"It's for the love of the game that we all play," Larry Joe Miggins told me this past Cinco de Mayo.
We were at a Pony League field out in Katy, where Miggins had just spent four or five hours under a sweltering sun playing first base for the Houston Babies, the Bayou City's 1860s-style baseball team.
For Miggins, who died Friday in a car accident, all of life was all about "the love of the game." Or as he loved to say, "I am no longer scared of dying but more scared of not living."
Miggins was not content to be a history buff. It was not enough for him to kick back in an easy chair and crack open a dusty tome about the Battle of San Jacinto or the Goliad Massacre, nor to debate their fine points with his fellow historians. He had to live those events out, and hardly a re-enactment passed without Miggins lining up with his musket and Bowie knife.
Miggins especially loved to re-enact the Battle of Sabine Pass, where his fellow Houston Irish hombre Dick Dowling and a few dozen of his countrymen routed a Yankee naval invasion during the Civil War. (The Miggins family, along with the Ancient Order of Hibernians, has long helped keep and preserve the Dick Dowling statue in Hermann Park.)
Miggins brought the same enormous gusto to baseball.
Where the vast majority of men of his 52 years are content to pore over box scores or kick back in the bleachers, Miggins was still out on the diamond. And not the softball diamond, either.
"Longball" Miggins took his baseball the way he consumed life: straight, with no chaser. There are no gloves or helmets in vintage baseball. In addition to being the team's most-feared slugger, Larry Joe most often played first base, easily the toughest position on the field in that variant of the game. Not only does the first sacker have to field his share of sharp grounders, but also dozens of hard pegs from his fellow infielders. Each game would leave his hands looking like tenderized steaks, but for Miggins, the bruises were purple badges of courage.
What joy he brought to those games! He was a champion trash-talker to teammates and opponents alike -- his nonstop chatter and taunts were hilarious and never malicious. (His generosity was legendary. It is said of some people that they would give you their last dollar. Larry Joe would have given you his last thousand.) His attention to period detail went beyond simply donning an old-timey uniform and swinging a clunky old bat. Larry Joe went the extra mile, proudly donning 19th-Century sunglasses
September 11 marked the birthday of his late big brother, the equally colorful and larger-than-life Rory Miggins. Larry Joe's devotion to Rory was absolute and his grief eternal. But still, he loved to say that Rory not only taught him how to live, but also how to die.
Larry Joe passed away Friday on his way back to Houston from the Texas Gatorfest in Anahuac. Police believe his truck hydroplaned off a partially submerged highway and careened into heavy brush, killing him on impact. (So heavy that his body was not found until yesterday.) And so he died as he lived: reveling in music, in alligators, in Texas, in the swamps and bayous he loved so dearly. And his passing came in one of the state's most historic areas: Anahuac. Before the "Come and Take It" fight, the town was the site of the Anahuac Disturbances of 1832 and 1835; it was the tinderbox that sparked the Texas Revolution. Larry Joe died where Texas was born.
He lit up every room he went in, be it basement pub Valhalla, where he loved to knock back a brew after a hard day's engineering in the Rice physical plant, or the Continental Club, where the blues and country bands he loved were always onstage.
Houston's Saint Patrick's Day won't be the same without him. As his niece Julia Miggins put it, "Heaven gained the life of all parties."
Larry Joe Miggins is survived by his wife Sherl; his two adult children, Thomas and Laura; his parents, Larry and Kathleen Miggins; his surviving ten siblings, Eileen, John, Maureen, Noreen, Matthew, Kathleen, Neil, Robert, Patrick and Michael; and legions of nephews and nieces.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
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