Just outside East Peoria, Ill., in a one-story brick building in a small town called Washington, there used to be a Italian restaurant on Wilmore Street where locals could count on reasonable prices and old-world cooking, and a warm personal greeting from the owners. The place was called Girardi’s.
“They served the best ravioli I’ve ever had in my life,” says Jane Miller, a longtime patron.
That was mother Angela Girardi, welcoming customers by the door, a hostess with a long, flowing dress and a background in psychology. That was father Jerry in the kitchen, a man who once harbored baseball dreams of his own, cooking the pasta and simmering the sauces.
And those were the five kids, including the future manager of the Yankees, busing tables, slinging dishes and mopping floors, all hands pitching in, most of them heading to high places. Though the restaurant has long since closed, Angela dying a quarter-century ago, Jerry moving into an assisted-living facility, his faculties stolen by Alzheimer’s, the steadfast, selfless tracks laid down by the parents remain in place.
Since we are well underway with this current baseball season, I thought it fitting that the subject of this installment of All My Heroes would be current New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Like Jim Valvano in the post before him, Joe Girardi is the product of an Italian American family that instilled in him the values and work ethic that propelled him to the top of his game.
The above text comes from a NY Daily News article by Wayne Coffey, written just after Girardi was named manager of the Yankees, to succeed long time manager Joe Torre. The article goes on to detail the story of a man who, although now a very public figure, was guided by parents who stressed upon him education, drive, and an unshakeable perseverance to be the very best at what he does.
Girardi’s critics more than likely think managing a line-up of all-star players to a World Series victory was not a difficult accomplishment. I beg to differ. Managing and organizing a team of what has to be super size egos through a 162 game gauntlet and to yet another world championship had to be anything but easy. And kudos to him for doing it.
Those wheels were set in motion long ago, however. Angela and Jerry Girardi, stressing the hard work, goal setting, and never-give-up attitude that it would take, started their son’s quest for perfection in pinstripes in his youth, within a small town Italian restaurant. Where they served one mean ravioli.
Hopefully, Yankee fans will enjoy the result of their labor for many years to come.
I will be occasionally posting a feature that will highlight quotes and anecdotes from famous and not so famous Italian Americans. ItalianAmerican will hopefully provide some inspiration and motivation, as well as a positive reflection of the immigrants that came to America, and their generations that follow.