Just for Fun: Baseball Memories

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Diamonds in Our Eyes

“The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

            –Bart Giamatti, former Baseball Commissioner

This year, baseball stopped early, another casualty of the COVID-19 virus.  On March 12, with all the hopefulness of a Cubs’ fan in Spring Training, Major League Baseball delayed the opening of the season for at least “two weeks.”  More than a month later, the season is still on hold, leaving baseball fans without their national pastime, at a time when there is much time to be passed.

To help fans get through this dark time, “Postcards” reached out to members of the community to share with us their favorite baseball memories.  It is, we hope, a reminder that, while “Love is the most important thing in the world,” as Yogi Berra once said, “baseball is pretty good, too.”

Dr. Lee Courtney taught English at SHSU for more than four decades, but has loved baseball all his life.

Dr. Lee Courtney

I have lived and died with the Houston Astros ever since they were the Colt .45s and Bobby Shantz threw the first pitch to Lou Brock in April of 1962.  I listened to that game on what we called a “Japanese transistor radio.”

And yet, my two favorite baseball memories feature the Cardinals.

In September of 1963, the Cardinals, who had not won a pennant in 17 years, made a late run at the Dodgers.  They won 19 of 20 to close to within a game or two—and the Dodgers were coming to Sportsman’s Park.

For me, this was another radio experience. At night in the fall, KMOX from St. Louis came in like it was next door–and Harry Caray was in his glory. (This was long before he became a self-parody with the Cubs.) In the first game of the series, the Dodgers (Podres was pitching, I believe) led 1-0 going into the bottom of the sixth. Stan Musial was in the deep twilight of his career. I think he hit about .250 that year.  But in the sixth, “The Man” put one on the right-field roof. The combined reactions of the crowd and Caray will stay with me always. Bob Rule, then the sports editor of the late and lamented Houston Press, wrote in his column the next day that you could have turned the radio off and still heard Harry screaming.  The Dodgers won that game and swept the series.

The other best memory, I was there.  In one of the first two summers of the National League in Houston, I saw Bob Gibson pitch against the Colts. Colt Stadium was uncovered, and the temperature was near 100. Although the crowd was a good one, by the fifth inning more people were under the stands than in them. In that heat (and in Houston’s characteristic humidity), Gibson was magnificent. He pitched a complete game, allowing one run. He remains the most elegant athlete I have ever seen; but on that occasion, he was also the most stalwart and imperturbable.  I often wonder what his reaction would be to the 21st century managers who think a pitcher’s arm falls off after 90 pitches.

Richard Yawn

Richard Yawn grew up in the Houston area and, like Dr. Courtney, spent his life in education.  But he was a Yankees’ fan, at least until Houston got its first major league baseball team in 1962.

Because of Mickey Mantle, the Yankees were my favorite team growing up, and I hated the Boston Red Sox.  Once the Colt .45s came to Houston, they became my favorite team.  I still root for the Yankees, just not when they play the Astros.

My favorite memory was from 1956, when Don Larsen pitched a perfect game for the Yankees against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series.  It remains the only perfect game in World Series history—indeed in post-season history—and Larsen struck out seven that day and, of course, walked no one and allowed no hits.

Another great baseball memory I have was attending a game at the Astrodome for the first time, in April of 1965.  It was quite an experience: the scoreboard had visual and sound effects I had never seen before.  It was, if I recall correctly, the first animated scoreboard.

Tom Waddill & Family

Tom Waddill worked for “The Huntsville Item” for 20 years and is now a realtor in the Walker County and Montgomery County region.  His favorite team, unfathomably, is the Boston Rod Sox—although, in public, he quickly adds that the Astros are his second favorite team and the Rangers his third favorite team. 

(Author’s note: I have not been around him in Dallas to see if he reverses his second and third favorite teams….)

It is odd, springtime without Opening Day. I capitalize Opening Day, because I’m one of those baseball nuts who believes it ought to be a national holiday. Well, this year some of us didn’t go to work on Opening Day. Ballplayers didn’t hit the field for work, either. Strange days.

Two memories stand out as favorites.  Many years back, the Red Sox opened the season with a road game against the Rangers in Arlington. Fans gobbled up tickets like 25-cent hot dogs and free nachos. I called the ticket office, and, fortunately, I was blessed with the friendliest and most helpful ticket lady ever. I told her I wanted to take my mom and wife to our first Opening Day game.  We got wonderful seats behind home plate.

The Longhorn Band, or a mini version of it anyway, handled the pregame entertainment; and jets soared through the bright, blue sky at the conclusion of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Our beloved Red Sox won the game, I think, and we all had a huge time at our favorite place to hang out.

Another favorite memory also involves family.  We had a mini-family reunion at a playoff game in Houston. The Sox and Astros — probably the best two teams in baseball in 2018 — battled for the American League pennant. Boston led the series the night we all met at Minute Maid Park. Sister Sue, brother-in-law Eddie and brother Dan drove many miles to see the game with me, my wife, Stephie, and our son, Johnnie. 

Johnnie was the only one who believed the Bosox would get the job done and close out the series that night. He had faith in David Price, and sure enough, Price performed like a champ, outdueling Justin Verlander that evening.

The Red Sox won 108 games that year and went on to win the World Series, 4-1 over the Dodgers.  It was a wonderful season—and it was even more wonderful I had a chance to see them in person and surrounded by family.  I hope all those things happen again soon.

Coach Jay Sirianni

Coach Jay Sirianni is the head coach for the Sam Houston State University Bearkats baseball team.  He previously worked as a coach at UT-Arlington; Barton County Community College; and he played college baseball at Texas A&M and at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln.  In 1999-2000, he played minor league ball in the Cleveland Indians’ farm system.

This is the first spring without baseball in my life.  My dad was a college coach for a long time, and being without it now makes for a very different spring.

The first memory that stands out was the 1985 World Series, when the Cardinals played the Royals—the so-called “I-70 series” or “Show-Me Series,” since both teams were from Missouri, the “Show-Me State.”  I was a Cardinals fan, and it was Game 7.  Unfortunately, the Cards lost, but it remains a highlight because I had a chance to see my favorite team in-person at the World Series, and I got to see them with my dad.

My second favorite memory is when SHSU won the Regional Tournament in Lubbock in 2017.  We beat the Red Raiders in back-to-back games to advance to the Super Regional, and just remembering that scene—seeing our kids celebrate—gives me chills.

Dr. Mitzi Mahoney has taught political science at SHSU since 1988.  She was drawn here, at least in part, by the city’s proximity to a major league baseball franchise.

I became a baseball fan in utero, as my father played on a Milwaukee Braves’ farm team in Midland in the late 1950s.  I watched major league games in cities near where I lived.  In graduate school, that was the Cincinnati Reds; when I lived in Atlanta, it was the Braves; and then when I moved back to Texas in 1988, it was the Astros.

What deepened my love of the game was my nephews’ interest in baseball cards in the early 1990s.  I wanted to know more about their passion so I could converse with them about it; I wanted to have something in common with them; and, of course, I hoped, perhaps, they would have reason to think me a “cool aunt.”

My love of baseball has grown since then, and my goal is to visit every major league ballpark.  This actually combines two passions: traveling and baseball.  My favorite is Miller Park in Milwaukee, where they host a sausage race in the 6th inning.

(Author’s Note: The Johnsonville Sausage Race features (1) the Bratwurst, (2) the Polish, (3) the Italian, (4) the Hot Dog, and (5) the Chorizo.)

I have three favorite baseball memories, and they cover different aspects of the sport.  I spend summers in the northeast, and I have the opportunity to watch the Cape Cod League, a college summer baseball league.  I love these types of games, where the players have much at stake and are eager, and my highlight was seeing an SHSU ballplayer compete there. 

I also traveled to Cooperstown, NY, where I saw Jeff Bagwell inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and that is another of my favorite baseball memories.

But perhaps my all-time favorite memory, this time from a Major League game, was seeing my favorite all-time ballplayer, Brad Ausmus, hit a home run to tie the fourth game of the National League Division Series in 2005.  It was very consequential and highly improbable.

(Author’s note: Ausmus hit 3 home runs in 134 games during the 2005 regular season.  He was Mahoney’s favorite player owing, she claims, to his reputation for working with pitchers.  She sometimes mentions that he was a political science major at an Ivy League school.  Sometimes she gushes when she speaks about him.)

Dr. Mahoney is not the only baseball fan with the goal of visiting all of the sports major-league parks.  This is almost never heard of in other sports, where the “fields” of play are uniform and, often, rather sterile.  A football venue is referred to as a “stadium,” a word derived from the Greek “stadion,” which simply means a unit of length (approximately 600 feet).  Basketball games are played in “arenas,” which originally meant “place of combat” or sometimes “sandy place of combat”—the sand helpfully soaked up blood. Hockey games are played in a “rink,” which derives from “rinc,” which means circle.  And who would want to visit a unit of measurement, place of bloody combat, or a circle?

But baseball is played in a “park,” deriving from the Latin “paridisus,” which means: “a park, an orchard; the Garden of Eden; the abode of the blessed,” and there you have it.

The allusion to Eden is not misplaced.  We know from the Bible, for example, that God was a baseball fan.  Indeed, the first words of the Bible are: “In the big inning, God created heaven and earth.”  A big inning, indeed.

And so at “Postcards,” we wish all of you a quick and safe resolution from the COVID-19 pandemic, and for all the baseball fans, we hope that you can soon embrace the “sunshine and high skies” and join your family and friends in a ballpark, the “abode of the blessed.”

“People ask me what I do in the winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do: I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

            –Rogers Hornsby, Baseball Hall of Famer

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