In 1956, Fort Worth had one of the best zoo’s in the country. Located in Forest Park along the banks of the Trinity River, it was a world away from hot summertime Texas.
My neighborhood buddies, Georgie and Skipper and I would ride our “made in the U.S.A.”all steel, 60 pound,Western Flyer bicycles to the park every week either to play pick-up baseball on the city diamonds, swim in the city pool, or hang out at the zoo, which was our favorite destination. Being kids, we didn’t have a dime to our names, so we discovered a secret hidey hole near the Ape House, and skittered in.
Meandering trails of crushed rock surrounded by lush foliage transported us to the jungles of Africa. The only thing missing was Tarzan and Jane, yelling and swinging through the trees. We were always on the watch, just in case they made an appearance.
The Ape House was the main attraction for children. A building with a large outside enclosure featuring towering stone cliffs, large climbing trees, and a sparkling lagoon gave the place a jungle vibe. The Gorilla’s, and assorted noisy Monkey’s preferred the outside enclosure, so they were always lounging around the lagoon, picking their butts, fighting, or eating banana’s and other tasty simian treats. One of the Gorilla’s had a nasty habit that earned him the nick-name, “Whitey Ford,” that famous pitcher for the Yankee’s. Whitey the Gorilla Ford, threw monkey poop.
This particular summer day, after a morning game of baseball, the three of us visited the zoo. There was a group of children, about our age standing at the outside Ape enclosure. Three mom’s chaperoned the group of about twenty.
Kids, being the little twerps they are, were mocking the Gorilla’s, making faces, yelling insults and such, being brats. A few of the Gorilla’s were irritated by their behavior, and paced around the lagoon giving the group the stink eye. Gorilla’s have feelings too, and they were pissed. “Whitey Ford” sat on a boulder with his back to the tormentors. He was busy forming a perfect major league proportioned poop ball. The only thing missing was the stitching and the stamp.
One kid in the crowd ramped up the insults and threw a snow cone at the Gorilla’s. That did it.
“Whitey Ford” stood up, his back to the crowd, looked over his left shoulder, then at the other Gorilla’s, and gave them a nod, as if to say, “watch this.” The kid was still going at it, and one of the mom chaperones was standing behind him, doing her best to quiet him down.
“Whitey Ford” started his wind-up, turned on his right leg, lifted his left leg high, and released a perfect ninety-mile-per-hour curve ball at the mouthy boy. His aim was a little high, and he missed the kid, but hit the mom chaperone square in the forehead. She staggered backward ten feet, flipped over a wooden fence rail and did a back flip into the duck pond.
It was a beautiful pitch. We could see the subtle curve and the rise of the poop ball a split second before it hit it’s target. Holy crap, this Gorilla could pitch for the majors. We clapped and yelled our approval, giving a thumbs up to Whitey. He couldn’t return the gesture because Gorilla’s don’t have thumbs, so he gave us a nod and a smile.