I was given a choice . . . at a very early age . . . “GO BY MY RULES . . . OR YOU CAN GET OUT!” I was living with my Aunt Willa Mae Johnson on the “Hill Top” . . . Central and St. Albans in Saint Paul. Mae was born in 1918. I always repeat that because it is so deep in me . . . that I was raised by her . . . and she grew up in that time frame. Wow! She did what she knew . . . and understood . . . to raise me. I drove her crazy. I always had a comeback statement that would usually get me slapped . . . under the table somewhere . . . but I still had to finish the task at hand.
Well, something took over one day, and I was like . . . “I’m out of here.” I verbally expressed to Mae that I could no longer go along . . . with the way she conducted . . . her administration toward me. There was no discussion. When Willa Mae yelled . . . that last time, my reply was . . . “When do I start packing?”
As I was packing . . . it felt so good to know I would not have to deal with this _____ anymore! I was entering my junior year of high school, however, . . . all on my own. I was living on the street . . . had used up all my clean undergarments . . . and did not have any money or place to wash. One day I was taking what is called a “sponge bath” in the White Castle on University and Lexington, feeling really low . . . hours passed, 2 p.m. . . . traveled down to the Loft Teen Center and filled up on penny candy, sitting on the corner of Oxford and Carroll Avenue. A grey four-door car pulled up slowly . . . right next to me . . . my head was down, very close to the street gutter entrance . . . I could smell the stench of whatever was down there. I heard a deep, smooth, radio personality voice saying, “What’s the matter, man?”
I was like, “What?” I couldn’t believe it. “I need some clean draws . . . and socks!” I answered. This voice replied, “Get in.” Wow! My angel on Earth. Steve bought me a pack of clean boxers and socks. Then he allowed me to shower at his house so I could go to school . . . clean.
That was my first meeting with Steve Winfield.
Years later I was running errands with Mr. Winfield one day and in bits and pieces, Steve shared with me little . . . tweet versions of what happened on the day he played his last physical baseball game. “What a story!” I said. “Can I share this . . . with the Saint Paul Almanac?”
“I don’t have a problem with that,” he answered.
So here’s the conversation that took place. Location: the Golden Thyme Coffee Café, one Thursday lunchtime . . . after eating two very delicious turkey tacos . . . we began.
Troubled-Soul19: Mr. Winfield . . . how did you feel that morning, as soon as you were . . . blessed to open your eyes . . . knowing this was your last day playing the game you always loved?
Mr. Winfield: Well, it really was not a big deal for me that morning or getting ready for the game. I had already known, or prepared myself for this moment. The year prior, I had made the decision that I would play one more year. Then I would transition to training and instructing.
Troubled-Soul19: I hear you, Steve. However, what force or emotion helped you make the decision to say, “Next year will be my last year playing”?
Mr. Winfield: It was no emotional situation, nothing like that. My brother and I love and respect the art form called baseball. I feel it should be played at the highest level possible at all times. So I knew it was time for me to transition to the training/instruction side of the art form.
My brother and I grew up on Oxford playground when it was first built in the late ’50s, early ’60s. We grew up and lived on that playground. I started playing baseball at nine years of age. I always loved the game. David and I were introduced to baseball by our big cousin, Tom Hardy. We used to watch and learn from him. I have played the sport of baseball from the age of nine to my middle fifties at such a high level, never slacking, or taking for granted the people I met, and the wonderful lessons learned, in the time frame. I started coaching at the age of twelve.
Troubled-Soul19: What do you mean, Steve, at the age of twelve . . . weren’t you too young to be coaching?
Mr. Winfield: No! One day our coach didn’t show up for whatever reason, I cannot remember, so I just stepped up and got started with practice, and I have been coaching, playing, and instructing since that time.
I feel this baseball skill—love, talent, ability—is a gift God has blessed me with. I can still teach and pass on some good or valuable information that will help anyone who wants to learn to be a better player or coach. I am truly blessed, forty-five years of playing ball, not too many injuries. I can count on one hand how many games I missed. We have good genes (smiling as he spoke).
My last year playing for Liberty-O’Gara’s—the bank and bar were longtime sponsors and community institutions—my goal was to get to the State Tournament. And lo and behold, we made it to the State Tournament. What a feeling that gave me, my last season, my last game, I was on cloud nine. However, the team we had to play against was such a good, tough team . . . I like performing at a certain level.
Troubled-Soul19: What do you mean, Steve . . . when you say “certain level”?
Mr. Winfield: (Kinda chuckling as he responded . . . ) I was hitting lead-off at fifty-four years old. I hit my last home run at fifty-four years old. I stole my last base at fifty-five years old.
That last game was such a tough team. The last game of my career I got two RBIs. I got a hit. That hit drove in two runs in the championship game. Then it was two outs and I was on deck. One more chance to get back up to hit, knowing that if I was to get back up to bat, I could have drove my teammates into the home plate. Well, it didn’t work out that way. The game was over, and we ended up losing that game.
(NOTE TO THE READER: The following moment is what inspired me to do this interview. Before the closing of this not-so-structured interview . . . there was a peaceful silence . . . where words did not have to be shared . . . I’m glad I was able to record this moment . . .)
Mr. Winfield: After the game, my son and my grandsons were in the stands. My grandsons made their way to the baseball field. They gave me a hug, then they stood by my side.
Troubled-Soul19: Steve, where was your last game played?
Mr. Winfield: At the Saint Paul Saints stadium.
I expressed to my grandsons, “This was Pa-pa’s last game. And I’m leaving this all to you. To play this game at the highest level you can at all times.” My grandsons are aspiring baseball-players-
to-be. I looked at the tall green wall, the center field number that read “400 feet.”
“Grandsons,” I told them, “run and touch that wall. I’m leaving that for you to roam. That’s your wall now.” My grandsons ran and touched the wall and returned to my side. Then we looked at the bases ninety feet apart from one another.
“Grandsons, you see these bases? Start from home plate, and run the bases.” They ran the bases, then returned to my side. “Those are your bases now, to maintain, and own. I’m leaving the game as a player. It’s up to you both to take the torch and play this game at the highest level you can at all times.”
Thank you, Mr. Winfield. However . . . there is more. After his grandsons . . . returned from touching the 400-foot wall . . . and running the bases . . . they all stood there . . . in silence once again. After Steve told me this . . . I was asking myself . . . “What is it I’m feeling . . . or witnessing?”
The passing of the torch . . . from the older generation . . . to the younger . . . generation . . . the way it is . . . to be done. . . .
Kemet Egypt Imhotep was conceived in Oklahoma and born in Saint Paul. Kemet was left under the care of his great uncle and aunt through marriage. His aunt, Willia Mae Johnson, who was born on a plantation in Arkansas in 1918, was a strong believer in faith and trust in the Creator. Kemet says the school system failed him. He was in the class of 1990 at Central High School, and finished at the Area Learning Center located in the Uni-Dale mall. At present he says he is a lost troubled soul, still finding his way through the quicksand.