(Editor’s note: For the first time in 69 years, something is missing this Father’s Day – my dad. He passed passed away on Jan. 23 of this year and in a salute to him, here is a re-print of the story I wrote on Father’s Day 2013.)
Baseball and Father’s Day go together like hot dogs and mustard.
For a little more than 68 years now, my dad has been the hot dog and I have been the mustard in a relationship centered on baseball, the grand old game that remains the National Pastime for millions of us.
My dad, Dale, had his 93rd birthday this past May 2 and I sometimes wonder just how many birthdays and Father’s Days he has left. He has a tendency to misplace things and remembers the 1930s and ’40s better than the 2010s. Even so, his heart remains the size of Texas. Yes, old age can really suck, but it beats the alternative.
In the beginning, there was “indoor” baseball games played on the dining room table at our home in Dorris, Ca. I recall that then-current and past Major League players had cardboard cutouts that fit around a metal spinner. Each card was divided into certain categories – each number representing a play. No. 1 was a home run. Ted Williams had a big “1”.
My dad’s team always was the Cardinals. My team always was the Dodgers. My mom and three brothers also participated in these games and the season lasted until the summer ended and school started.
My dad was the “official scorer”, meticulously keeping each and every box score and the “Street League” standings. That is how I learned how to keep score, something that would come in handy during a 40-year career as a sportswriter, covering more than 5,000 MLB games.
Besides those pretend games, there was the Dorris Youth Softball Team my dad coached in the 1950s. I must have been seven or eight years old at the time and loved every second I spent on a baseball field. Having my dad as the coach probably increased my PT just a little.
The closest I ever came to seeing a Major League game was on Saturdays – when we would sit in the living room and watch the Game of the Week, listening to Dizzy Dean butcher the English language and break out in song, usually “Wabash Cannonball”. I could only imagine his broadcast partner Buddy Blattner shaking his head in amazement. But ol’ Diz was one of the Gas House Gang guys that my dad had followed closely during his growing-up years near Kansas City, Mo.
The Cardinals were his team and to my dad Stan (The Man) Musial definitely was THE MAN.
Our baseball bond grew even stronger when, in the fall of 1954, our family took a trip to our grandparents’ house in Springfield, Ore. They had just bought a television set – we didn’t have one – and the first TV show I ever watched was the first game of the ’54 World Series between the New York Giants and Cleveland Indians. That was cool.
Three years later, the Giants moved to San Francisco, putting us within 400-plus miles from the nearest big-league team. But TV remained the only way to see a game.
My dad eventually bought me my first baseball glove, an Eddie Mathews model, for Christmas. It was a glove I used through my first three years of high school. It caught some balls and missed some balls. Still have it (pictured above). I got a new one for the American Legion season in ’63.
During my sophomore year at College of the Siskiyous, my dad informed me that we were taking a little drive to the Bay Area over the Memorial Day weekend to visit Uncle Herman and Aunt Evabel, who had moved from their Tulelake, Ca., farm to Berkeley. The trip included a Sunday afternoon game at Candlestick Park between the Giants and, naturally, the Cardinals. It was our first Major League game together – the date was May 30, 1965.
Our seats were in the upper deck, behind the first-base dugout. Bob Gibson, 8-1 at the time, was the Cardinals starter. Ron Herbel started for the Giants in front of my dad, myself, uncle Herman and 31,916 other spectators.
Much to our disappointment, Willie Mays was not in the Giants’ starting lineup that day. The 34-year-old future Hall of Famer would hit a career-best 52 home runs that season, but none on this day. However, he was the last batter of the game.
Mays entered the game as a pinch-hitter for Jim Ray Hart in the 10th inning, with the bases loaded and two outs. The Say Hey Kid lofted a routine fly ball into left field. Lanky left fielder Bob Skinner sauntered towards the infield, put his glove up, chest-high. The ball hit his glove and fell to the ground, giving the Giants a 3-2 victory in a game that took only 2:30 to play.
Several years later, in 1972′ 73 and ’74, both of my parents were able to experience the World Series up-close and personal, attending the Series games played at the Oakland Coliseum. My dad finally got to see Willie Mays play — in the ’73 Fall Classic.
It would be the final games the great Mays would play, but Father’s Days marched on, one after another.
Until this year….Miss him immensely.