Commentary: Where Truth Lies

By Louis A. Zona

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Isn’t it interesting that as we grow older stories about the size of the fish we caught or how far the home run traveled that we hit in Little League grow?

That largemouth bass was probably 14 inches. After so many years have passed though, that bass measured 24 inches and was one of the biggest in the history of that lake.

In my own case, I have been describing the distance of the ball that I hit in high school.

Actually, I hit a line drive over second base. It was a nice, clean hit but it was not the 300-foot home run that I’ve been talking about for years.

So what?

It just might have been going much farther than the infield since I was running with my head down and probably lost sight of the ball. But, once again, it just may have reached that 300-foot marker.

And I stand by my story. In fact, just the other day I drove to the ballfield on Winslow Avenue in New Castle to see what the old ballpark looks like today.

I walked out to second base, stood on it and imagined that I went back in time to those glory days when I was a kid dreaming of one day making a spectacular catch in center field – or hitting that line drive well over the home run marker. Memory is a wonderful thing and imagination is even better.

What I need is a time machine. On the other hand, it would reveal the truth about that home run on Winslow Field.

The home run I remember was really a solid base hit. Here again is the case where memories get in the way of reality.

So what?

Given my level of baseball talent, I was lucky to be on a team – a winning team – and certainly one where Zona on second base would be lucky to foul off a pitch or two.

I guess that we are all prone to exaggeration. For example, I have been telling people for years that I was approaching 6 feet in height. And of course, I somehow believed that the 6-foot marker was special in some way.

So here I was in the doctor’s office when his assistant asked me to get on the scale that also measures my height. Surely, I was still approaching 6 feet. Wrong!

“Mr. Zona, you are 5 feet 7 inches,” the assistant informed me. As Jerry Seinfeld would say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

The fact of the matter is the Zona family is made up of men who are short in stature but tall in the heart. Maybe a psychologist would answer the question, “Why exaggerate? What good did it do me to exaggerate my height on forms, etc.?

Now I say, I’m short and darn proud of it. OK, I’m not that short. But, I think that I’m taller than Napoleon was. (I think). But hey, I may be taller than Al Pacino. Maybe not. Still, much shorter than Abe Lincoln.

I had a neighbor who exaggerated constantly. His car was the best. His fishing rod was the best. His lawn mower was the best. Even his pet Labrador was the best.

Did I tell you that his barber, his plumber and his dentist were the best in the land?

There’s exaggeration and then there’s exaggeration.

My friend Bill is a painter who will tell you that he studied in New York and Paris and that his paintings reflect his vast knowledge of art. He told me a while back that his paintings are “beautiful” and deserving of being exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum.

“When the curator saw my last painting,” he told me, “he believed that the work was every bit as good as work by Rembrandt. You see,” he went on, “Rembrandt’s paintings are all earth tones. That’s because he was not adept at using a full range of colors in his work. It takes loads of talent to use color in one’s paintings!”

And then there’s a type of intended exaggeration called hyperbole. Classic examples are, ”I’m so hungry that I could eat a horse.” “I’ll be there in three seconds.” “This chocolate is the world’s best.”

The Pirates announcer Bob Prince made one of my all-time favorite hyperbolic statements when he described a player with an exceptionally strong arm as being able to “throw a strawberry through a locomotive.”

In the end we can discover that not all exaggerations are classified as negative. Some experiences in life are such that they can only be relived via exaggeration.

I can exaggerate my friendship with the late Tony Bennett or relive seeing the great baseball player Roberto Clemente running after hitting a triple. Seeing Frank Sinatra in concert was wonderful beyond traditional words.

In these cases, and more, the story can be told truthfully only through exaggeration.