Growing Up Baseball

I guess I’m just obsessed with sports. My memory is flooded with significant memories of sports. You might think those memories would be of personal sports moments. In truth, any significant moments of baseball forced other memories to the rear of my memories.
Once each year, the New York Yankees would come to Municipal Stadium in Kansas City for a weekend series. The time I’m talking about is the early 1960’s. Back then, most teams played Sunday double headers and took Mondays to travel to the next city.
I must have been 10 or 11 when Dad took us to this double header. I really didn’t care about the Athletics. My focus was on my Yankee heroes. Mickey Mantle was in center field, Yogi Berra was behind the plate and Moose Skowron at first base.
My only connection to the major league teams was through baseball cards and box scores.

 

There was always Dizzy Dean and Buddy Blattner broadcasting the Saturday Game of the Week. The Old Pro, a Falstaff beer cartoon character, professed the outstanding taste of the beer brewed in Omaha. I was sure every baseball player drank Falstaff by the truck-load.
Little things stick in your memory. One Saturday, Mantle, who was one of the greatest home run hitters of all time, laid down a bunt single when he had two strikes on him. Dizzy, in the broadcast booth went nuts. Apparently, after several Falstaff’s the night before, Mickey had made a bet with Dizzy that he would get that bunt hit with two strikes.
About this time my parents made a huge mistake. I convinced them to order me a transistor radio from the Sears catalog. The transistor was about a foot long and five inches thick. There was only AM radio stations and I had the country in my hands. It was like my cell phone of today.
Most importantly, I became a rapid Athletics fan. I never missed a game on my trusty transistor. Any one that grew up in this era knew you could pick up games from virtually any team in America. The east coast was tricky, but on clear nights I could get in and out coverage of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
I went crazy one late night when I was getting skip from LA and the great Vin Scully. Sandy Koufax was on the mound that night against the Cubs. I was under the covers hoping my parents wouldn’t hear the radio.
As the radio skipped from poor to great reception, I could hear Scully announce, “It’s 8:55 and Koufax still has his perfect game.”  I about came out of my skin when Koufax got the last out to complete his perfect game.
The score was 1 – 0. A record was set for fewest hits in a game by both teams, one total. It set a record for fewest base runners in a game, two total. The Cubs pitcher, Bob Hendley threw a one-hitter, but the only run scored on a walk to Lou Johnson, an error, a stolen base and a throwing error. Johnson also got the only hit for the Dodgers.
The skip baseball broadcasts only happened late at night when I was supposed to be sleeping. The transistor was normally tuned to the Kansas City Athletics. I can hardly believe it but in 1965, the Athletics won only 59 games and finished 43 games behind the Minnesota Twins, who won the American League Championship. The lowly A’s attracted only a little more than 528,000 fans for the season.
All I could see was the great, young players owner Charlie Finley had put on that team. No one had heard of Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Blue Moon Odom, Bert Campaneris, Rick Monday or Joe Rudi. I knew these players would lead us to the Promised Land.
Not many people remember in 1964, Bert Campaneris, a rookie, rode from the bullpen to his shortstop position on Finley’s famous donkey. In 1965, Campaneris played all nine positions in one game. Only four players have ever done that. Bert was ambidextrous and the inning he pitched, he threw right handed to right hand batters but switched to the left had when a leftie stepped to the box.
I listened to every start of Jumbo Jim Nash. Nash was brought up from the minors after the All-Star break and won his first 10 games. I loved that team, but in 1966, the last in Kansas City, they only improved to 62 wins. Worse yet, Jumbo Jim Nash was injured and never regained the winning ways.
For two years, I became a huge Minnesota Twins fan since I could pick them up on my transistor better than any team. I did love to listen to Harry Carey and Jack Buck broadcast the St. Louis Cardinal games. “It could be, it might be, it is………”
I was in college in 1969, my transistor was forced to stay home and I was floating without a team. By 1973, I was back in southeast Nebraska and the Kansas City Royals had become my new favorite team.
I was driving home from a Doane football game when I heard Denny Matthews proclaim the Royals division championship over the A’s. I only stayed for my second grade step-daughter’s part in a music program so I wouldn’t miss game six of the 1985 Cardinals – Royals World Series.
Sure I have memories of Sam’s birth and my mother’s death just after I turned eight. I know what I was doing when John Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated. But thankfully my memories are crowded with baseball. Is that great of what?

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