Friday, July 06, 2012

Best baseball mom a kid could have

By Woody Woodburn
Ventura County Star
Friday, July 6, 2012

The object in baseball is to make it home and that is exactly what Robin Kathleen Kumferman wanted to do.

Last summer, lying in a bed in the very same hospital where she had given birth to John 34 years prior, she did not want her own life to end here. Her dying wish was to do so at home in Oak Park.

In truth, she had one more make-a-wish.

But mother and son both knew this one could not be granted because her cancer was advanced and aggressive and promised to take her life before the book he was reading aloud to her daily, the book he was still writing with a fast-approaching deadline from his New York publisher would be released.

Four days ago that terrific book, "Bushville Wins!: The Wild Saga of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and the Screwballs, Sluggers, and Beer Swiggers Who Canned the New York Yankees and Changed Baseball," made it to bookstores — 11 months after Robin died at age 63.

John Klima, who graduated from Oak Park High in 1993 and wrote sports for The Star from 1994 through 2001, says his mom is as much a part of "Bushville Wins!" as are Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn.

"Other kids had baseball dads but I had a baseball mom," John says. "She passed her love for the game on to me."

One way she did so was by scouring used bookstores for baseball books to give her son, who notes: "I've been reading baseball history since I was 8."

But, Robin never stopped searching.

"Her last summer she brought me an old book on guys who have hit 500 home runs," John rejoins. "She was dying and she found this book for me. I remember thinking, 'This is the last book I'll ever get from my mom.' That was sad."

Here is a happier moment from when John was 12 and his mom took him to a baseball card show at the Pasadena Civic Center. In "Bushville Wins!" he shares the memory:

"She spotted a short elderly man with a bald head and a round tummy waiting for his taxicab. He was 30 pounds heavier than his playing weight, but she instantly recognized him. She tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'That's Warren Spahn.'

"Wiseguy that I was, I immediately said, nope, lady, you got the wrong guy. Alas, little did I know that my mom grew up in Milwaukee during the 1950s, the heyday of what fans called 'Brave Land.' She walked me over and said, 'Hello, Mr. Spahn,' as if she had known him for years.

" 'Hello, ma'am,' he said, as if he, too, had known her for years.

"Milwaukee and its fans had that connection, and as for me, it wasn't every day that I said hello to a 363-game winner. Spahnie had a feel for kids, put me at ease, and asked me if I wanted to see his 1957 World Series ring.

"I sure did, so Spahnie pulled it off his finger and to my great amazement, dropped it into my palm and said, 'Here you go.' "

"Where do you need to go?" is a question John's mother often asked him when he was a senior in high school and covering prep sports as a newspaper stringer. Because he didn't yet have a driver's license she would chauffeur him to assignments far and near.

"After the games my mom would sit with me in the car while I wrote my stories and then drive to find a pay phone so I could phone in dictation," John recalls. "She always supported my writing."

John is thankful his mom got to read his first book, "Willie's Boys: The 1948 Birmingham Black Barons, The Last Negro League World Series, and the Making of a Baseball Legend," which was published three years ago.

He also is thankful he was able to read much of "Bushville Wins!" to her in her final days, including his narrative of Henry Aaron's pennant-winning home run.

Too, the son is thankful that "the best baseball mom a kid could have" was able to make it home one last time as she wished.

Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Star. You can follow him on Twitter @WoodyWoodburn or contact him at

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