Growing Up with Baseball: How We Loved and Played the Game

Growing Up with Baseball: How We Loved and Played the Game

by Gary Land
     
 

Long, leisurely summer days playing pick-up games in the neighborhood sandlot; that first, awe-inspiring glimpse of a major league field; playing catch in the backyard; collecting baseball cards; pouring over box scores—for many, baseball is the stuff of an American childhood. The thirty personal recollections in this book reflect the great variety of

Overview


Long, leisurely summer days playing pick-up games in the neighborhood sandlot; that first, awe-inspiring glimpse of a major league field; playing catch in the backyard; collecting baseball cards; pouring over box scores—for many, baseball is the stuff of an American childhood. The thirty personal recollections in this book reflect the great variety of this uniquely American experience as well as the common spirit that unites all fans of baseball.

An anecdotal history of America’s pastime from the 1930s to the 1990s, Growing Up with Baseball shows us how it was watched, played, and lived not by superstar athletes and multimillionaire owners but by everyday people. A missionary’s son learns to read by comparing the sports reports in Time Magazine with Mel Allen’s announcing over Armed Forces Radio; a young girl reaches puberty at approximately the same time that the Red Sox get their “impossible dream” pennant; boys gather by day to play ball on an old Pittsburgh tennis court, then camp there at night while listening to the Pirates on the radio; a young man encounters the Fogarty brothers, of Credence Clearwater Revival, on the sandlots of Berkeley.

Here are the moments of youthful innocence and coming of age in America, from the big leagues to the backyard to the tabletop game and baseball solitaire, all narrated with the warmth and spirit that are part of baseball’s enduring charm.

Editorial Reviews

Aethlon

“A cause for quiet celebration. . . . It is filled with trivia and wry humor that can occupy a few minutes reading a night or make an afternoon spent consuming its pages a very fine day at the beach.”—S. Michael Dewey, Aethlon

— S. Michael Dewey

Aethlon - S. Michael Dewey

“A cause for quiet celebration. . . . It is filled with trivia and wry humor that can occupy a few minutes reading a night or make an afternoon spent consuming its pages a very fine day at the beach.”—S. Michael Dewey, Aethlon

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780803229754
Publisher:
UNP - Nebraska
Publication date:
04/28/2004
Pages:
194
Sales rank:
1,229,853
Product dimensions:
5.98(w) x 9.32(h) x 0.79(d)

Read an Excerpt

Growing Up with Baseball

How We Loved and Played the Game
By Gary Land

University of Nebraska Press

Copyright © 2004 University of Nebraska Press
All right reserved.




Chapter One

Loving the Game

Ballparks I Have Known Bob Boynton

On April 23, 1935, my Dad took me to my first game, the home opener at League Park in Cleveland. Although I was already ten years old, baseball had held no interest for me until that day, when the Indians came from behind to win 7-6. I must have supposed that all games were destined to end that way. I still recall seeing the fluid motions of baseball players swirling in my brain when I tried to fall asleep that night. I never forgot the score. I was hooked for life.

A diminutive power hitter named Odell Hale had hit a three-run homer in the first inning and he immediately became my favorite player. Memory sometimes plays strange tricks: for many years I had thought that Hale's opposite-field home run, which I vividly remembered as it disappeared over the wall, had won the game in the ninth. Only later did I learn that the winning run had actually been scored on a throwing error by catcher Rollie Hemsley of the visiting Browns. Perhaps my pleasure was greater than it would have been had I been aware that the Browns were so awful that they should have been routinely beaten without resorting to any ninth-inning heroics.

I saw many games in League Park until 1947, when Bill Veeck took over the team and moved it permanently into the cavernous ClevelandMunicipal Stadium. League Park was really a dump, with wooden flooring in the upper deck, a section of original wooden slat bleachers in left-center field that never had been replaced, unsavory sanitary facilities, and a primitive scoreboard mostly operated from the back. The ball-strike-out numerals were inscribed on one side of each of seven motor-driven rotating metal plates controlled from the press box. Sometimes a number would spin crazily in the wind. The bottom part of the tall right-field wall, only 290 feet at the foul line, featured an irregular concrete surface that followed the contours of the vertical steel beams within, from which hits would ricochet at unpredictable angles. The top half of the structure consisted of chicken wire strung between the beams, which extended forty feet from ground level. If you sat along the right-field line at just the right angle, you could see that the screen was replete with indentations from having been struck by thousands of baseballs during batting practice and games. If a ball hit the screen it would drop almost straight down, but if it hit one of the beams over which the screen was stretched or beyond the point where the chicken wire ended, it might go anywhere, in or out of the park. I saw many a ball hit by the likes of Hal Trosky and Earl Averill and sail out over everything and into Lexington Avenue.

League Park was heaven, though, especially when Mike McGean and I, sometimes accompanied by Mike's father, sat in the Cleveland Trust Company box at the front of the upper deck, midway between home and first base. Because the post-supported upper deck was not much recessed from the lower one, we were almost on top of the action. If the seat could be projected into any of today's cantilevered ballparks, such a location would be found in midair, far forward of any real seat.

Although the Indians had played a season and a half in the stadium after it opened in July 1931, they abandoned it in 1933. Except for the 1935 All-Star Game and one regular-season contest in 1936, they played exclusively in League Park until 1937. After 1936 most Sunday games and all night games were played in the stadium, with the rest being played at League Park. From 1935 through 1948, I saw hundreds of games in the two facilities in Cleveland. When I was too young to drive, the stadium was more convenient for me because I could get there on the Shaker Rapid transit for fifteen cents each way and then pay $1.10 for a general admission ticket, which usually entitled me to sit anywhere in the second deck behind the upper box seats. I never missed a Sunday home date if I could help it. I sometimes went alone and normally did not leave my seat even once during the whole of a doubleheader.

Tours of out-of-town ballparks began for me during the summer of 1941 when I was only sixteen. Earlier that year Dad had been less than thrilled with my eleventh-grade academic performance. The incentive he offered to me to try harder was too good to resist: he was going east on business during the summer, he said, and if I could get my grades up to a more acceptable level, he would take me along and I would be able to see baseball games in three or four of the ballparks out east. These were places known to me only by the descriptions given by Jack Graney, the Cleveland announcer, a former Indians outfielder and the first ex-jock to broadcast baseball. (In his spirited and imaginative recreations of Indian road games-given that Western Union apparently offered no evidence to the contrary-all doubles were described as "hitting walls over outfielders' heads.")

Although I have no written records of that trip, I am dead certain of which parks I saw. In the New York area we went to Ebbets Field on July 1. Dodger catcher Mickey Owen was beaned in that game and had to be carried off the field on a stretcher. Maybe Owen never fully recovered: it was the season when the Dodgers won the pennant but possibly lost the World Series because of Owen's famous passed ball on a third strike to Tommy Henrich that should have won the third game for the Dodgers.

Ebbets Field was a strictly linear place. Viewed from behind home plate, the straight stands converged toward the foul lines almost reaching them in left and right fields and causing the modest expanse of foul territory to decrease gradually away from the home plate area. I was impressed also with the right-field wall, which was similar to League Park's in some respects but had its own set of peculiar materials and contours. Like all ballparks in those days, there was no padding anywhere.

In Washington, Dad was much amused when I insisted on roaming all over Griffith Stadium to take its measure. The deep left field (at 405 feet it was the largest in modern Major-League history) impressed me, as did the peculiar jutting-in of the wall in left-center field, behind which (I now know) a small neighborhood of a half-dozen homes was tucked in. The right-field wall was farther away and more uniform in structure than League Park's right field.

In Philadelphia, where I bought a scorecard for a nickel, I attended a game in Shibe Park while Dad was doing business at the home office of his Philadelphia employer, the Curtis Publishing Company. I sat in a box seat in the open lower stands near third base. During the game a towering foul ball seemed destined to land directly on my head, and I am ashamed to say that I ducked and a gentleman in an adjacent seat garnered the trophy. Other than that episode, I have no recollection of the game, only the park. Unlike Ebbets Field and Griffith Stadium, neither of which I would see again after this trip, I visited Shibe Park again during the last year that baseball was played there. It was yet another ballpark with a tall right-field wall and more remote left-field stands.

The fourth baseball edifice visited on the trip, and by far the most memorable, was Fenway Park. Dad grew up in Bristol, Rhode Island, and our itinerary included a visit with his parents at the old homestead. My journey to Boston from Bristol was a solo adventure. After arrival by bus in Boston, I asked for directions and was informed that I should take a certain "subway circus" car. That sounded odd, so I inquired again and learned that "subway-surface" is what I should have discerned through the thick Boston accent. I arrived early enough to bowl a game of candlepins on Landsdowne Street across from the famous Green Monster, which I ogled from the outside. I paid particular attention to the home run catching-screen over my head (removed in 1993) that angled outward and upward from a point of attachment sufficiently far below the top of the wall that home runs hit over the wall and into the screen never bounced back onto the playing field.

Aided by connections with an oil company sponsor of Red Sox games, Dad had made some very special arrangements for me at Fenway Park. I sat in the broadcast booth, located on the roof of the single-decked ballpark, immediately behind announcer Jim Britt and his assistant, Tom Hussey. Before the game, Hussey asked if I would like to meet a couple of the players, to which I replied that I certainly would, especially Jimmy Foxx and Ted Williams. I was taken to the dugout where the two sluggers were standing together and shook hands with each of them. (It was the year that Williams hit .406.) Britt's announcing style interested me. Unlike Jack Graney, who most of the time talked in disconnected phrases, Britt's play-by-play commentary was emitted in complete, grammatically precise sentences.

All I can remember about the game was that the Red Sox won and that the announcers were ecstatic that a rookie pitcher, starting his first game, got the victory. I also recall that Ted Williams slapped an outside pitch high against the left-field wall for a double.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Growing Up with Baseball by Gary Land Copyright © 2004 by University of Nebraska Press . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author


Gary Land is a professor of history at Andrews University. He has edited and written several books, including (with Calvin W. Edwards) Seeker after Light: A. F. Ballenger, Adventism, and American Christianity.

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