AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake A little corny, but a lot of truth to it. “Sorry,” Jimmy told Smitty. “A card was all I could afford.” That’s OK, Smitty told him. He couldn’t even afford a card. Then Christmas 1956 rolled around, and the Kenora Legion team celebrated that year as league champs. Smitty and Jimmy had a great season, both of them making the all-star team. They were still broke, still living in the firehouse, still having the time of their lives. Jimmy Ortlieb was the new shortstop and Ralph “Smitty” Smith was second baseman for the Kenora Legion semipro baseball team in Ontario, Canada, then they were tapped to room together in 1955. The teammates and a few of their fellow rookies got free room and board at the firehouse in Kenora because they also pulled double duty as reserve firemen in the town of 15,000. They were both 19, both continually broke, but still having the time of their lives when Christmas rolled around. `’Merry Christmas, roomie,” Jimmy said one morning, handing his buddy a holiday card. “Merry Christmas!” it read. “If I can’t send A MILLION don’t think that I don’t want to. But at least here’s something for your SOCK … A Nail To Hang It On To!” “Merry Christmas, roomie,” Smitty said one morning, smiling as he handed Jimmy a holiday card – the same one he had received a year earlier. And that’s how the tradition began. And a half-century later, Jimmy and Smitty are still exchanging the same Christmas card – signed and dated each of the last 50 years. They’re not young and broke anymore, but it doesn’t matter. Even if they had the million bucks that the card referred to, there’s nothing either of these two former teammates could buy that would mean more than that torn, yellowed Christmas card that arrives in their mailbox every other year. “People always want to see it because they don’t believe me when I tell them,” Jimmy said by phone Wednesday from Kenora, where he still lives. “They want to know what kind of cheapskates send themselves the same Christmas card for 50 years.” The kind who consider the seven years they played semipro ball together – broke and living in a firehouse – as some of their best. “How many people can look back on their lives and still have a special bond with their old, best friend, other than just memories?” Smitty said, opening the Christmas card that arrived at his Canoga Park home this week from Kenora. “That old card we send back and forth every year tells us all we need to know. That we’re still OK, still thinking about each other.” Smitty was best man at Jimmy’s wedding in 1961, and admits he probably spent more time over at the newlyweds’ house than Jimmy’s wife, Helen, liked. The Canadian cold finally got to him after he hung up his spikes, and Smitty moved to Los Angeles in 1963 – starting a career in the financial services industry, and getting married that same year to his wife, Donna. She addresses and mails all the couple’s Christmas cards – except for the one her husband sends to Canada. The only Christmas card he’s ever sent anyone in his life. Jimmy worked 15 more years with the Kenora Fire Department before moving on to a career in the insurance business before retiring. A few years back, the Kenora Canadian Legion team had a reunion, and Smitty stayed with Jimmy and Helen at their home in Kenora. “Do you think people are right?” Smitty asked his old pal one day. “That we’re a couple of cheapskates for not sending each other anything for Christmas all these years but that old card?” Jimmy thought about it for a second, and shook his head. “Nah,” the old shortstop said, flipping his second baseman a glove and ball. “Let’s go play some catch.” Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
Having a ball with holiday card