Wayne Siers and Milt Stern became friends five years ago.
On the surface, both men had little in common, except for their love of softball and their respective decisions to move to Sun City Grand after retirement.
Siers hailed from Chicago and had a successful career in corporate sales.
Stern, a lawyer, moved west from Cleveland.
“I used to tease him about the fact that I was this German-Polish Catholic kid from Chicago hanging around with this Jewish guy from Cleveland,” Siers recalled this week prior to taking the field with his softball teammates from Zen’s Cafe.
Del E. Webb Memorial Field is a hub of activity during the softball season. Players frequently mill around before and after games, bantering about such things as health, family and their favorite sports teams.
One of those conversations turned Stern and Siers from acquaintances into close friends.
“It was in December and Milt was going through a divorce,” Siers said. “He was pretty depressed and planned to spend the holidays in a hotel.
“Well, I wasn’t going to let that happen.”
Siers insisted that Stern spend the holidays with his family. Everyone hit it off and Stern soon became known as “Uncle Milt” by all the Siers family members.
Siers has had plenty of time to reminisce about Stern lately. He was one of the last persons to see him alive.
Stern died last month at the end of a 12-day cruise to the Mediterranean. He collapsed during debarkation in Barcelona and was pronounced dead 45 minutes later in a Spanish hospital. An autopsy later revealed Stern died of a massive heart attack.
Siers and his wife joined Stern and his girlfriend on the trip, a journey Siers described as a dream vacation.
The tourists visited France, Greece and Croatia and also took side trips to Venice, Rome and Naples.
Stern had battled health problems for years, including diabetes, heart problems and sleep apnea.
“I thought he had a stroke during the cruise because he was having trouble remembering things,” Siers said. “But he refused to see the ship’s doctor and insisted he was all right.”
Softball players paid tribute to Stern on Nov. 22. Players lined the field to honor their friend and teammate during a ceremony also attended by Meredith Baldwin, one of Stern’s daughters.
Siers spoke about his friend at the ceremony, recalling his booming voice and his love of the Cleveland Browns.
He shared some of those stories again on Tuesday.
Stern always liked to be a player-manager. Part of it had to do with his love of the game. It also gave him a chance to pencil himself in as the team’s first baseman.
“Because of his health problems, Milt wasn’t able to run very well,” Siers said. “He was a liability defensively, but he loved to play first base.”
Stern’s booming voice made a lasting impression on anyone within close proximity to the ballpark.
“Milt had one volume setting — full,” said Roger Neumann, another Sun City Grand player. “He could be in the dugout and you could be in right field and hear every word.”
Stern used that booming voice to make a preseason speech to his team each year.
While telling his players to have fun, he also would let them know about his health problems and make fun of his background as a lawyer.
“Milt would let everyone know he carried nitro tablets in his back pocket and show everyone how to use them if he went down during a game,” Siers said. “He always told the guys not to worry if they put them in his mouth wrong. He wasn’t going to sue.”
Only one thing could distract Stern from softball — his beloved Browns.
Stern would follow his hometown team every week and would even get NFL draft updates from the softball field, if necessary.
As a tribute, Siers wore a Browns T-shirt to the Nov. 22 ceremony.
“That took a lot, because I’m a diehard fan of the (Chicago) Bears,” Siers said. “But I decided to do it for Milt.”
Rich Bolas is the managing editor of the Daily News-Sun. He may be reached at 623-876-2523 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.