SAN DIEGO – A longtime San Diego resident who pitched against New York Yankees great Lou Gehrig turned 104-years-old Monday, celebrating with a drive-through party to cap a year unlike any other.
“It surprised me,” John Kernoski said, after more than a dozen cars lined his street to honk in celebration of his birthday. “I thought it was going to be a little thing.”
All around Kernoski are the fabrics of a life spread out through the home where he’s lived since 1955. There are photos of children and great-grandchildren and even a photo from legendary Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, who offered his “best wishes.”
“That was from my 100th birthday,” Kernoski said.
In the late 1930s, Kernoski played professional baseball as a minor leaguer in Butler, Pennsylvania as a part of the Yankees organization. He was on the hill during an exhibition against the big league club when he managed to plunk baseball’s “Iron Horse” with a pitch that struck his right knee, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Kernoski is believed to be among the last living people to have pitched against Gehrig, who famously retired from baseball in 1939 and died two years later of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
Although Kernoski’s baseball career ended not long after staring down Gehrig, the memories of that time stay with him many decades later.
“When I pitched against those guys, I threw pretty hard,” he said. “They didn’t have the hard helmets at that time and like myself, I hurt my arm. They didn’t have Tommy John surgery; they had aspirin.”
Asked about the key to living a long and very full life, Kernoski credits it to how the chips fall.
“What you want to do is find about five things to worry about every day,” he said, laughing.