Michael Grueser, age 63, passed away early this morning after battling cancer for two years.
For 99% of you, that means absolutely nothing. You may be wondering if he was some obscure Cardinal player or had something to do with the Cards. He didn’t. However, he was my father-in-law and since baseball was so much to him, I wanted to use my corner of the Internet to pay tribute to him.
It was somewhat fitting that Mike passed this weekend, when my Cardinals were facing his Reds. He grew up in southeast Ohio, where he lived all of his life. That area is Reds country and he followed them as far back as he could remember. (Actually, I don’t remember him telling me when he became a fan, but knowing him, I imagine that he knew exactly when he picked up a love for the game.) He thrilled to the Big Red Machine and enjoyed his last championship with the Nasty Boys of 1990.
That being said, while Mike would identify as a Reds fan, he’d tell you that he was a fan of the game more than anything. He followed the Twins from a distance and, even before I came into the picture, would get the signal from the Mighty ‘MOX and listen to Cardinal baseball, appreciating their history and the way they played the game. It honestly didn’t matter what game was on, Mike would be happy listening to it.
Baseball was a radio game for Mike, mostly. He was a big radio guy anyway, loving the history of those mega stations. He owned a small carryout out in the middle of nowhere and was the sole employee, so almost every day you could find him standing behind the counter, waiting on those customers that came through. He tried out XM Radio for a couple of years, enjoying the fact that he could get a clear signal for any game he wanted, but when they started shifting spring training games and the like online, he cancelled it and went back to his regular radio, trying to get the various AM signals to come in.
My wife and I met over the Internet, in one of those early text-only bulletin boards run by a Christian college in Ohio. When I visited the first time, of course I had to meet her parents. (They were divorced and Mike had remarried.) So we went out to that little carryout. I don’t remember a lot about that first visit, but I do remember that we immediately bonded over the great game. We talked for hours as my wife made small talk with her stepmother. He showed me his set of 1962 Topps that he’d collected card-by-card back in his childhood (and beyond). Since this was 1997, we of course talked about Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. We talked about the Reds, we talked about the Cardinals. And by the end of that evening, I knew there would be no problems if I ever wanted to marry his daughter. I was right.
The back room of his store, which was off-limits to customers but where the family could stay out of sight when customers did come in, was papered with various things, most of them relating to baseball. Included in that was a flyer for a 1990 card show. Mike helped put that show on–he was a big baseball card seller during those boom years–and the featured guest was a local boy that had made good. Jeff Montgomery, who was mainly a Royal though he did start his career with the Reds, grew up about 30 miles from Mike. He still had a picture of him and Montgomery and the others involved on his wall. In fact, it’s probably still there today. I contacted Montgomery a few years ago and he still remembered that card show, which made Mike pretty happy.
Every year we traveled back to Ohio, every year we’d step into that carryout, and every year he and I would talk baseball. He was genuinely happy when the Cards won in 2006 and 2011. We never had any problems talking about the Fight of 2010. Baseball was always that underlying connection that we had.
Mike never spent a day on the Internet, though he was appreciative of what I’d been able to do with this blog. I don’t know that much made him prouder (outside of his family, including his grandchildren) than when I was able to play for him an interview I had on KMOX. To hear his son-in-law (indirectly) on one of the big radio stations almost left him speechless. He also was a regular listener to myself and first Bill Ivie, then Tara Wellman on Gateway to Baseball Heaven. He did it old-school, calling in and putting it on speaker so he and his wife could hear what we were saying. I’ll admit it right now, it might be a little tough to do the show tonight.
There’s sorrow this morning, for sure. I would have liked to talk to Mike more about Billy Hamilton and whether he’d hit enough to make that speed a real weapon. I was looking forward to telling him about seeing the Reds this evening for UCB Weekend, though when he deteriorated this week, my wife flew to see him and I cancelled my trip to St. Louis. I know I’ll always keep an eye on Cincinnati because of his influence and respect for his love of the game. However, the best thing out of this whole cancer ordeal (and, to my deep regret, I never did buy him a K Cancer shirt from Jason Motte‘s foundation) was that we found out he’d come to Christ a year or so before the diagnosis after never being overly religious before. That makes today an easier day for my wife and I, knowing that we’ll see him again.