Saturday, June 25, 2016

Reflections on Baseball, an Old Friend, and a Wonderful Aunt


In May 1951 I graduated from the 8th grade, and my Aunt Mary Seat gave me one of the most memorable birthday presents I have ever received—a trip to St. Louis to see a Cardinals game. Aunt Mary, an ardent baseball fan herself, said I could ask a friend to go with me.
I invited Talmadge Hass, my good friend who was a year younger than I but also an enthusiastic Cardinals fan, to make that memorable trip with me. (He has long gone by his first name, Walter, but I knew him by his middle name, often shortened to Talm.)
That first major league game that Talm and I saw was on June 14, 1951. Sadly, the Cardinals lost that game to the Brooklyn Dodgers 2-1 on a 2-run home run by Gil Hodges in the 9th inning (you can see the box score here—and note that Stan Musial and Jackie Robinson were the opposing cleanup batters).
Aunt Mary had planned to take us for a steamboat ride on the Mississippi River the next day. But Talm and I were so disappointed that the Cardinals lost we convinced her to take us to see another Cardinals game instead. That change was made, the Cardinals won, and we were happy.
Sixty-five years and four days later, last Saturday on June 18, I met Talm in St. Louis, where he has lived in the suburbs for decades, and we went together to see another Cardinals game—which they also lost by one run with the opposing team scoring two runs in the 9th inning.
Talm even had a Cardinals shirt and cap for me to wear, as you see in this picture taken just before we left for the game:

I didn’t remember where we boarded the train for our 1951 trip to St. Louis, but Talm said we took the train from Stanberry, Mo., a town about 25 miles from our home town of Grant City—and over 300 miles from St. Louis.
The game we attended was at Sportman’s Park, which was the home for the Cardinals games from 1920 to 1966. Last week was the first time I had been in the second new stadium since then, and here is the picture I took from near where our seats were:

Aunt Mary, my father’s older sister, was born in 1907, so she would have been 44 years old in 1951. Although, like me, through the years she shifted her allegiance from the Cardinals to the Kansas City Royals, she remained a baseball fan until near the time of her death in April 2000.
Perhaps it was for a Christmas present in 1952 that Aunt Mary gave me her old typewriter after she had purchased a new one. That was a wonderful present, too, at a time when I may have been the only one in my high school who had his own typewriter.
Aunt Mary never married or had any children of her own, but through the years she made a significant impact on me and on the lives of all her nieces and nephews—especially on the lives of two of my cousins whose father died when they were fairly young.
I am grateful for the memorable trip to St. Louis in 1951, for being able to be with my old friend again this month, and especially for the memories of my wonderful Aunt Mary.

17 comments:

  1. Marvelous memories of good times. I grew up in St. Louis, been a Cardinal fan all my life. Saw my first game in Sportsman's Park (by then known, I think, as Busch Stadium) in 1957. Don't remember which team won. Although I root for the Royals in the American League, I've never switched allegiance. I think that somewhere the Bible teaches one-person-one-team marriage, doesn't it?

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    1. Well, if you put it that way, I am afraid I am a baseball "polygamist." While the Royals are the main team I follow now that I live in Kansas City, I also check on the Cardinals games every day as well as the SoftBank Hawks, the Japanese "major league" team in Fukuoka, Japan, an outstanding team whose current record is 45 wins, 18 loses, and 5 ties. (Japanese games don't go more than 12 innings, so some games end as a tie.)

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    2. Very cool! One of Jean's and my regrets about our trip to Japan was that we didn't get to a BB game.

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  2. Baseball wonderful sport to watch and play. This brings back several good memories - a fun day at the K to watch the Royals take on the Cardinals in inter-league play, with my friend Joe (Cardinals fan) and our boys (my son wearing his Pujols shirt since he was also a Cardinals fan). Then there were two times I was given suite tickets on hot days to enjoy the AC and BBQ along with the game. Growing up I played catcher, and was playing pitch and catch with a UT pitcher when he put a fast ball in and tore the webbing out of my mitt.

    My memories of Aunt Mary were of a friendly soul who could tell stories, and was very proud to have been a corporal in the WACs.

    Memories and stories are the making of life, whether by competent scholars, celebrities, or the average people with whom I typically live and work. Many are about creeks one has been up without a paddle, but some are about the good times, as you mention. We need to bring up the stories and memories, and take time in life to create more, and share them like psalms, ballads, or just around the campfire.

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    1. Thanks, Tim, for sharing significant comments. I am glad you got to know Aunt Mary and to appreciate the fact that she was a good story teller.

      Thanks especially for your splendid last paragraph.

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  3. What beautiful memories! My first encounters with major league sports was when I lived in Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro from 1966-1974, with the Twins and Vikings. At the time, I was teaching and worked with Midwest Patrol as security on the weekends. I got to see both teams' games FREE and even got paid to do it! You can't beat a combination like that! Thanks, Leroy, for the memory jolt!

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  4. Here are comments from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard, my faithful reader and responder who now lives in Chicago.

    "Thanks, Leroy, for the charming vignette.

    "In June or July 1960, our family went to St Louis on a long weekend. I wanted to go to a baseball game, so my father took me to a Cardinals game at Sportsman's Park, which I knew then as Busch Stadium. The Cards beat the despised Chicago Cubs 6-1.

    "The very first MLB game I ever attended was in Milwaukee in June 1958 at County Stadium, where the Braves beat the Pirates 4-2. In May of this year, we went to a Brewers game in Milwaukee at Miller Park, an impressive stadium. Miller Park stands next to where County Stadium used to stand. It took 58 years, but I finally got to see a second game in Milwaukee.

    Although in Chicago now, I have been to only one Cubs game--and that was three years ago. Wrigley Field, however, is worth seeing--it's iconic. I have never been to a White Sox game--I am told that a loyal Cubs fan would never do such a thing."

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    1. Thanks for sharing your baseball memories, Eric.

      Your mentioning the White Sox also brought back good memories for me. June and I went to Chicago for our honeymoon in 1957 and went to see a White Sox game at old Comiskey Park, which was used by the White Sox from 1910 to 1990. That was probably on May 30 when they played the Indians. I remember seeing an impressive young player on the Indians's team then--Roger Maris, who was 22 and in his first major league season.

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  5. My first MLB game was at Municipal Stadium in Kansas City, MO watching the Kansas City Athletics, or A's as they were known. I don't remember the date, the opposing team, or the score. It was probably in the early to mid '60s. (The A's were in Kansas City 1955-1967.) The A's probably lost because they were not very good then. They did have a few future Hall of Famers on the team, such as Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter. Most of all I remember the owner Charlie Finley, who was known for his special promotions and gimmicks. I remember attending "Campy Campaneris Night," in which Campaneris played all nine positions in the space of nine innings. Other gimmicks included a donkey grazing beyond the right field fence, and a mechanical rabbit behind home plate emerging from underground to deliver a new baseball to the umpire. My father took me to several A's games before they moved to Oakland after the 1967 season. My father had actually played collegiate baseball at the University of Arkansas with the A's manager Mel McGehee, although I never met him. The father and I bonded at the baseball game. I often kept score, recording hits, runs, errors, strikeouts, groundouts, and the like. I remember it fondly. Thanks for calling those precious memories to mind.

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    1. The manager whom I mention was Mel McGaha. (I misspelled his name initially.)

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    2. Michael,
      I saw many A's games in KC Municipal Stadium myself. A lousy team but good memories, huh?

      How about the sheep Finley had grazing out beyond rightfield, an area known then as "Lambchop Hill"? Then there was "Charley O," the Missouri mule mascot, which Finley took on road trips and into a New York hotel lobby!

      I didn't attend Campy Campaneris Night, but I did meet him once. Daddy was on the Kansas City Baptist Association staff, whose offices were - for a time - in a converted hotel known as the Berkshire Towers, where several of the A's had apartments. One Saturday, after Daddy returned from a trip, he went to the office to check his mail and took me with him; as we were getting out of our car, Campy pulled into the parking lot, so Daddy took me over and introduced me to him.

      My first game was about a week after we moved to KC in July 1962. Daddy took me to see the Yankees, Whitey Ford pitched, and the Yankees (Mantle, Maris, Richardson, Kubek, Howard, etc.) beat the A's, 3-1. Nevertheless, I've been hooked on baseball ever since.

      As for Mel McGaha, I wrote him a fan letter after Finley fired him, and he sent me an autographed picture.

      A non-baseball memory in KC Municipal was seeing the final Chiefs game there - still the longest game in NFL history, the Christmas Day 1971 (I was home from college - my junior year) double-overtime game with the Dolphins.

      Thanks for bringing those special times to mind for me.

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  6. Leroy,

    Two comments:

    First, I confess that growing up in the 1960s, I, too, was a "baseball bigamist." We lived in KC, MO, so I rooted for the KC A's, but they perennially struggled to stay out of the cellar. So I adopted the cross-state Cardinals as my true favorite team early-on, with the A's as my second team. (I quit rooting for the Cards during the off-season following their awful 1969 season, mainly as a protest for Gussie Busch firing Harry Caray.)

    Second, I attended only one game in St. Louis, and it happened to be the Cardinals' next-to-last game in old Sportsman's Park (which several years earlier had been rechristened 'Busch Stadium'). It was May 1966 - the new stadium wasn't ready at the beginning of the season so the Cards couldn't move in until about a month after the season started.

    Daddy, a Baptist preacher, was asked by a preacher friend in St. Louis to come speak in the friend's church that Sunday. So that Saturday night, the friend took us to the Cardinals game. I was excited, because we never got to see the National League teams in KC. Besides seeing my Cardinals, I was excited about seeing Willie Mays play for the Giants.

    Well, as it turned out, the Giants built a huge lead early, and Mays was pulled for a sub in the 3rd or 4th inning. I saw Orlando Cepeda hit a grand slam for the Giants. The next day, the Cardinals acquired Cepeda in a trade for Ray Sadecki. The following season, Cepeda was the NL MVP as he led the Cards to the world championship.

    Five days after we saw that game in the old park, the Cards played their first game in the new one. Two months later, the All-Star Game was played there in incredible heat, which overcame several fans, causing them to pass out.

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    1. Thanks for sharing some of your baseball memories, Bill.

      On August 17, the day before we left for Japan on the President Cleveland steamship, we went to the Giants v. Cardinals game in San Francisco. Cepeda batted cleanup for the Cardinals and Mays was the third batter for the Giants. Juan Marichal was the starting pitcher for the Giants, but he only pitched two innings.

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  7. You are all bringing back so many fond memories of Municipal Stadium, where my Dad frequently worked as the physician in first aid, and got us free tickets to the A's and Royals. He was also a friend of Campy (I cannot remember how that happened), so he would frequently drop by, not only at the ball park, but also at Dad's office.

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    1. Since I am Kathy's Dad, the comments above are obviously from Kathy's husband, Tim, whose father was an M.D.

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  8. Leroy, I am glad to know that baseball is a source of fond memories for you.

    A couple of memories evoked by your post:

    I am a Cubs fan since 1963, the year I met my best home town (Ormond Beach, FL) friend, a White Sox fan. My first MLB game was with him in 1978 to see the Sox at the Orioles in Baltimore. I think it is (only) acceptable to go to an away Sox game if your best friend is a Sox fan. :-) We frequently went to watch the Daytona Beach single A minors team when it became a Dodgers affiliate in 1968 (after no team in 1967, had been KC Athletics and then Tigers). The players I most remember were Davey Lopes, Ivan De Jesus, and Jerry Royster. De Jesus and Lopes played some seasons for the Cubs. My favorite, Royster, never did. Years later, after I was long gone from Daytona, the team became a Cubs affiliate. Never saw them play! :-( Timing is everything! However, I was lucky enough to see the ‘promotional gimmick’ (it worked!) of Campaneris playing all nine positions and pitching left and right handed when he was 20 and playing for Daytona. He was the talk of the town! All of us kids wanted to be like Campy and play every position.

    In 1984 a church friend, a Reds fan, got tickets for us to go to the Aug., 17 game in Cincy against the Cubs. It turned out that it was Pete Rose’s first game as player/manager of the Reds. Who knew? We didn’t! The Cubs lost 6-4. It was their 4th loss in a row; the 2nd place Mets won their 3rd in a row that day to move to 1 and ½ games behind, after being 5 games back just four days before. After the loss in Cincy, the Cubs went on a tear and, after winning the first 2 games at New York in Sept. to move 9 and ½ games ahead, they had their longest losing streak of 5 games. The lead over the Mets shrank to 6 and ½ games, which remained to the end of the season. It was the first .500 plus season for the Cubs since 1972 and would be followed by four more sub .500 seasons. I received a long-in-coming MDiv. from SBTS that year and think of the Cubs’ season as a graduation gift.

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  9. That is a wonderful story, Leroy. I've been a big fan of the Cincinnati Reds since I was a kid, and try to attend a game or two a year now. Baseball is a great game, the only sport I really follow.

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