'd describe drills for players to work on and then call Stone out of the crowd not the high school or American Legion players, not the top local Little Leaguer, but this rail-thin kid, 10 or 11 years old. And when the kid made the most difficult drills look as easy as breathing, it had them all shaking their heads in wonder. "One time Tony took me and my father to New York for a convention of baseball coaches, the only time I was really nervous," Stone says. "Thing was, we had to do the drills in a ballroom at a fancy hotel, and there were crystal chandeliers and there were big mirrors on all the walls. I said, 'Tony, I can't do this. I might break something.' He told me everything would be OK." It was more than OK. In the middle of one drill, Lucadello let loose a throw that was way off target and headed for a bunch of coaches sitting at a table. They wouldn't have had a chance to duck or cover. They didn't need to. Stone made a diving catch and 100 coaches stood and cheered. There's no need to try to round up those witnesses. What they saw, you can see for yourself on "A Coaching Clinic," an instructional video that Major League Baseball issued back in 1988. Lucadello's drills the wall and all are the foundation of the video. Stone doesn't show up in the credits, but there's no mistaking him he walks out in his blue Wayne Little League uniform and perfectly executes every drill, everything from routine grounders to the toughest double plays. Was he the best Little League player in America? There's no knowing, no telling. Was he destined for the major leagues? Lucadello hoped and believed and Stone did, too.
KEN BLAZE for ESPN.com Toni Lucadello has done her best to save her father's memorabilia, including letters from famous players and former prospects. The last trip around the sandlots Toni Lucadello is going through her father's papers, which she has kept in her basement since her mother died seven years ago. "I was hoping that the Hall of Fame would be interested in them, but I never heard back from them," she says. "A few years back we had a flood and some of the papers and photos were water damaged, but there's still a lot here." In there with letters from famous players and prospects long forgotten, in there with schedules and lists of contact numbers, are game reports from his last few seasons with the Phillies, hundreds of 3-by-8 forms bound together. Lucadello meticulously and uniformly printed the lineups of teams he watched in games and at practice. All entries dated. Some of them have marginalia about directions or weather. And beside the prospects who impressed or intrigued him, he made notations. Just the barest notations like "college ability" or, most often, "see again." As if he didn't want to give away too much if the game reports fell into the wrong hands. Toni finds a couple of reports from the spring of '89. Nothing from Elmwood High in Wayne, where Stone was a freshman. Nothing from St. Wendelin in Fostoria, where Myers was a junior. No, forgettable stuff really. "You wouldn't know from looking at these that my father wasn't going to see these players again," Toni says. "That spring the Phillies let him know that the '89 draft was the last one he was going to work for them. He wanted to stay on, even though the work, all the driving, was getting harder for him. But the ballclub was letting him go."
Toni won't criticize the Phillies because her father didn't and wouldn't let anyone else do so. Still, it seems cold-blooded that the organization was letting go its most loyal worker, one who never shopped himself around, one who never complained about his salary, which topped out at $27,000 a year. "It was hard for him," Toni says. "He had talked about it, and my mother and I encouraged him to get professional help. But he didn't follow through on it. He was an independent man completely self-reliant. He had hundreds of friends from his work and in the town, but no one he could talk to about those things deep inside. Others tried to reach him, but he put up a wall around himself." From heart-warming to tragic in a single day Mark Winegardner remembers the day. May 8, 1989. He was in his apartment in Virginia. It was the day that his manuscript landed on his editor's desk at Atlantic Monthly Press. The phone rang. But it wasn't his editor. It was Bruce Edwards, one of Tony Lucadello's friends, a coach at Anthony Wayne High School in Whitehouse, not far from Toledo. "Are you sitting down?" Edwards said. "Tony's dead."
KEN BLAZE for ESPN.com Lucadello couldn't reconcile himself to life without baseball.
It was a surprise, but not a shock, not at first. Tony Lucadello was 76, after all. But then Edwards started filling in the details, and Winegardner realized that in one awful moment his book had gone from heart-warming story to tragedy. The monument that Myers stands beside marks the spot where he found the scout that Monday afternoon. He remembers what he saw. He remembers what he did. He couldn't forget if he tried. "We had a game rained out," Myers says. "I drove over to the ballpark with a teammate in my Jeep, and when I pulled up I saw Tony's Caprice. The funny thing was, it wasn't parked in the lot like usual it was up on the grass beside the diamond. I didn't think anything about it. It wouldn't have been unusual for Tony to be at the ballpark I thought he might not have known that our game was rained out. When I got to this spot " The monument. " Tony was just lying there. It was cool and the grass was wet, and at first I thought he was sunning himself. But he was face down and his hat was on the grass a few feet away. That's when I knew that there was something wrong." Feasel, Myers coach, arrived just after that, and they turned Tony over. They thought at first that Tony had been shot. Then, when they saw the gun on the grass beside him, they realized that the shot had been self-inflicted. He was still breathing. "I got in Tony's car my friend went in my Jeep to get help," Myers says. "I drove over to the Lucadellos' house. Now that I think about it, I was rushing so much that I didn't bother moving the seat back I was right up against the steering wheel. Virginia answered the door and I told her, 'Something's happened to Tony, come quick.' I didn't explain anything more than that. By the time we got to the ballpark, the ambulance had come and taken him to hospital. So I drove Virginia to the hospital and we saw Tony on a gurney. He was covered by sheets all that you could see was a space around his mouth and the ventilator running in." He was dead.
A mystery that can never be solved There was no suicide note, just instructions written long before, instructions to be followed in the event of his death. The St. Wendelin's team gathered that night, and priests and teachers and coaches talked to the players. Myers knew they were most worried about him. He had been the one who was closest to Lucadello. He was the one who found him, who broke the news to Virginia. KEN BLAZE for ESPN.com The monument honoring Tony Lucadello as "Baseball's Friend" also marks the very spot at the ballfield in Fostoria where he took his life.
By the time the Stones got word, Matt was already in bed. He'd had grandparents die, but his parents knew that this was going to hit even closer to home. "We went in his bedroom and told him," Gene Stone says. "We could see the hurt. We told him that he didn't have to go to school the next day if he didn't want to. He said he was going to go that it's what Tony would have wanted. When we turned off the lights, the last thing he said was, 'Now I'll never get drafted.'"
"We'll never know why he did it," Toni says. "My mother and I talked about it only twice after that day, but we never talked about it ever again and she lived another 10 years. It's a mystery that can't be solved. What I know is that my father never wanted to be a burden. He never wanted to be dependent. About two weeks after his death, a bill from the cardiologist came to the house. We never knew that he had gone, and we never followed up to find out what the cardiologist told him." Before his book could be published, Mark Winegardner had to write a sad epilogue, a few final scenes that he hadn't foreseen. One is of Jason Myers, a portrait of a young man handling a crisis with uncommon maturity and cool. Winegardner wrote: "Other players stood nearby. Jason was a hunter and fisherman, and the blood didn't freeze him as it did his teammates." In the final vignette, Myers is standing beside Virginia at the hospital, "quiet and strong, a hand on her shoulder." On the last page of the book, Matt Stone is a high school freshman going through the first slump of his life. Winegardner has gone to Wayne to say goodbye to Lucadello's favorite player. When Stone shakes the author's hand, he uses a firm grip a tip from Lucadello, a subtle way to impress scouts. Stone tells Winegardner, "Now I just want to prove to everybody that I can play pro ball. That Tony was right about me." And there the book ends. As suddenly as Tony Lucadello's life. "Prophet of the Sandlots" received good reviews and sold well. It's still a favorite of scouts in baseball and other sports Winegardner perfectly captured the melancholy loneliness of the road and the repetitiveness and frustration of the work. The book has been out of print for years and today it's almost impossible to find on the Internet. So it turns out that Lucadello, better known late in life than ever before, was more famous in the first few years after death than he is today. The Prophet of the Sandlots would have bet that Matt Stone and Jason Myers were going on to big things, but as it turned out they were better known as boys than ever after.
KEN BLAZE for ESPN.com Not everyone has forgotten the walls. Losing the feel Myers drives past a wall the town of Fostoria built beyond the outfield fence of one of the diamonds at Meadowlark Park. The paint is peeling off it. The plaque reads:
The Lucadello Wall Learning is more important than winning
"I was never as good as a junior and senior as I had been as a freshman and sophomore," Myers said. "It was like day and night. I just lost the feel for my arm. I remember stretching before a practice at St. Wendelin's over-stretching, I guess. And after that I struggled. Maybe it would have been different if Tony had been there, maybe not. Maybe he would have spotted something and it would have helped. It was just mechanical." That's not what his coach believes. Feasel does say it was day and night for Myers, but night fell the day he found Lucadello where the monument now stands. Says Feasel: "He had been an outgoing, confident and popular kid and after that he withdrew. He became introverted. He was deeply affected by Tony's death." Whether it was a mechanical problem or a deeper wound, Myers lost his gift and his enthusiasm for the game. "The low point, funnily enough, was a championship we won when I was with an American Legion team," he says. "The team picked me up that summer after my senior year just on what I had done a long time before. The idea that I might help out if I could ever get it back. But I didn't. In fact, I hurt the team more than I ever helped it. After we won the championship, I watched my teammates celebrate and I felt completely empty. I didn't contribute. I was just a passenger." Walking away from the game Stone leans against the fence at Tom Thompson Field in Fostoria. "I tried to make sense of Tony's death," he says. "I thought about things Tony said to me. He'd always say to me, 'Do you think I've still got it?' and 'Do you think I've got another year in me?' There were other red flags too ones I realized after. He'd tell the same stories over and over again he didn't realize that he had told them to me and my parents before."
These thoughts didn't completely register with Stone until years later. What stuck in his mind was the day when he was waiting for Lucadello while sitting in the front seat of the Caprice. Stone opened the glove compartment and found a gun. Lucadello caught him with it, took it from him and put it back. He told Stone not to play with it and said that he kept it in the car because he had to scout in some tough neighborhoods in Detroit and Chicago. Life was different for Stone after Lucadello's death. With the cruelty that only children are capable of, some kids around Wayne teased and taunted Stone. They said he wouldn't make it now that the scout wasn't there for him. And he took it to heart. He became a loner, on the team but not part of the team. Matt's parents thought he lost his enthusiasm, his joy for the game, and it might have been true. What he didn't lose was his discipline. He starred through three years of high school. He threw against the wall and took grounders. His girlfriend, Courtney, would come over and throw Wiffle balls to him for hours on end so he could work on his swing. He stuck with the Lucadello Plan even though he was confused and even angry about the scout's suicide. In late summer before his senior year, Stone was pitching in an American Legion game up in Bowling Green. He had two outs and a two-strike count to a batter when the catcher called for a fastball. "When I threw the pitch, it felt like my arm went with the ball to the plate," Stone says. "My fastball went from mid-80s to mid-60s. I got in to see a specialist a couple of days later and he told me that my rotator cuff was torn, practically the whole way through. I didn't have surgery. I played the whole season at Elmwood and I tried to hide the injury from scouts Tony always told me not to let scouts know if I had something like that, it would hurt me in the draft."
It didn't matter. The major-league scouts had short memories. Or the word got out about the tear. Stone wasn't drafted. Didn't even expect to be. College recruiters had longer memories. They sent Matt letters, but his grades weren't good enough for a four-year school. He got a ride from a junior college in Illinois and his parents drove to the campus and dropped him off. Before the Stones made it back to Wayne, Stone had called ahead to his brothers and sisters. "Tell them to come back to the school and pick me up or I'm going to start walking home," he said. He had lasted one day in junior college. He went to one team workout and the coaches looked at him like he was an imposter. Razing a painful reminder A roadside sign tells drivers entering Wayne that it's the hometown of Monica Stone, who won the 200 meters as the state high school track meet years back. Matt Stone hoped, even expected, that his name would be up there beside his older sister's. He hoped, even counted on, being drafted, pocketing a signing bonus, making the majors and letting his father and mother retire in comfort. His father worked a hard factory job and had some health issues. Baseball was a game Stone played, but it was going to be a way to look after those who put up the wall in the backyard. KEN BLAZE for ESPN.com Mementos like this bat, given to Tony and then to Matt, no longer prove a stumbling block. "I was disappointed, sure, but it was worse than that," Stone says, pulling his truck up to the front of his boyhood home on Elm Street. "After coming back from junior college, I didn't follow the game at all. I wouldn't go to high school games. I didn't want anything to do with alumni games. No interest in coaching not the high school, not even Little League. I got a job at the university and when people started talking about baseball, I'd walk away. I never let them know I had played at all." Stone walks in back of his parents' garage. "This is where the wall was," he says, pointing to a spot that was resodded a few years back. "My parents took it down. They didn't ask me about it. They just did it." The Stones knew how he felt about baseball, and they thought the wall reminded him of the game he couldn't play anymore. They thought it reminded him not just of Lucadello but the night they told him the scout had died. "I don't know why, but I was sad when they told me that they had taken it down," Stone says. "I wished they hadn't." Ten minutes later, Stone pulls his truck up in front of his own home. "It wasn't like the wall was the only reminder of baseball around," he says, pointing to a large log-cabin-style house on the neighboring property. "That's where Chris Hoiles lives he caught for Baltimore for 10 years. He played 'Country Baseball' at Elmwood just like I did." He was lost, but now he's found You might miss the wall if Myers doesn't point it out. It's in front of the shed, covered in vines, obscured by tomato plants and framed by flowers. "I couldn't throw a baseball against it now if I wanted to," he says.
The neighborhood around the Myers' home is Fostoria's nicest. You'd think that it should have been easy for Myers, even if baseball didn't work out. That wasn't how it turned out. "I was lost when I went off to college," he says. "I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I drank. I lost control of my life. I thought about how much my life was like Tony's not being able to do what I was used to doing. I even visited the idea of doing what Tony had done " Myers says he found salvation like he lost his game. In one day. In one moment. "Mother's Day, 1993, I took Jesus Christ as my personal savior. Since then I've given a lot of thought to what happened to me when I was a young man. And I've thought a lot about Tony. He never told me anything about religion or faith he didn't think that was his place. But I believe he was a man of faith. He wanted to be good. You know, one of his habits was to look for loose change that had fallen out of the pockets of people who sat in the stands at the park. Well, every year, on one day, he'd stop off at the first church he saw could be any denomination and he'd give them all the money he found that year. I learned a lot about baseball from him, but I think there were a lot of other lessons that I only started to appreciate years later."
Myers says he's not haunted by what he saw where the monument stands today. But he was unnerved the other day when he was driving down Countyline Road and saw a 1985 Chevrolet Caprice, Phillies maroon just like Lucadello's, ahead of him. "The man who was driving it was wearing a houndstooth hat, just like Tony's," he says. "I followed it for a few blocks but lost it in traffic."
KEN BLAZE for ESPN.com The wall in the backyard of Jason Myers' childhood home now backs a flower bed. "I could pitch against it if I wanted to," he says.
Courtesy of the Lucadello family Matt Stone poses with the scout in happier times.
Walls come down, another goes up Matt Stone is back in his backyard, laying block. His shoulder is throbbing, but he wants to get the wall up before it snows. He doesn't want to put it off until the spring. On the first nice day next year he wants to be able to show his son Tyler the drills Lucadello taught him. "A year ago I couldn't have talked about this stuff and I wouldn't have thought about putting up this wall," he says.
A year ago the pictures of Stone playing baseball were stuffed in drawers. His glove and the autographed bats Lucadello gave him were stashed in a closet. Stone wanted nothing to do with memories. That all changed last spring. One day, Stone was sitting at the dining room table while his wife Courtney was in the backyard, playing catch with Tyler. "I just realized in that one moment how selfish I was," Stone says. "I didn't want anything to do with baseball including teaching my son to play the game. I was letting my bitterness affect my relationship with my son. I was letting it affect my marriage. I was putting everything at risk and causing my loved ones a lot of pain.
"I dug up my glove and went out and threw the ball with Tyler. It didn't matter that my shoulder hurt. It was what I should do to be a good father and a good husband. And after that I took Courtney and Tyler to a Reds game. I started to follow the game again it's tough trying to catch up with all the players after 10 years or so." Matt Stone put the old photos up on the mantel. He showed Tyler the bats the old scout gave him. He told his son about playing in the Wayne Little League and even played the "Coaching Clinic" videotape for him. And he realized that he had to build a wall.
Based in Toronto, Gare Joyce is a regular contributor to ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. His most recent book is "When the Lights Went Out: How One Brawl Ended Hockey's Cold War and Changed the Game" (Random House / Doubleday).