A Drive into the Gap is a true story about fathers and sons, baseball and memory, and the improbable journey of a bat from one of the most iconic moments in the history of the game to the bedroom of a 12-year-old boy.
The first edition of Kevin Guilfoile’s
A Drive into the Gap is available as a beautifully designed and made-in-the-USA book for $6.95, and we’ll ship it out to you immediately.
On September 30, 1972, Lou Schmitt was a 26-year old father and huge Roberto Clemente fan. With his hero sitting on 2,999 hits—one swat away from immortality—he knew he had to be in the ballpark, but he didn’t want to be just another guy sitting in the right-field stands. He wanted to share this moment with his his two young boys, Dan and Boomer. And I believe Lou must have felt something very deep in his gut, something that told him that, although he was just one among thousands of Pirates fans, he was destined to play a special role on the biggest day of Clemente’s career.
The story of how Lou conned his way not just inside Three Rivers Stadium but into the Pirates dugout with a Super 8 camera during one of the most famous games in Pittsburgh Pirates history is told in A Drive into the Gap (you can watch an abridged version of Lou’s story here, along with clips from his film). It’s an amazing tale—even ballplayers who were on the field that day can’t believe it when they hear it. As one commenter on the ESPN website said, “The balls on that Schmitt guy would crack a bell.”
I was stunned when I heard about Lou’s home movie, which had sat on a closet shelf, unwatched, for forty years. I was trying to solve a mystery—could a bat that had hung on the wall of my childhood bedroom be the bat Roberto Clemente used to get his 3,000th and final hit?—and it seemed like this film could be the key. I knew I had to talk to Lou, but tracking him down wasn’t easy. He had moved away from Pittsburgh. He didn’t have email. He had a cell phone, but I don’t think he turned it on when he wasn’t expecting a call, and he wasn’t expecting one from me, obviously.
I eventually found Lou’s son, Boomer (above with his dad at a recent Pirates game, and below with his mother Carol, brother Dan, and Clemente on Lou’s film), and Boomer put me in touch with his father. Our first conversation was on an early summer’s day. I had the phone by a neighbor’s pool where my own two sons, just about the same ages as Dan and Boomer in 1972, were swimming. We talked for an hour. Lou was wholly charming and funny and remembered every detail about that day. He knew how to tell a story, too, cleverly withholding what he knew for me would be the most astonishing detail: His encounter with my dad that afternoon at the ballpark.
We spoke several more times over the next few months. I liked him tremendously. A Drive into the Gap is mostly a story about my father, of course, but I never could have written it if I hadn’t found Lou Schmitt. Like my dad, he was mischievous. He loved baseball. He loved his kids. He provided me with a perfect and true ending to my story, which, for an author, is about the greatest gift you can give.
Lou Schmitt passed away on Sunday. His obituary mentions his successful business career. His passion for golf and coin collecting. It refers to his love of the Penguins, Steelers, and Pirates.
But he was more than just a fan, of course. Lou and his film have a permanent place in Pirates lore, a specific kind of sports immortality reserved not for the best players, but for the characters with the best stories to tell. No one remembers what the score was that day, but years from now Clemente biographers and baseball fans will still relish Lou’s tale, and they will watch his film with fascination as Lou, with no press pass but the courage and chutzpah of a young man who knows a once-in-a-lifetime chance when he sees it, follows Clemente into the clubhouse to take the only moving pictures of Roberto’s post-hit locker-room celebration.
For that, Lou Schmitt will be remembered a lot longer than most of us. And that is something to smile about today.
“The problem with history is that every story has multiple witnesses, but no witness ever has the entire truth.” You wouldn’t dream of finding such a profound insight in a slim, 69-page memoir about a father with Alzheimer’s and a famous baseball bat. But A Drive into the Gap by Kevin Guilfoile is full of these oddly insightful sentences. In short, this book is an unexpected treasure. –Liz Baudler, The Examiner
Kevin discusses A Drive into the Gap with former baseball coach (and current Boston Red Sox scout) Terry Sullivan.
When he was at the Hall of Fame, a co-worker’s wife came to my dad’s office with a tasteful oil landscape of some wooded scene from upstate New York. She had bought it for her husband’s birthday and since my dad was often first to arrive at the Museum, she wondered if he would mind sneaking into her husband’s office the morning of his birthday and hanging it on the wall before he arrived. Of course, my dad said. I’d be happy to.
Then he went down into the Hall storage room and found the most atrocious amateur painting he could find. I can’t remember who the subject was—Oscar Gamble or Mookie Wilson or maybe Mark “The Bird” Fidrych—but it was done in a poor imitation of LeRoy Neiman. It was grotesque and enormous, taking up almost a whole wall.
And every day for weeks, until she came in one day to meet him for lunch, this fellow had to go home and tell his wife how much he loved the painting she had given him for a present. –Chapter 6
UPDATE: Sean Rooney, a high school friend and the son of my father’s colleague in this story, writes to remind me that the painting was one of Phillies and Mets catcher “Choo-Choo” Coleman.
Last week, Kevin sat down to chat with Chicago radio and newspaper legend Rick Kogan about A Drive Into the Gap on WBEZ-FM’s Afternoon Shift.
A Drive Into the Gap is going back on press soon (thanks so much to everyone who has read and enjoyed it). So many people have been coming back to buy two, five, or even fifteen copies to give as gifts, Field Notes is making a special offer while first editions last. But three or more copies to give as presents for the holidays, and your order will include one copy signed by the author. Just use the coupon code AUTOGRAPH when you order.
An interview with Kevin in the Pittsburgh Sports Daily Bulletin Based on the last line Pirates fans will realize bitterly that this Q&A took place well before the end of the season.
Kevin talks A Drive into the Gap with WFAN’s Ed Randall on the anniversary of Roberto’s 3,000th hit.
“An extraordinary, beautifully written story about baseball and memory. Simply amazing.”
– Jonathan Eig, New York Times best-selling author of Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of
Lou Gehrig and
Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season.
“Kevin Guilfoile weaves laughter with tears, history with mystery, and the blessings of baseball with the curse of Alzheimer’s.”
– Steve Wulf, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
“A suspenseful mystery involving one of baseball’s greatest heroes, Roberto Clemente, and the relationship between a devoted son and a remarkable father. A spectacular home run.”
– Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune
“I’m not writing it down to remember it later,
I’m writing it down to remember it now.”
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