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Q&A: Engle reflects on childhood with Ted Williams

Former player, current scout learned from 'Splendid Splinter'
January 21, 2017

Dave Engle had a childhood most kids can only dream about: He grew up hanging around with Ted Williams, a longtime friend of Engle's dad.In fact, Engle's father ran Williams' summer hitting school in Massachusetts, and Engle always went along. A former big league player with the Twins, Tigers, Expos

Dave Engle had a childhood most kids can only dream about: He grew up hanging around with Ted Williams, a longtime friend of Engle's dad.
In fact, Engle's father ran Williams' summer hitting school in Massachusetts, and Engle always went along. A former big league player with the Twins, Tigers, Expos and Brewers, and a current scout with the Orioles, Engle has plenty of memories of the "Splendid Splinter," who had a tough-guy exterior in public, but not in private.
With Friday being the 51st anniversary of Williams being elected to the Hall of Fame, Engle reminisced about those days around Williams in this week's Q&A with Your father and Ted Williams grew up together?
Engle: They were best buddies. They played baseball together at [Herbert] Hoover High School in San Diego. My dad was playing in the Minor Leagues when Ted was in the Minor Leagues. Then, my dad had a chance to come home and become a school teacher, which was a real job. He took the bird in the hand, and Ted went on to become Hall of Famer Ted Williams. But they did remain friends?
Engle: My dad ran Ted's hitting camp. The day after school got out, we'd hook up a trailer, jump in the station wagon and drive from San Diego to Lakeville, Mass., every year for about 15 years. We got to play baseball and swim in the lake and ride horses and archery and riflery. It was a great opportunity for me to be around Ted, and to really get to know him pretty well before he started managing the Senators. Did you realize who Ted Williams was?
Engle: I thought he was a great fisherman, because he had a picture of a 120-pound tarpon in the mess hall with him standing there. Then I figured out, this guy is a baseball player who happened to fish on the side. He had a place down on the Miramichi [River] in Canada. He owned a mile of the river. He also had a place down in the Florida Keys. The guy was bigger than life. We'd have a barbecue every Spring Training when the Twins played in Winter Haven [, Fla.]. I got tired of getting grilled by him about hitting, so I would bring Kirby Puckett, Tom Brunansky, Mickey Hatcher -- a different guy each year, so [Williams] could grill them. You got to know him in a lot better realm than most people?
Engle: Absolutely. He was almost like a godfather to me, because I was growing up at camp. Before his son, John Henry, came around, Ted would gravitate to my brother and myself and take us places. He would say, "Get in the car, we're going to go down and go fishing on the lake." I didn't really know how fortunate I was until much later in life. So at this stage of life, when you think about Ted Williams, what comes to mind?
Engle: It's all part of the good fortune I've had in life. For being a little shooter in this game of baseball, I was able to have participated in football on a national championship team at USC [in 1974], and actually play on the baseball team that won the College World Series [in '78]. There have been so many things that have happened in my life. I wouldn't trade places with anyone that has ever lived, because of the experiences that have happened. The Ted Williams side is just one chapter in this incredible life story that I have been able to just be like a fly on the wall around all these great players and great situations. The experience hasn't lost its luster?
Engle: I just turned 60, and I pinch myself every day, because I love and appreciate the game of baseball more today. I've lived five or six lifetimes of wonderful experiences. It is just all of us in the fraternity, that we're all lifers. We're a very fortunate group that we never had to go to a cubicle and sit and work all day long. We've got grass under our spikes. We're in the stands. We're talking to people. We're in different cities. We're so fortunate, and I really feel blessed and honored to be part of this since I've been 21 years old. It's going to be 40 years pretty soon. Any particular tips that Ted gave you that stick out in your mind?
Engle: The hips, baby. He'd always grab the hips and do this little drill. When he was at Hoover High School, they had the weights hooked to the wall that were on the cable and you pull. He had these drills, but the one he loved the most was to pull on those weights, hold them and pop his hips. You really feel the muscles burn in your thigh when you have those weights in your hands and you're actually trying to take the bat handle down to the ball where it was coming in. For a few years, I really religiously worked on that. He was into preparation?
Engle: He was such a perfectionist. I didn't realize it at the time. You try to grasp a few things here and there, but he was in the 800 series when I was taking freshman economics. I had the benefit of all these great coaches, and playing three games every two days at camp for seven weeks every year with some of the greatest coaches. I probably was a [Class A] or [Double-A] player, but because of all the coaching and playing that I did, it actually helped me be good enough to be a player at the Major League level, where if I didn't have that training, I don't even think I would have ever even gotten the opportunity. You cherish those times with Ted?
Engle: It was a lot of special evenings and days with Ted Williams and my dad. My dad was equally a great athlete at USC. He played both football and baseball, on the national championship teams with both sports. That was back in the day of leather helmets and no faceguards. I never even knew any of this stuff until he had his 80th birthday party. I knew he played, but he never talked about himself at all, and Amby Schindler was the quarterback at USC with my dad. He sat me and Roger, my brother, down and told us what a great player and athlete that my dad was, and he single-handedly helped them win that game against Tennessee in the Rose Bowl [in 1940]. Did Ted talk about him much?
Engle: On page like 27 of "My Turn at Bat," Ted made a reference to my dad about "Roy Engle was the only guy that was ever a better hitter than me." I'm reading the book and I said, "Dad, did you know that this was in here?" "Ah, don't worry about that." He never wanted to talk about it. We had Jackie Robinson Day. You think he might have told me that Jackie Robinson was playing at UCLA while he was at USC. You might want to mention that while we're sitting around the barbecue one night, but he never talked about himself. In the station wagon for two weeks driving to Massachusetts, he had all this opportunity to mention that. Never came out of his mouth. Back to Ted, did you see the competitor in him?
Engle: He was a dynamic personality that I never grew tired of being around. I laugh about it now, but he took all my nickels. I got a nickel a day for candy at the canteen after dinner. We'd jump in the batting cage, and he'd bet me how many balls I could hit in the net behind the machine in straightaway center. No matter how many I hit out of 10, he always got one more than me. If I hit six, he'd hit seven. If I hit five, he'd get six. If I hit eight, he'd get nine. I never beat him at anything.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for Read his blog, Write 'em Cowboy.