Thursday, October 15, 2015

Throwback Thursday: It Happens Every Fall (Baseball Memories)

It's that time of year again. The Major League Baseball playoffs are underway, and the hibernating fan in me begins to awaken. Congrats to the teams that have progressed thus far. The Cubs fans must surely be biting their nails with excitement as their team has passed another hurdle. Good luck! 

When you get to the end you will notice that this 2008 post was written at a different time of the year. 

As noted in a previous post, no man is an island. Nor any woman. From the moment we enter this world we not only have a connection to our personal families, and simultaneously connected to our extended family, the body of humanity.

Of course this is not something we immediately sense – and some never sense it at all. But as we enter this world, we do come to appreciate and understand that our grand appearance here takes place within a context, for some less fortunate than others.

I made my entry into the world as a firstborn to young parents in Cleveland, Ohio. (Feet first, for what it's worth.) My mom and dad each had rural roots, West Virginia and Kentucky respectively, but had taken up residence in a second floor apartment in a section of Cleveland known as Little Italy.

They were evidently avid baseball fans because the four teddy bears in my crib were named after the 1952 Cleveland Indians starting rotation: Mike Garcia, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and fireballer Bob Feller. These guys were awesome pitchers in their prime but only handed Indians fans one pennant in the fifties due to the heartless dominance of the Yankees of that era.

I don’t recall what happened to Wynn and Garcia (the teddy bears), but Lemon and Feller accompanied me for many a year. So did the love of baseball.

One of my mom’s favorite players was the Indians’ second baseman Bobby Avila. Three times a candidate for the League’s Most Valuable Player, Avila hailed from Mexico, a fact which I learned many years later while living in Monterrey in 1981. My wife and I were walking through the Baseball Hall of Fame in that city whereupon I saw a Cleveland Indians baseball uniform. (I will try to find the photo I took and post it here.) It immediately made me think of my Mom.

In the fifties my grandfather and dad took my brothers and I to many a ball game at Cleveland Stadium. I can recall box seats behind the Indians dugout on a bright sunny afternoon. On another occasion I remember box seats just a little to the right of the backstop during a double header in which the Yankees’ Elston Howard hit home runs over the deep center field fence in each game.

Each spring, as the baseball season commenced, our family watched the movie It Happens Every Spring, starring Ray Milland, about a professor who discovers a way to juice a baseball so that it avoids being hit by wood. Like the annual airing of The Wizard of Oz, our family watched this Saturday Night at the Movies feature year in and year out.

Within this context, it’s hard to imagine not having an interest in baseball.

Maybe things would have been different if the Indians had not been contenders. And probably it would have been much different if I had been born and raised in a town with no team at all. But it is what it is. And for this reason, to some extent Fate has a hand in how we become who we are… though I must immediately add that I believe, too, that our decisions today help make us who we will become.

Besides my own appearance here, other significant events of 1952 include the publication of Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea and John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Herman Wouk won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for The Caine Mutiny. Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower won the 1952 election for president of the United States. The Korean Conflict was happening across the Pacific, and McCarthyism was in full swing in the corridors of power here in the homeland.

Two other features of note. First, not that it matters much, 1952 was a Leap Year. And second, 1952 was a year in which a major wave of Baby Boomers entered the world. One of them was Bob Costas, a sports announcer who many Americans recognize and still welcome into their homes via television. Currently he is the anchor for this year’s Olympic Games. He is a passionate fan of baseball to such an extent that he has even been considered for the position of baseball commissioner.

Costas has certainly had a charmed life, being in a position where he not only gets to meet his heroes and the great sports figures of our time, he gets to ask them probing questions, to find out what makes them tick. Hopefully he still gets a thrill from this privileged position. He certainly excels at projecting the kind of educated passion that makes people (and by this, I mean viewers) want to spend time in his presence.

If I were interviewing Mr. Costas, I would like to know…
Did your parents name your teddy bears after the New York Yankees starting rotation? (He grew up in the Queens, New York.)
How many Yankees vs. Indians double headers did you see in the fifties?
When did you see your first All Star Game? (I saw mine in Cleveland, 1963.)
What would you consider the three greatest sports moments of the past thirty years?
And finally, what makes you tick? It has to be more than the money, which can’t be half bad. What do you love most in life and what are your goals for the next thirty years?

And, if you could ask Mr. Costas a couple questions, what would they be?

Bob Costas Trivia: Costas was a huge Mickey Mantle fan and purportedly carried a 1958 Mickey Mantle baseball card in his wallet. Here's a picture of my own 1958 Mickey Mantle card, one of baseball's legendary heroes when we were both young fans.

And now, back to the Olympics. Go, team.

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