Springfield man was the right guy to attend Reds game at Field of Dreams

Let’s imagine Family Feud dropped in at the Springfield Elks Club and asked 100 people in the studio audience “Who would you be happiest to find out made it to the Field of Dreams game the Reds played against the Chicago Cubs?” Moments later, after discovering that all 100 people had given the same answer, Steve Harvey would say: Survey says — hey, who is this Spanky Rinker, anyway?

As tons of Springfielders know, Don “Spanky” Rinker, ran and then owned the now defunct Meeks Sporting Goods store. As well liked as the day is long, he may have spent more time on area baseball diamonds and football fields in the past 95 years than chalk and dust.

Although he gave up softball five years ago, Rinker still plays golf and has been a Reds season ticket holder since 1974, the summer Gerald Ford stepped on the mound to relieve Richard Nixon.

But, in a way, the story of his trip to the Field of Dreams games goes back farther than that — to 1960, the year Frank Robinson and Billy Martin played for the Redlegs and the year Rinker’s late wife, Ginger, wanted a girl to go with the boy they already had.

That was taken care of with a trip to Columbus and through the services of the attorney Bill Hicks — “the old Bill Hicks,” Rinker said, to distinguish him from the comparatively younger one who also is a Springfield attorney.

Although the couple was thrilled when they returned, their emotion was not universally shared.

Don Rinker still doesn’t know why his father-in-law, a millwright at the old International Harvester plant, was unhappy about the adoption. He is entirely certain that, “she became his best friend when she was about this tall.”

Kim Rinker was, in fact, Horatio Johnson’s “doll baby,” Rinker said.

“They used to come over on nights when I refereed (football).”

Because of their genetic disconnect, Rinker denies having anything to do his daughter’s intelligence, which aided her success in studies and in the violin section at North High School. From the start, the girl also knew what she liked.

At young Kim’s request, “Her mother took her out to a farm out near Enon out the back a road someplace,” Rinker said. There, she met a horse and her future was set.

During her high school years, “They advertised for someone to work on a farm in Switzerland,” Rinker said, “so she signed up. She’d never worked on a farm, and she went over for the summer by herself.”

With a writing talent developed at the Ohio State School of Journalism, she then forged a career in racing, sketched out by writer Marty Evans in 2015 when the Ohio Racing Commission hired her as director of its Standardbred Development fund:

Rinker has a 35-year involvement in the sport of harness racing as a writer, publicist and author. She served on the publicity staffs of Sportsman’s Park, Scioto Downs, Maywood Park, Balmoral Park, and The Meadowlands, and has written for some of racing’s top …. She is the author of eight books, including Chicago’s Horse Racing Venues and An Adventure Guide to Switzerland.

Rinker has also been involved as a trainer-driver, competing mostly on the Chicago circuit, and in 1995 represented the United States in the International Drivers Championship in Moscow, Russia as the lone female vying against 15 male rivals from various countries.

She has covered the sport in Australia, New Zealand, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and Italy.

She had come back to the area — and eventually bought a farm for horses near Christiansburg — to be closer to her aging parents.

Í never said this to my Mom,” she said, “but the best thing that ever happened to me was that I met my biological parents, because (it made me) realize I hit the jackpot.”

There was nothing wrong with her biological parents — she really likes them and her biological brothers. But, as she did explain to her mother, ‘They’re Frank and Delta. They were not my parents. I’m still coming home for Christmas.’”

They were together many other times.

She took them to Switzerland to meet the family she’d stayed with there. She invited her dad to meet Our Gang leader Spanky McFarland, when he appeared at the Chicago Silent Film Society, of which she was a member.

She also served as her parents’ tour guide on a couple of trips to Europe and arranged their 60th wedding anniversary trip through the Panama Canal. She did smaller things, too, like find the black-and-white photo of Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial that sits in her father’s living room. More recently, getting on the phone with the requisite code number in front of her, she snagged the tickets to the Field of Dreams game.

Although Kim Rinker was happy to pay $350 a seat, it will please many readers to know the $77 handling fee almost caused her to curse under her breath.

But since her mother’s death by a stroke two years ago, she said, “Whatever my Dad wants to do, we’re there.”

Some of her father’s favorite “theres” are:

  • Arnold Palmer’s Bay View Golf Course, where “their golf carts aren’t like ours -- they’re bigger, they’re fancier, they’ve got leather seats.”
  • A five-auctioneer sale of horses, many raised by Amish people, that went for $500,000 to $1 million dollars, where “she told me not to raise my hand.”
  • Outings to Grimes Field in Urbana and Marie’s Candies in West Liberty.

Despite Spanky Rinker’s assessment that the game matched the quality of the Reds current season, all the trappings of the Field of Dreams visit put it “right up there” among the memories they share – memories his daughter helped to create through two characteristics she and her father clearly share: genuine personal connections with others, and a penchant for getting things done.

One of her favorite memories of her father goes back to a Christmas of her childhood when, as usual, her father was called to Meek’s Sporting Goods because someone had broken in.

When the thief told him he’d broken in to get his son a baseball glove — Rinker told the man to take the glove and never come back.

He’s probably the kindest person I’ve ever met,” she said. “And he’s a fun guy.”

Over at the Elks, Spanky’s version of Our Gang knows that well.

A final word.

In Field of Dreams, the dream that comes true is a tear-jerking game of catch Kevin Costner’s character has with his late father, from whom he’s been painfully estranged.

Although the Rinkers are not often given to elaborate shows of emotion, both appreciate that they’re not estranged; that they have long enjoyed one another’s company; that they continue to do so; and that for 62 years, their relationship has been firmly rooted not in feuds but in family.

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