By Bruce Stambaugh
Baseball and I go way back.
I can’t remember exactly when I saw my first major league baseball game. But I do recall attending several as a youngster, often with my family.
I also recollect one of my first Little League games as a player. I was 7 years old, the youngest and smallest kid on the team. The coach put me at second base, possibly thinking that was the safest spot on the field for me. It didn’t work out that way.
Those were the days when real baseball rules were followed no matter how young you were. The pitcher pitched, not the coach. The batters batted. T-ball was unheard of.
One hallmark of baseball is its pithy clichés. One axiom says put an inexperienced player on the field and “the ball will find him.” Well, it did me that day.
A batter lashed a one hopper right at me. The hardball jumped off the compacted all dirt infield and smashed right into my mouth. I walked to the bench with loose front teeth, bleeding gums, a fat lip and a bruised adolescent ego.
That should have been an omen. As much as I loved the game, I really wasn’t a very good player. Maybe that’s why I focused so much on my favorite team, the Cleveland Indians. I got my baseball fix by dreaming of playing third base for the Tribe.
In those days, before our home had a television, I listened to the games on the radio. I loved the cadence and opinionated passion that Jimmy Dudley, the Indians play-by-play announcer, put into calling the games. Each play came alive in my mind.
In the 1950s, the Indians were consistently good with great, inspiring players. Some made the Baseball Hall of Fame. Paige, Doby, Lemon, Wynn, Feller, Minoso, Score, and Colavito were just some of my idols.
Because we lived 60 miles south of Cleveland, we could only go to a couple of games each year. It was just too far and too expensive.
But because he loved baseball, too, Dad made every effort to take us to a game or two when time and cash allowed. To get his money’s worth, we often went to doubleheader games. Dad reveled at seeing two games for one price. Those were the days when doubleheaders were played 20 minutes apart, not as two separately ticketed games like they are today.
You could take coolers and thermoses into the ballpark then, too. We must have been quite the sight with five children in tow carrying a big, red, metal cooler into the stadium. Dad wasn’t about to pay for food and drink when you could take your own.
Just as I was entering my formative years, a life-changing event occurred for the Indians and me. They traded my favorite player, Rocky Colavito, the previous year’s homerun champ, for Harvey Kuenn, the previous year’s batting champ.
The team’s fortunes soured after that. The players’ names changed, too. Tasby, Latman, Mahoney, Phillips, Klimchock and Kirkland were the regulars to root for, although there really wasn’t much to cheer about. The teams often started out well, but usually faded by late summer.
I still love our national pastime and attend as many games as I think I can afford. Despite my nostalgic affection for baseball and the cost of ballpark food, I am glad for one 21st century policy. Big red coolers are prohibited.