A long-time “affair” with baseball has finally hit the proverbial brick wall.
My parents lived in rural areas of Iowa until I entered the second grade in school. That meant many things to me – every student, kindergarten through eighth grade, had the same teacher; we all brought our lunches from home; we all shared the same toilet, usually a two-seat outhouse that we all hated to use. Our teacher – Miss Meyers in Kindergarten west of Stratford and Mrs. Anderson in first grade at a school between Duncombe and Fort Dodge – would move from group to group giving age-appropriate lessons throughout the day.
All that changed in the Fall of 1951, when my family moved into the small town of Duncombe, located roughly between Fort Dodge and Webster City on U.S. Highway 20. Everything was new to me – my class had about a dozen kids; I was the only first-grader in my final country school. Fountains provided all of us with a cool drink of water when needed and indoor toilets were a brand-new obstacle to overcome as I learned how to flush for the first time in my life.
Those early obstacles behind me, I suddenly found myself in an automated world with all the niceties that town living provided – parks in which to play, churches within walking distance and a school that was only three blocks away instead of a mile-long trek twice a day.
It was also there, on a basically square piece of grass and dirt, that I became acquainted with baseball for the first time. It didn’t matter that there weren’t enough kids the same age to play a “real” game; there were enough to play a game of “work-up” where you’d eventually get a turn at bat. In the field, we played a game called “cross out” where you didn’t need a first baseman; the batter was out if the fielder could toss the ball between the batter and first base.
And, that game provided my first “hate” for the game. As a new kid in town, I was relegated to right field; since there was no first baseman, I took up a position a few feet behind that spot in the outfield. With a borrowed glove, I stood out there, alone but very patient. Finally, a batter lifted a ball in my general direction and I ran as fast as my stubby fat legs could carry me. I didn’t hear the “watch out, Billy” yelled by another kid my age and I ran smack into a light pole barely in foul territory.
Crying, blood dripping down the left side of my face, I walked home to the awaiting comfort of my mother.
The “bad taste” of the game only lasted a bit. By the time our family had moved to Alleman in August of 1953, I’d forgotten all about the pole incident. I remember little about the World Series that year as the New York Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers. But, the World Series of 1954, I remember as though it was played only a couple weeks’ ago.
I remember watching Willie Mays race back … and back … into the far reaches of center field at New York’s Polo Grounds to catch a long ball off the bat of Vic Wertz … and I remember Dusty Rhodes’ timely pinch hits as the Giants beat the Indians in four straight games.
We were blessed to watch the “Game of the Week” on those days, when Saturday afternoons featured nationwide telecasts of games held in New York. They featured the New York Yankees, the New York Giants or the Brooklyn Dodgers – the three teams whose home games were in New York.
About that same time, I began collecting baseball cards and I saw, for the first time, the colors on those uniforms. I fell in love with Brooklyn’s colors – cotton white uniforms with royal blue trim. They were the nicest uniforms I’d ever seen and I eagerly bought card after card, feeling lucky each time a Dodger player was on the front.
I loved the Dodgers and, when they won the 1956 World Series, I felt I had my team for life. Then the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. When they lost to the Orioles in four straight games in the 1966 Series, again I felt betrayed.
When I landed a job in Wausau, Wis., after my Army days ended, I became a Chicago Cubs’ fan. I listened to the radio almost every afternoon as the Cubs built a seemingly insurmountable lead in the National League. But, a late-season collapse left the Cubs out of the World Series, again, and my disillusionment mounted anew.
Ah, but 1970 brought about a great change. The Seattle Pilots became the Milwaukee Brewers. I visited the Brewers practice the first day they arrived from Spring Training and I sat in the press box at County Stadium, writing a sidebar story as the Brewers lost their first-ever game, 12-0, to the California Angels.
But, I learned to love those Brewers, even after I’d moved back “home” to Iowa in 1974. With players like Yount and Gantner, it was easy to follow a team with a pennant chance every year. The longer, I remained in Iowa, though, and with Des Moines’ Triple-A team again a part of the Cubs’ system, it was only natural I’d again be a Cubs’ fan. After the Cubs (finally) won the World Series becoming the last of the original Major League teams to do so (heck, it only took a few years longer than a Century) my affection for the team once known as the “loveable losers” was cemented.
Now, though, my disillusionment with baseball may be permanent. This new “play-in” system is absolutely the dumbest new rule, in my opinion, to ever be tried. The Cubs, who led the National League Central Division virtually all season and finished in a tie with the Brewers for first place, were once again left outside looking in as the playoffs began. A team that finished with one of the three best records in the National League is eliminated by losing a single game.
It’s not right and nobody will convince me that it is.