Not Your Average JoeSure, baseball is in the blood of Hall-of-Famer Joe Garagiola Sr., but so is a love of Arizona's landscape and its native people.
By Kelly Kramer
Joe Garagiola Sr. believes in a lot of things, including baseball, Yogi Berra and broadcasting. But when it comes to Arizona's splendor, Garagiola believes in a higher power.
"This state would make even an atheist believe," the major league catcher-turned-commentator says. "Just look at Camelback Mountain, the Grand Canyon, the White Mountains … no human being could create the things you see here."
Garagiola, 82, and his family have lived in the Phoenix metro area for several decades, but the heat almost drove them to another state.
"I visited the Valley for Spring Training with the Cubs in 1954, and just loved it here," Garagiola remembers. "When my baseball career was over, and after I decided to leave the Today show, I asked my wife what she thought about moving to Phoenix; she said she'd be willing to fly out and check it out."
After several days of looking at real estate and exploring the city, Mrs. Garagiola wasn't too keen on the idea of moving to the desert. "She kept saying that the heat would kill her and that she wanted to move to San Diego," Garagiola says. "But then, we walked into an available house and the neighbors came by and introduced themselves and invited us to lunch. The rest, as they say, is history. Phoenix really made us feel like we were in the Midwest in terms of community and that feeling of warmth and friendship."
In fact, the Garagiolas still have friends from their first Arizona neighborhood. And even though he's easily recognized — thanks in large part to his stint on the Today show, as well as gigs hosting To Tell the Truth and Strike It Rich, and, of course, his lengthy baseball-broadcasting career — Joe still takes the time to meet new friends and reconnect with old ones.
"Yes, Yogi Berra and I are good friends," Garagiola says. "We grew up across the street from each other, and I talk to him all the time. I don't remember a day when I didn't know Yogi. He's one of those people I could call at 3 in the morning, and he'd come help me. It's one of the blessings of my life — how many people can say that the kid he grew up with is still his friend?"
When he's not reminiscing with Berra, Garagiola occasionally provides color commentary for the Diamondbacks, travels for speaking engagements, and works to compile decades of anecdotes. He authored his most recent book, last year's Just Play Ball, with a little help from his daughter, Gina Bridgeman, and Berra, who wrote the book's foreword.
But mostly, Garagiola does what he does best — he spreads a little life and a little cheer into the community through volunteer work at St. Peter Indian Mission in Bapchule.
"I tell people, 'You're not going to see John Wayne when you go down there,' " Garagiola says. "You're going to see a place that's very special — a place that holds a very special place in my heart."