Jon Smith and Seven at Twenty-Five: Hooked on Hitting
Life Is a Game of Inches
kill myself. I have my father’s shotgun at home and my thoughts are to put that shotgun under my chin and pull the trigger.’ She was talking to me and we were
talking about how I wasn’t working and she was giving me suggestions. I said, ‘That’s not going to work. That’s not going to work for me.’ I was telling her about
how people were breaking into my house and stuff.’ While I was on the phone with her, about eight police cars pulled up and surrounded me. I hung up the phone
and I was walking away and one of the police officers got out of his car and said, ‘Hold up. Were you just on the phone with Suicide Hotline?’ I never was a big liar. I
said, ‘Yes sir.’ He said, ‘We need to go to your house and get that shotgun.’ She had called them on another line while she was talking to me. And so we went to my
house. All of these police cars were on my block. And everyone on my block was freaking out. ‘What’s going on over there?’”
His sister who lived across the street got wind of what was going on and called Smith’s long-time friend Evelyn. And told her that Smith had tried to kill himself.
“Evelyn was like, ‘Oh, no,’” Smith said. “I think it was about a week later, Evelyn came to Chicago and said, ‘Look, I want you to pack your things and come to
Madison. You don’t need to be living in Chicago. Pack your things. I’ll pay for the truck. Come to Madison and stay with me. I’ll look out for you and take care of you
until you get on your feet. And just get the hell out of Chicago.’ And that is the only thing that saved me. She actually saved my life. Without that, eventually I would
have ended up doing harm to myself. That was my only out.”
Smith got on his feet through Evelyn’s help, although Evelyn eventually ended the relationship after she became a Jehovah’s Witness. Smith got a job working for
St. Vincent de Paul and eventually Covance Animal Research where for the first 5-6 years, he helped feed the research animals. But then they reorganized his work
unit where everyone would have to help care for the animals.
“When I was going through those problems in Chicago in that house, it had a serious rat problem,” Smith recalled. “I just gave the basement to them. I didn’t even
go down there. They were everywhere. I told my supervisor, ‘Just don’t give me any rat rooms. I have a problem with rats.’ He said, ‘Okay, we’ll see what we can
do.’ I went to the training to handle the animals: rabbits, mice, rats, guinea pigs and monkeys. When I was done, my supervisor gave me rat rooms. I said, ‘Are you
serious?’ He said, ‘It’s the way it worked out when I was assigning rooms.’ I said, ‘I’m out of here. I’m giving you a two-week notice right now.’ He said, ‘You’re
kidding.’ I said, ‘No, I’m not kidding. I told you. I can’t deal with the rats.’ And so, two weeks later, I was gone. It was the best job I had in my life. I made a ton of
Smith worked for a cardboard container company for a few years before retiring at age 62 and eventually and finally writing his book.
Above: Jon Smith on E. Wilson Street
Left: The cover of his book Seven at
Twenty-Five: Hooked on Hitting
Part 2 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
The life of Jon Smith, captured in his autobiography Seven at Twenty-Five: Hooked on
Hitting, is a lesson on how life is a game of inches, how one move in one’s life may
forever alter it and change its projection and life’s outlook. Smith’s early life is almost
cut out of the cloth of a Greek tragedy, almost a reflection of the story of Icarus and his
fall from grace.
And while playing for the major leagues was always just out of reach, Smith continued
to live and survive in Chicago. Starting in Vietnam, Smith would keep journals of the
everyday things — as well as big things — that happened in his life. It was something
that he did for most of his life. And his friends encouraged him to write. Smith got his big
break when he met a family through correspondence after they saw an ad in a Marine
Corps magazine encouraging people to write to Marines. After Vietnam, they invited
Smith to come and stay with them in Portland, Oregon where they would give him space
to write his book. Smith’s mom begged him not to go, but he went anyway.
After two weeks, Smith got a call from his sister.
“She said, ‘You need to get back to Chicago because mother has had a minor heart
attack,’” Smith recalled. “I was like, ‘Oh, no.’ I got back on the train and went back to
Chicago. My nephew picked me up at the train station. His mother was the one who called me and told me about my mother. He
picked me up and said, ‘Hey mom told me that she told you that grandma had a minor heart attack. She had a major heart attack.
And she ain’t doing good.’ When I went to visit my mother in the hospital, she wouldn’t even look at me. And I couldn’t put this
together. I was like, ‘Mom, it’s me. I’m back.’ She wouldn’t say anything. She would just stare at the ceiling. And I could never
figure that out until it suddenly dawned on me that she was mad at me because I left. I left her. When I was there, I did everything
that needed to be done around the house. All she had to do was go grocery shopping and cook. I did everything else. By me
abandoning here — a lot of people don’t believe you can die from a broken heart — she died from a broken heart because I broke
her heart when I left.”
Life spiraled downhill for Smith after that. Both of his parents had died and he was still living in the same home with the house
falling in shambles around him.
“I wasn’t working,” Smith said. “They were turning the electricity off in the house. I was going out and turning it back on, playing
cat and mouse with the electric company. The house was broken into a couple of times. I felt like it was the end for me. I was like,
‘Oh man, what am I going go do?’ One day, I went around the corner from where I lived to a pay phone. I called the suicide hotline.
The woman who answered the phone said, ‘Suicide Hotline. Can I help you?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’m calling for you to convince me not to
The title of the book refers to the fact that Smith had multiple kids by
“The title indicates that I had seven children at the age of 25 from four
different mothers,” Smith said. “My son who is in prison brought it to my
attention. ‘Dad, what makes this so unique is that nowadays, you have
guys with 8-10 kids and the kids don’t even know each other. They don’t
know who their father is. The unique thing about you is all of your kids
knew each other. You made sure they knew each other even though they
were by different mothers and everything. You always got us together and
did things together with us since we were growing up. You never
abandoned us. We always knew where you were. That’s the unique thing
about your seven and 25.’”
Once Smith lost out on the major league contract, it almost seemed that
the good life was always just inches out of reach. Perhaps with his
autobiography Seven at Twenty-Five: Hooked on Hitting, he has finally hit a
Seven at Twenty-Five: Hooked on Hitting is available on Amazon and
Barnes & Noble.