Roger Marolt: Roger This
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Two days before the tax return filing deadline this past spring Tommy Clapper was having dinner with his wife at Little Annie’s. After Patti excused herself to use the restroom his heart locked up, he passed out, and landed face down on the floor. This cinched it for me. No, no. Of course I still eat there. You can’t beat the pot pie special. What I meant is that this is why I am voting for Clapper to be our next county commissioner.
I know a lot of people don’t think that being resuscitated by another man in public, packed in ice, and airlifted to an intensive care unit in Denver, where they induce you into a coma for several weeks, are qualifications for being on the board that runs Pitkin County. I beg to differ.
Before I get to that, though, I have to tell you that before all this happened I was already in Clapper’s camp. I’ve know the guy since he coached my T-ball team, the Cardinals, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The name of the town was the same, but back in 1969 it was as dissimilar to Aspen today as Chalmun’s Cantina is to the J-Bar.
Anyway, we ended up losing the championship game that summer. Afterward Clapper’s eyes were moist, and he gave us each a matchbox truck because we didn’t get the trophy. At the age of 7, I was struck by that 12-year-old coach’s loyalty to our team. All season long he believed that we would certainly win the championship and when we came up short he still thought we were as cool as ever.
After that loss (but probably not because of it) Aspen began to change. As the years passed we had fewer local coaches (Clapper’s older brother Willard being amongst the best of them) and more professional coaches recruited here to “build up the program,” which was mostly accomplished by them bringing in bona fide ringers from around the country who played for a season and whom we haven’t seen here since.
Although we had some darn good teams in those years, there were plenty of people who didn’t like the direction Aspen baseball was going. Sure, it was nice to beat Gene Taylor’s all-star team out of Grand Junction for the first and only time ever, but parents realized that watching their own boys riding pine while the ringers did their thing in “Aspen” uniforms wasn’t quite as fun as it was in the days when you didn’t need a program to know who “we” were.
On the heels of this unprecedented success, the city recreation director was suspected of funneling money from the tennis and swimming programs to pay for the ringers and coaches and fancy batting practice jerseys. And, since the evidence came up barely an inch short of being conclusive, he voluntarily skipped town and the baseball program slid headfirst into some rocky ground.
Through all of this, I am proud to tell you that there was one local family that never wavered in their support of the home team. It was the Clappers, all seven kids and their parents. They knew big-shot coaches and ringers and slick rec department directors come and go, but in the end it was baseball they cared about. They stayed loyal to it.
It’s a sappy metaphor for Clapper’s love of Aspen, and it wouldn’t work in a city because in cities they think of baseball as a profession performed by juiced athletes for big paychecks. But, it works in Aspen because we are a small mountain town and if you happen to play baseball here it is all about passion, nothing else.
It also works because the only things Clappers love more than baseball are their families, friends, and Aspen. And, it is important to note that if you love Aspen, you are the Clappers’ friend. For those who didn’t catch the subtlety – that includes all of us.
Now, Clapper may not have banked an astonishing number of frequent flyer miles during his lifetime, but he has traveled all the way from Aspen in the late 1950s to today, without connecting flights. The world has basically come to him and showed what it can and can’t do for our town. Trust me, he took notes, too. (It has been said that elephants have memories like Clappers.)
For those who wonder, he was a darn good student, too. He graduated at the top of his AHS class after accumulating enough credits to graduate by the end of his junior year. He voluntarily came back his senior year to play sports, not make the valedictory address in May. That made him do that.
And that brings me back to why I think that his surviving massive heart failure at Little Annie’s this past spring makes him the best candidate for Pitkin County commissioner. On top of his love for this town, his intimate knowledge of it, and his intelligence, he now has perspective that you can only get from staring down death. I can’t exactly explain what that is because I have been lucky, but most of us know somebody who has been there and have seen how it usually raises their Bluebook value. (Note: This is also why Brian Speck is also a good candidate and why Mick Ireland will be a better mayor now.)
After Clapper returned to town from months in the hospital, I questioned his sanity in seeking political office. My expectation of the wisdom gained from a near-death experience was something like, “Life is too short.” I was way off the mark. Clapper told me he was more committed than ever to serving the people of this town. After all he’s been through, after all the crap has been weeded out of his life by the dark figure with the long scythe, one thing that remains truly important to him is the well being of his hometown. That’s good enough for me.
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