I’ve been thinking about what to put in a TWG guest post for much of the off-season, but didn’t manage to do anything more. Greek Giant’s call to action has finally gotten me started. My theme was meant to be how my mother turned me into a baseball fan, although she probably didn’t expect the Giants thing to happen. But part of this story is some old games, to match GG’s recent suggestion of topic.
I grew up in the Midwest, where the Cardinals were dominant – everyone west of St Louis at least as far as the Rockies could listen to Harry Caray on a network of radio stations. We always had those games on, and of course my parents were Redbird fans. I was raised properly, in the National League religion, and taught contempt for the Yankees that persists to this day. We could watch exactly one game a week, on NBC every Saturday afternoon, so sometimes I could see Willie Mays in his prime, along with McCovey, Marichal, Perry, and all the rest of his Giants cohort. I’m very grateful to Willie for turning me into a Giants fan. Probably that was 1961, but perhaps 1962 when I was 8 years old, and learned the hard way in that World Series that sometimes the bad guys win. Baseball holds a lot of lessons for life, and the ’62 WS was an early and very cruel example. I still hate the Yankees almost as much as I hate the Dodgers.
Now, Dad liked ball as much as any normal American would, but Mom was a fanatic. I remember that if I went to the grocery store with Dad on Saturday, he’d buy me a packet of baseball cards and gum – and since my Mom is not the kind to throw cards away, I’m not one of those who complains that his Mom threw all his cards away after he went to college. Two of her uncles had once tried to go to Montana to play in some kind of rookie league, I’d guess back in the late ’20s, one of whom used to go to spring training in Arizona every year after he retired. As a kid, I thought that was a pretty cool idea, but of course the prices were quite a bit different then. Unfortunately I didn’t know I should ask my Greatuncle about his attempt to play pro ball, while he was still alive. Mom grew up in the 1930s in Topeka, so I grew up hearing about the mighty Topeka Owls whom the Internet reveals to have been a class C team, operating just before and after World War II. I often heard that Granddad would take Mom and my uncle for an ice cream on the way home from the game. Mom had lots of autographs she’d written off for, and the Owls gave her a life long passion for the game. We always went to a lot of minor league games in Wichita, and later Mom and Dad had half-season tickets and even were part of the booster club for the Wranglers: more on that later.
Now, our family would spend a vacation week in the summers of the 1960s, by loading all us kids into the back seat of a Ford to drive off to a major league city. Museums and stuff mostly, but always with a big league ball game. I remember going to Chicago, and having the game rained out: the next day Dad went to the ticket stand to plead that we were on holiday, and so not still in town on the official rain date, and could we please go that day. I did find that program, from 8 June 1969, complete with a rain check ticket stub tucked inside. That was long before the Cubs were selling out all their home games, and they were in fact extremely impressed anyone would have come all the way from Kansas to see them. We also went to the Astrodome, in June 1968, when the players decided to play the game we had tickets for after all, in the wake of RFK’s assassination. It is odd to think we all believed artificial turf was a good thing then, but I remember buying a scrap of it for my souvenir. We did go to a few KC Athletics games in the early ’60s, but those games weren’t a big deal as it was only an hour’s drive from Granddad’s home (and the AL, to boot, so not nearly as memorable). Granddad listened to his KC Royals on the radio the night before he passed away, I’m told.
But the best game of all these family trips was to STL. No doubt after intensive lobbying by 10 year old me, we arrived at the Giants-Cardinals game on 20 June 1964, quite possibly the first MLB game I ever saw. A couple of decades later, I had the memory that Willie had homered that day, but wasn’t sure who had won the game. Then Mom mailed me the program in 1990 (see photo) after Orlando Cepeda had come to a card show, where Mom had the program autographed. Apparently being asked to sign a 26 years old program seemed pretty unique, as she tells me Orlando spent some time looking at it before he signed it. Mom also sent along the newspaper she had saved, and delightfully for me to rediscover, it was a rout. 20 hits by our Giants, with a solo shot by Willie as one of our 3 HR. Cepeda, Lanier, and Davenport each had 3 RBI. Pagan was the SS, and Haller the C. Alas, the newspaper article says Willie clanked a catch into a triple, to Lou Brock, one of many big-name Cardinals that day. I’m sure Mom and Dad weren’t too thrilled about seeing their Cardinals lose 14-3. (box score http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SLN/SLN196406200.shtml).
Now, I can’t find the program from the next Giants game I saw in person, on 9 September 2006. 42 years after my first Giants game. Wherever that program is, there’s also the ticket stub and a button that marked one of Barry’s home runs, it must have been in the 750s, which you could get from the Giants by mailing in your ticket. I’ve had fun looking at a lot of other stuff while hunting for that program, including finding a printout of Mavo’s story about the Marichal/Spahn marathon. But finally I just tracked that game down on the internet. Jason Schmidt started against the Padres. We were there for a chemistry conference, and the student who organized the resold tickets got us into the left field bleachers, a few rows behind #25. Barry hit a solo homer to center early on. I remember turning to the Giants fan next to me, and remarking that the last time I went to a Giants game, that Willie had hit one (and waiting while the guy mentally processed that one!). The game got tied up, as Jason Schmidt was on his downward slide by then, just before slipping all the way to LA, but the Giants won 5-4 in extras (box score http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SFN/SFN200609090.shtml).
I’ve only been to one more Giants game in person, that one a 6-2 loss in Milwaukee on 19 June 2007, which Tim Lincecum started. The Brewers crowd was really ragging on Barry, hitting clean up, who went 0-3 with a walk. So my lifetime record is 2-1.
Okay, back to Mom. This is from a note she got in early 2016 from a childhood friend, now living in a nursing home in the Seattle area. They have an in-house news bulletin of some kind, by and about the residents. I have changed all the names in this, for purposes of anonymity, except for a few player names and the vaunted Topeka Owls:
JUST A FAN, NOT A FANATIC
Forest Home is blessed with several men who are avid baseball fans. The Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, and New York Yankees are among their favorite teams. But there are some women, too, with the baseball itch, among them Ann Nightingale.
“I love baseball”, said Nightingale, a Forest Home resident since February of 2014. “I’m just a fan, though. I’m not even close to being like some of my relatives who are fanatics”.
Therein lies a story of how the game can become so captivating, even intoxicating. And this story began in the 1940’s in Topeka, Kansas, home of the Topeka Owls of the Class C Western Association.
The Jerry Curtiss family, cousins of Ann Downing (Nightingale’s maiden name), began taking her to games with them.
“I felt so lucky they did that”, she said. “It was so much fun to spend a hot summer evening watching the young players in the all-white home uniforms. Fun to hear the crack of the bat. Fun to see the players tear around the bases. Fun to see them circle the bases after hitting home runs. It was only a class C league but some real talent came through it, including Stan Musial and Mickey Mantle. Needless to say, Musial and Mantle didn’t stay long.” [editor’s note: my Mom and my uncle always spoke of Musial in the same manner I do Willie. Baseball Reference tells me Stan the Man was an Owl in 1941].
Seeing Ann’s budding interest, Jerry [my Granddad] made it a priority to increase her interest. “He taught me a lot about baseball”, she said. “For instance, he taught me how to keep score and filled me in on some baseball lingo, such as ‘can of corn’ for a pop flyball.”
All the while, Ann became a bigger and bigger fan of the Owls, a team that periodically was associated with the St. Louis Browns, Chicago Cubs, and Chicago White Sox.
In 1949, two years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jerry encouraged his daughter Mary [that’s my Mom] to request an autograph from him. She was shocked and delighted by the reply. Robinson not only sent his autograph, but also those of Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella, two other black players signed by the Dodgers.
“Mary cherishes those autographs”, Nightingale said. “She probably could sell them for quite a bit of money, but she’s not about to do that. She has them in her archives which include many other autographs, articles, and other souvenirs. She did send me a copy of the autographs which is very special to me.”
Then there was the night at an Owls game when Jerry told Ann and Mary that George Sisler, the Hall of Fame first baseman, was in the park. He suggested that they ask for his autograph. “I got Sisler’s autograph, but I have no idea what happened to it”, Nightingale said. Her frustration with the loss of that autograph was heightened in 2004, when Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki surpassed Sisler’s record for hits in a season, with his 257th, a record which Sisler had held for 84 years, “And I lost his autograph”, she said.
Nightingale and her late husband moved to Puyallup, Washington in 1975, and she became a devoted fan of the Mariners. “I watch them on TV a lot”, she said. “I also like the Cubs, and Mary loves the Cubs. I have a wish – that the Mariners and Cubs would play in the World Series”.
Would a lifelong friendship be tested by such a pairing? “Not really”, Nightingale said, laughing. “I think it would be great fun”.
Mom was pretty happy last October, but I’ve recently told her not to expect a repeat in 2017 – the Giants are too strong to let that 9th inning happen again.
I’m not quite clear on how Mom changed from being a STL fan when I was a kid to a Cubs fan now, but she did pull for the Padres in between. That was because Wichita had the AA affiliate of the Padres for a while. Our Bruce Bochy managed the Wranglers in 1991, and made quite an impression as a human being on Mom. I’ve got a bunch of Bochy baseball cards that she bought back then, now in my possession. Mom also remembers Hunter Pence playing in Wichita, as the Wrangler’s were also an Astros affiliate for a spell.
You can see that my genetics indicate I’ll go to my grave as a Giants fan. I started just because Willie seemed so graceful a player, and he had so many other good teammates in the 1960s when I was a boy. Like a lot of people, my interest in baseball faded in early adult life, but started to come back in the 80s and 90s – I was at a chemistry conference during the earthquake, and at a different conference when the news came that Peter Magowan had saved our team for SF, and then a day later landed a deal with Barry Bonds. The organization now has great stability: financially, in the front office, and on the coaching staff. Pitching first, hitting second, the exact same recipe those cursed Dodgers used on us in the ’60s. Matt Cain is a personal favorite, and we all know what Tim Lincecum did. But best of all, I like the emphasis on team chemistry and decent people: it is easy to say Posey and Bumgarner, but then there’s also Panik and Pence and Crawford and our memory of Duffy or Vogey. The Giants are doing things the right way, and no doubt acquiring fans in this decade like they did back in the 1960s.
Now, let me end by saying how much this blog means to me. As baseball coverage died in the newspaper (try and find anything written about west coast teams in a Midwest paper today!), the internet came along, so I found the team’s MLB page and the SF Chronicle’s page early on. Somehow I then learned about Baggarly’s blog at the San Jose paper’s web site, which had great information about the team and players. Mostly I read the actual Extra Baggs post, but after a while it seemed that the comment section was chock full of interesting characters, with a deep knowledge of baseball. Pavlovic carried on well, and did us a big favor by getting rid of two awful trolls. I still can’t figure out why the SJMN let their blog fall apart last year, but Greek Giant really stepped up last season to keep things going. We’ve had new content all through the winter from GG, and I am sorry my own effort is too late to help GG as “Hot Stove filler”. Truly, thank you.
I’ve learned a lot from all of you, about old games, being a fan, the technical side of fielding and hitting, thinking about OurGuys, and how fatalistic a manager has to be about his pitching or pinch-hitting choices. Mentioning any names would just mean I overlook others, but I simply had to work in Mavo’s name above! It took me more than two years reading Extra Baggs to find the courage to toss in a comment, and I’m happy that you put up with me. I only played briefly in little league, and now you know that I have been to a grand total of 3 Giants games – I am so envious of your stories about Candlestick or attending parades or meeting some of the players. So let me encourage anyone who is lurking to chip in, too. There seems to be room for all kinds of baseball and Giants fans here, and even our fairly interesting Cubs and Dodger fan.