Denton True Young came home to stay in 1912; I know that because I found him a few weeks ago near a tiny red brick church in the Ohio countryside.

Young first made a name for himself as “Country” Young, then, of course, as “Cyclone,” or “Cy,” and many consider him to be the greatest professional baseball pitcher of all time. He certainly was the winningest with 511 victories, and the award named in his honor is regularly given each year to the most outstanding pitcher in both major leagues.

How I got to stand next to him in tiny Peoli, Ohio, is a whole different story…

A few years ago, I wrote about a trip my family took to Michigan to explore lighthouses and blue water; it was a typical vacation for us as we shun the roar of amusement parks and tourist traps.

I’ve been fortunate that my kids rarely complain about our destinations, and since we sprinkle our agenda with things in which we all are interested, we usually get along well.

This summer, we headed to Cleveland to see, among other things, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and to Canton for the Professional Football Hall of Fame. The former disappointed us a little, but the latter kept me fascinated with the stories of Jim Thorpe and Bronko Nagurski and Gale Sayers. But, as usual, it was our stops in out-of-the-way places, like Peoli, that made our trip a memorable one.

I know it may sound more appropriate for Morticia and Gomez Addams than for my family, but we — particularly my daughter — enjoy finding the gravesites of famous and historical people. For instance, as we headed to Cleveland, we first crossed a portion of Interstate 70 and made a stop in Columbus, Ohio, at massive Green Lawn Cemetery. There, we found the graves of writer James Thurber — a favorite of mine — and World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker, whose big, thick biography I took great pride in reading when I was still in junior high school. None of us liked the fact that Rickenbacker’s gravesite was weedy and a bit neglected. Ironically, a marker near his headstone read “Perpetual Care.”

Just to the northeast of tiny Amity we found the television comedian Paul Lynde. There was no straight way to the place, and since I misread a map, believing I could get off the interstate highway where I couldn’t, I drove 30 miles out of the way. The quiet hillside graveyard Lynde is in with his parents and siblings is a stark contrast to the glitz of the Hollywood he must have known. We needed help to find it, and ironically, that aid came in the form of a muscle-bound kid in overalls who told us through my wife’s open window, “I know exactly where that place is; my grandma is there.”

As we headed home a few days later, south on Interstate 77 out of Canton, we drove into the beauty of south-central Ohio, easily believing, from the looks of things, that we could have grossly miscalculated and crossed into West Virginia. From Tuscarawas to Gnadenhutten to Gilmore, we made our way across a winding and hilly strip of blacktop that eventually became state highway 258. Peoli was really no more than a wide spot in the road, and just before we found the churchyard where Young was buried, we saw two little Amish children with their mother walking alongside the road near a barn with a sign advertising a saddle repair shop.

As we drove that roller coaster track through the country, I wondered where Young would have played baseball as a boy, and what he would have done besides back-breaking work on his father’s farm; I had no trouble in understanding, however, why he wanted to come back home after his professional career was over. It is a beautiful place, and surely the glamour of big league pitching never took the country kid out of Young, who quit school after the sixth grade and grew to be 6 feet, 2 inches.

I wanted to learn more about Cy Young, so when we got home I contacted Reed Browning, a Kenyon College history professor who wrote the definitive biography of the pitcher, “Cy Young, a Baseball Life” (2003, University of Massachusetts Press). Browning told me: “He [Young] was a country boy at a time when most major-leaguers were city boys. He had little taste for the gambling, drinking, wenching and partying that so many of his contemporaries relished as the perks of glamorized status. Even in the 1890s, professional ballplayers were looked up to.”

He added: “As soon as the season ended, he returned to Tuscarawas County and spent the fall and winter hunting, fishing, tromping and running across the countryside, splitting logs, really, and eating his wife’s cooking. During the season he went to bed early and rose early, unlike almost all his teammates. A major reason he was so remarkably durable — and from 1901 on, he was the oldest regular starting pitcher in baseball — was that he took care of himself and, especially, his right arm and legs.”

After it was apparent that the 45-year-old pitcher could no longer field his position or get rid of a sore arm, he retired to his farm in 1912. There, he lived on until 1955; his wife, Robba, died in ‘33. He suffered through several financial reversals — although he frequently took part in fundraisers, including one that Browning told me about: “On one occasion, and in an era before PR guys, he persuaded a group of Major League friends to come to Tuscarawas County after the season and play an exhibition game to raise money for a local hospital project. He and his wife then made a financial gift that supported the largest patient’s room in the hospital.”

As we stood in the windswept graveyard and read the inscription on his headstone — the very same one that is on Young’s enshrinement plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown — I couldn’t help but feel that Cy Young would have been happy to have talked to us about his years pitching in the “Bigs.” But I feel he was just as proud of where he came from and would have been as pleased to tell us about his farm or his family.

It seemed to me that Browning was so right when he told me, “At Young’s funeral, the presiding clergyman compared him to the solid, strong, upright oaks that surround that cemetery in Peoli that you saw.”

Mike Lunsford can be reached at hickory913@aol.com, or by regular mail c/o the Tribune-Star, P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808.

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