William Haberkorn of Gambrills has learned the secret of loving life. Simply put, he thinks only pleasant thoughts and always believes that life's trials and tribulations will bring what is best.
He's proof that occasionally dwelling on a pleasant past can only make todaybetter.
In his 74 wonderful years, Haberkorn has met Babe Ruth and Mel Ott and seen Joe DiMaggio extended his consecutive hitting streak at Yankee Stadium, a streak that grew to a never-matched 56 games. Haberkorn received a medal for bravery after fighting in World War II and Korea and in 1960 became an honorary member of the Gambrills Athletic Club.
He's very proud of all that, but like most grandfathers, he'seven more proud of his four grandchildren. This weekend he coaxed his daughter, Evelyn Carlson, into calling me to brag about his two softball-and-baseball-playing granddaughters.
Lindsay, 12, and Rebecca, 9, play for Gambrills' 10-12 girls softball team and had just losta heartbreaking county championship game.
Listen to Haberkorn boast about those two girls and their tennis-playing brother, Andrew, and you wouldn't know he's going to undergo cancer surgery today.
"It's going to be about a 6 1/2-hour operation, but I'm not worried about it," said Haberkorn, who was in remarkably good spirits yesterday while out on a one-day pass from Fort Meade Hospital.
He pulled some strings to get the pass so he could watch Andrew play in a tennis tournament at Anne Arundel Community College.
"I'm going back to the hospital this afternoon," said Haberkorn yesterday, while going through some old scrapbooks with his son, George. "I think positive, that things will turn out for the best."
His daughter says her dad was diagnosed with cancer about two weeks ago and was advised to have surgery.
"Dad has never been sick a day in his life, and even though he knows the odds of the operation are not in his favor, he's in great spirits," Carlson said.
He was in a fine mood yesterday when I spoke with him, in his glory talking about his two favorite subjects: his grandchildren and baseball.
"I love baseball because it makes good kids for the most part," Haberkorn said. "It keeps the kids' minds occupied and keeps them out of trouble. And because of people like Bill Baldwin and the Wilbur Wade family, the Gambrills Athletic Club has grown over the years and is still keeping kids off the streets.
"Back when I first started in the Gambrills Athletic Club (in 1958), we had two fields; now we have four, and that's great for the kids."
Haberkorn, who is also a member of the community's Turtle Club, says he always admired the Babe for the Hall of Famer's genuine love of children.
"If Babe would be standing around talking to a group of adults, and a kid came by, he would stop what he was doing to talk to the little kid," Haberkorn said. "Babe Ruth loved kids, lovedto eat, too. But kids were special to him.
"His name, how he cared about kids and the way he proved to be the greatest of all time arethe reasons I hope they name the new stadium in Baltimore after him," Haberkorn said.
"Forget Camden Yards, what's that?
"People around the country wouldn't pay any attention to Camden Yards, but theywould to Babe Ruth Stadium."
Haberkorn met the Bambino in 1940 and received an autographed baseball from him that is now valued at about $15,000. Because of his own love of children, Haberkorn no longer has the ball.
"About 12 to 14 years ago, I was having some work done on my house, and the guy building a patio for me had his little boy with him," said Haberkorn. "The boy loved baseball and I could tellhe wanted that autographed ball.
"So I gave it to him. Of course,back then, it wasn't worth what it is now, but I have no regrets."
After enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1938, the service branch
he was to spend 20 years with, Haberkorn became a member of the jar-heads baseball team. His high school in Catonsville, Baltimore County,didn't have a baseball program so Haberkorn played sandlot ball.
Despite holding the low rank of corporal, he was named captain of theMarines baseball team and was its crackerjack second baseman. In 1940, the Marines played an exhibition game against the Bob Feller All Stars in Newark, N.J.
Feller, the great Cleveland Indians pitcher, put together a barnstorming team of major leaguers who played at military installations around the country during World War II.
Some 16,000 fans showed up in Newark for this game. Haberkorn has a photograph of himself sliding into third base on his belly and the umpire calling him safe. The umpire was one George Herman 'Babe' Ruth.
"Larry MacPhail (of the New York Yankees family) and the Babe were the umpires, and we played Feller's All Stars to a 0-0 tie before the game was called after 6 1/2 innings," Haberkorn said. He recalled it as if it happened yesterday.
"I can still see Babe shaking hands with everybody that day, and I got some great pictures of him, several of them I gave to the museum (Babe Ruth Memorial in Baltimore). And they were really happy to get them."
In addition to meeting the Babe, Haberkorn also revels in the fact that he got to play on the same fields where the Babe played, at St. Mary's Industrial School.
The Babe, who grew up in his father's tavern, where Camden Yards is now, spent a couple of years at the school for troubled boys.
"To us, the Babe was baseball and to have played where he once played at St. Mary's was a thrill," said Haberkorn, who played there with his Lansdowne sandlot team behind the locked gates of the industrial school.
A year after meeting the Babe and National League Hall of Famer Mel Ott -- also in a Marines' exhibition -- Haberkorn saw DiMaggio at Yankee Stadium in 1941 during DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.
"DiMaggio was loose as a goose during that streak despite all the pressure," Haberkorn said. "And I saw Mantle at Fort Quantico during the Korean War and later at Yankee Stadium."
During the Korean War, Haberkornreceived a medal for bravery after saving a fellow Marine following sniper fire that overturned their 1st Division water supply truck.
After the wars and 20 years in the Marines Corps, Haberkorn worked at Fort Meade for a decade, settling in Gambrills. His son George played for Gambrills A.C. and says he "wasn't as good a player as dad."
Haberkorn's first grandchild was George Jr., who now lives in Ohio.His daughter, Evelyn, and her husband, Cmdr. Donald Carlson, have given him three grandchildren to brag about.
You need only mention 13-year-old Andrew and Haberkorn will trumpet the boy's accomplishments in tennis and whisper that "he's really better than his father."
The two girls, 12-year old Lindsay and 9-year old Rebecca, helped the Gambrills 10-12 team of Coach Grace Tobin to the county final, losing to Harundale, 13-7.
"That's because they walked Lindsay three times," Haberkorn grumbled. "Their coach (Harundale) had seen them play and knew that Lindsay had hit 13 home runs in 12 games, and didn't want to pitch to her.
"Rebecca also pitches for the Navy 8-10 boysbaseball team and is the No. 1 pitcher."
"When I played (on the Baltimore sandlots with George Cobal's All Stars, Lansdowne and the Baltimore Firemen) I was known for sliding on my belly, and I always got there," said Haberkorn.
You just know he's going to get there again. To Bill, it's just another challenge that he's ready to face andaccept.