More than 500 people gathered last week to pay one last final tribute to a true Jersey City legend, namely Ed “The Faa” Ford, the late baseball guru and sports columnist who died last April a week before his 66th birthday.
They came to the Caven Point Athletic Complex, which was literally Faa’s home for the last 15 or so years, to remember him, but more importantly, to honor the man who helped and touched so many people over his lifetime, a legacy spent entirely in his hometown of Jersey City.
On this bright, sunny day, the entire Caven Point complex was being renamed the Ed “Faa” Ford Memorial Athletic Complex, a fitting tribute to the man who was always the first person you saw when you arrived there for some game or another.
The Jersey City Board of Education, which now owns the entire complex, convened over the last few months and listened to the ideas of the Faa’s good friends like Tom Shine, Harvey Zucker, Joe Macchi and Anne Marie Costello, then decided to rename the complex in Faa’s honor.
This way, every kid who comes to play on the many fields at Caven Point will get the chance to remember the man who gave so much to his hometown.
“I’ve known him for a long period of time,” respected basketball announcer Jim Spanarkel said. “I go back a long way. We used to live on the same street and my parents used to invite him over for dinner and barbecues. He was always sharing his fun and craziness with all of us.”
Spanarkel, who went from Hudson Catholic to become an All-American at Duke University, then played for several years in the NBA before becoming a television basketball analyst, was the master of ceremonies for the event.
“With Eddie, you never knew what was going to take place,” Spanarkel said. “My Mom and Dad loved the guy because he was a lot of fun. This was special for me to come back and honor him. It brings back so many collective memories. He was so good to people in so many ways. Just knowing what he meant to me, it’s great to come back to honor him. It’s an honor that just makes sense.”
Former Major League Baseball pitcher Willie Banks had a special relationship with the Faa. When Banks appeared to be done with baseball forever, getting a release from four different organizations, the Faa worked tireless and endless hours with Banks to enable him to get another chance in the big leagues, eventually pitching with the Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Boston Red Sox.
“He was more than special to me,” Banks said. “He was one in a million. He was like the father I never had. Not a day goes by where I don’t think of him or talk about him. I’ll be telling a story and his name will come up. He might be gone physically, but he’s not mentally. He’s still here with all of us. This was long overdue. It’s not all about the hoopla. But it’s about doing what’s right for a man who was loyal to each and every one of us. You can’t repay that loyalty.”
Former New Jersey Nets player and assistant coach Mike O’Koren was also one of the guest speakers. O’Koren was a standout at Hudson Catholic and the Faa helped to get O’Koren to go to the University of North Carolina, starting a long-standing relationship with legendary coach Dean Smith and his coaching staff.
Coach Smith was unable to attend, due to his ill health, but his long-time secretary Linda Woods was there, coming all the way from Chapel Hill to honor her friend. Woods brought a floral bouquet that came from Coach Smith and his wife.
“I just had to come,” O’Koren said. “It’s a beautiful day and a beautiful way to honor him. One thing is for sure. Faa wouldn’t have liked this. But it’s well deserved. He did everything for the kids. That was his whole life.”
Legendary basketball coach Bob Hurley, who had the Faa as his best man when he married wife Chris more than 40 years ago, also spoke at the ceremony.
“Take a look around,” Hurley told the crowd. “This is Jersey City over four decades. He touched everyone. It’s really the end of an era, because I’m sure we’ll never see anyone like the Faa. He was a special person.”
Tom Caulfield, who pitched for the Faa when Faa was the head baseball coach at St. Mary’s in downtown Jersey City, told the story of how Faa steered Caulfield toward college rather than signing a professional contract.
“He did so much for me, like he did for so many others,” said Caulfield, who now lives in Illinois, but was there for the ceremony. “I would call him and talk to him for hours about baseball.”
Al Goldis, a veteran Major League Baseball scout, remembered a time when Faa arrived at Goldis’ door after Goldis’ daughter was severely injured in an accident.
“He came to help take care of my three other kids for three weeks,” Goldis said. “Not a lot of people know that about him. He was an amazing friend.”
Jack Curry, the former New York Times sportswriter who now works as an analyst on the YES Network, doing broadcasts of Yankee games, brought his YES crew to do a segment on the ceremony. Curry, another Hudson Catholic grad, played for the Faa during the old Build Better Boys Baseball League days.
“I think this is fantastic,” Curry said. “You have to realize there are thousands of kids that he had an impact on. I’m honored to be here and I think it’s important that he should be remembered. I’ll always remember how much he gave of himself. He’d be willing to give everything he had to the kids of Jersey City and he really cared about Jersey City.”
After the speeches were made, the players on the Jersey City Sharks, the last baseball team that the Faa mentored, unveiled the sign, complete with his portrait, that will hang at Caven Point for posterity.
The signs outside the complex were also altered to bear the Ed “Faa” Ford Memorial Complex moniker.
It’s true that the Faa would not have wanted the attention he commanded last week and if he was still alive, he would have stormed out of the proceedings in a typical rant, bordering on lunacy. But it’s definitely an honor that will live on in posterity. Now, everyone will remember the Faa as they enter Caven Point, much like they noticed him when he was such a fixture there for so long.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.