April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day. So, in honor of his achievements, on this day, my subject is baseball.
The 1957 World Series:
When we moved from Lincoln Park, Michigan to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, it didn’t take long to discover that the whole town was baseball crazy. Our family often went to County Stadium to watch the Braves. I got to know the players. The great pitchers Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette and, of course, right fielder Hank Aaron. I liked second baseman Red Schoendienst because his name was fun to say and I even tried bratwurst on a bun instead of the traditional hot dog. I mention these things as an indication of my lack of sophistication as a fan of the game. In 1957, the Braves won the National League Pennant and faced the New York Yankees in the World Series. That, as they say, was a game changer.
At school, all classes were suspended and TVs were brought into every room. Teachers gave lessons related to baseball. When the games came on, all books and supplies were put away. The games were great. My classmates and I cheered or booed depending on how the plays went. The games weren’t over at the end of the school day, so as not to miss too many plays, I ran for home as if going for a stolen base. Before the series Yankee manager Casey Stengel declared “We’re going to Bushville to play ball.” When the Braves won the seventh game and the World Series Championship, the Milwaukee Sentinel ran the banner headline “Bushville Wins!” Our family went to a lot of games right up to the time we moved back to Lincoln Park. I loved every minute of it, except that County Stadium could get awfully cold at night. I blame the town, the Braves and the weather for giving me Baseball Fever.
The 1968 World Series by guest blogger Dave Riddell:
While watching the Jackie Robinson biopic I was struck by how long I’ve been a baseball fan. Growing up in the post war Detroit downriver area my team was naturally the Tigers. With my father and grandfather we passionately followed our team by newspaper, the radio and afterward by television. Although the Tigers last won the World Series in 1945 that was not in my memory. My experience with the Tigers as a lad and later as a teenager and young man stretching through the decades of the 1950s and 1960s all seemed to be with losing, mediocrity at best. Yet I persevered through those years with my father and grandfather, supporting players like Ray Boone, Reno Bertoia, Jim Delsing Fred Torgenson and nameless others with never a whiff of a championship. By 1967 I was married and drafted into the Armed Forces, Vietnam bound. The 1967 Tigers were a good team and nearly won the pennant; but I was too busy to follow closely and by 1968 I was in Vietnam as a ranger with the 25th Infantry Division. There was no television or newspapers to inform me of the Tigers ascent that year, so I was surprised when they won the pennant and went to the World Series against the Cardinals. I spent most of my time in the field running missions and was barely aware that the Tigers had fallen behind and were in danger of being eliminated early. Then they started to win. By the time game seven miraculously arrived I was out of the field, exhausted and back in Cu Chi basecamp at last. I looked forward to getting cleaned up and listening to the game on Armed Forces Radio. But Vietnam was 11 hours ahead of St. Louis time, making the game’s broadcast in the middle of the night. I fell asleep promising myself I would get up in time. Hours later I was awakened by the sound of mortars landing with a thud somewhere in the night. The realization that the game was on came crashing in and got me running to the TOC where the radio was set up. Flares from the basecamp perimeter lighted the way otherwise the camp was dark and quiet. By the time I got there it was the 7th inning and Jim Northrup was at bat. The Tigers were behind but with a timely hit they might take the lead. Mickey Lolich could shut the Cardinals down the rest of the way. It occurred to me that at this moment my father and grandfather would be watching on TV back home. All Northrup had to do was beat the great Bob Gibsen. The rest is history as they say. Northrup hit a fly ball that Curt Flood misplayed, the runs came home. We had the lead and two inning later, the victory. All those years of waiting for this miracle and I’m thousands of miles away when it happened. Go figure. Now wide awake, I wandered alone in the dark, celebrating in silence for the home team, the champions, my Tigers.
One of my favorite connections to baseball was watching our son Aaron play Little League. Dave had practiced skills with him and he was good, if I do say so myself. There was a great picture of him sliding into third base on the front page of the Irvine World News. One summer he took batting lessons from Angel great Rod Carew. Aaron had the habit of stepping slightly forward when swinging at the ball. Rod Carew laid down in the front of the batter’s box and told Aaron not to step on him when he swung the bat. Priceless! That same summer Aaron attended Dodger baseball camp with members of the team as coaches. Tommy Lasorda came out for the closing ceremonies and gave an inspiring speech. Aaron played winter ball and was on a team with boys two years older than he was. Proud to say he held his own. It was a sad day in our house when he said he was giving up baseball for surfing. I believe his Little League experiences were good, but there was something very special in his voice when he talked about surfing. I couldn’t argue with his choice. Now I have our grandson Calum in Little League. He won MVP after one of his games. Watching kids play Little League ball is just as much fun this time around.
Dave and I took Aaron and Katie to many games at Angel Stadium. In addition to Rod Carew, I was a particular fan of Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson. I dreaded the nights Mike Witt was scheduled to pitch. The Angels always seemed to lose when he was on the mound and I was in the stands. I had two rules when we went to the games. First, no one was allowed to criticize my behavior no matter how much I cheered or booed over this or that play – which I did a lot. I don’t remember the second rule.
There are so many more baseball stories I coulkd write about, but, for fear of having to go into extra innings, they’ll have to wait for another time.