Slice of Life: Former Royal Marty Pattin gets start pitching apples

Fallen apples fueled Marty Pattin’s dreams. The great All-Star baseball pitcher who won 114 games with five different American League clubs in three different decades, and coached Kansas University’s baseball team in the ’80s, birthed his talent as a 7-year-old in a Charleston, Ill., orchard.

“I lived with my grandparents who were pretty poor. One of my chores was gathering ripened apples,” he says.

“I put a target on the shed and peppered it with apples. I pretended I was Whitey Ford striking out Mickey Mantle. That became my guiding dream.”

Life was tough for young Pattin. He walked 3 miles to school daily, washed dishes in exchange for lunch, then started a paper route at 8. He played street baseball, but his cousins wouldn’t let him pitch.

“That made me more determined than ever,” he says. “I kept pitching those apples.”

Pattin’s Charleston High School coach, Mervin Baker, encouraged him to conduct himself well, be a good person as well as a good player, and introduced him to local businessman Walt Warmoth.

“Walt became my surrogate father,” Pattin says. “I worked in his restaurant for eight years. He financed my college education and encouraged me throughout my life. I owe so much to him and Mervin.”

He played for Eastern Illinois University’s baseball team and led them to an NAIA World Series appearance (once striking out 22 batters in a game.) One scout told Pattin he wasn’t big enough for a pitcher.

“I said: ‘Well, sir, I guess I’ll just have to make you eat your words one day.’ I became more determined than ever to achieve my dream,” Pattin says.

“I wasn’t tall and didn’t pitch at 100 mph, but I was accurate and steady. I had great control, used my head, and could pitch to different spots.”

He married his first wife, Vera, in 1964, graduated from EIU with a bachelor’s degree in physical education and a master’s in industrial technology. In May 1968, shortly after signing for the California Angels, he faced the Yankees’ Mickey Mantle.

“I saw Mantle in front of me and couldn’t stop shaking,” Pattin says. “I worked him 3-2 then asked myself what got me here. I thought it’s me or him. I struck him out. What a thrill. My childhood dream came true.”

He went on to play for the Seattle Pilots (later the Milwaukee Brewers), Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals from 1974-80. He’s No. 53 on the Royals’ 100 greatest all-time list.

Pattin coached KU’s baseball team from 1981-87, followed by two-year stints with the Toronto Blue Jays and Lucky Gold Star Twins in Seoul, South Korea. He returned to Lawrence in 1993.

Despite losing two wives to cancer (Vera died in 1995, Joy in 2009) and having knee and hip replacement surgeries, Pattin considers himself blessed, remains upbeat and continues to give back to the community. He participates in baseball fantasy camps, encourages young players, and cherishes time spent with his children and grandchildren.

“It’s important to support kids,” he says. “I made something out of my life because people had faith in me.”