Memories

Memories fade as the years go by.  Some remain readily available when something or someone pushes the right buttons; other ones are embedded deep-down into the inner portion of our brain where the mystery of them are so unknown that their unraveling is still being pursued by the gifted neuropsychologist of our time.  Some of these memories fall into the abyss of our mind where they remain available to us partly in the form of our senses; other memories remain firmly rooted in the deep emotive portion of our brain.  For the most part we try to avoid any leakage of our affective memory that brings emotional pain to us, and only respond to them when our self image is threatened.  It would be unwise and dangerous of our personhood to allow an attack upon our self image without actively defending it.  Defense mechanisms, sometimes healthy & sometimes not, are required to defend the integrity of our self.  Memories fortify who we think we are, and we bend them and shape them over time to conform to who we think we are.  Mike’s snapshot begins.

      A 1953 Crown Victoria Ford

During the Summer in the year of 1954, Mike began a trip with his father that he would never forget.  They were headed to Sportsman Park in St. Louis to watch the St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies play a night game.  Lickety-split Mike’s Dad sped down the two lane highway accompanied by one adult friend & son in the back seat with the other adult riding shotgun in the front seat.  Traveling in a 1953 Crown Victoria Ford with three grown men and going to see his very first Major League game gave Mike a very special feeling, almost like being a grown-up himself.  Traveling almost due West for 150 miles to see a Big League baseball game provided time for him to remember the fictional Phileas Fogg who took his trip around the world in eighty days.  Mike possessed a good imagination and knew without a shadow of doubt he would never forget this day.  At that time the Cardinals were  farther West than any team in the Big Leagues.

        Sportsman Park

They passed through many small Illinois towns like Mt. Vernon, Nashville & Freeburg on their way to St. Louis, MO, and Mike’s dad pointed out several courthouse squares so prominent in the county seats located in the Southern part of the state.  They traveled all the way to East St. Louis on a narrow two lane highway that led them to  the banks of the Mississippi River.  As they crossed Old Man River on the longest & highest bridge ever imagined by Mike, he looked through the steel girders and viewed the winding river and the barges full of coal moving down the river.  It was his first view of the Mississippi and he marveled at its width and wondered how the first settlers managed to cross such a big river without a bridge to go over.  That thought passed quickly as he asked his Dad how much farther to Sportsman Park.  “Not long, son, We’re almost there,” he said with a big grin on his face.  He explained to his son that the name of the baseball park was changed to Busch Stadium in 1953, but most people commonly called the park by its old name, Sportsman Park, because it had been called that for so long.  Several stadiums made of wood, and all named Sportsman Park, had been built previously on this same site, and each and everyone of them burned down.  The present structure, made of concrete and steel, opened in 1909.  After several additional improvements, including a double deck to expand fan capacity, you have what you will see today.

When the ballpark came into view, Mike couldn’t wait to get inside.  After going thru the turnstile he heard the hawker holler, “Scorecard, scorecard, get your scorecard here!  You can’t know one player from another without a scorecard.”  Entering their seating section he caught the panoramic view of the ballpark and field and quickly focused on the carefully groomed infield with its smoothed, dirt surface, highlighted by the carefully clipped grass of the same, the strait white lines framing the fair-foul area of the field, the batter’s box brightly chalked, the raised pitching mound rising perfectly 60’ 6”away from the point of the plate, and the vastness of the outfield grass.  He felt as if he were having an out of body experience.  It didn’t seem real to him, for it looked more like a picture post card; but he knew it was real; and he was there to experience it first hand.

His first Big League game.  After scoping out the whole ballpark again he took a closer look at the fans nearby.  They were all busy looking at their scorecards, coming & going from the concession stands, talking about the players & the baseball season thus far, just busy doing things fans do at the ballpark.  He heard the cadence of the salesmen as they traveled up & down the stairs selling their refreshments and announcing as they went, “Budweiser, Budweiser, ice cold beer here; get your ice cold beer; Budweiser, ice cold Budweiser right here.”  Peanuts, cotton candy, soft drinks, & other refreshments were available at your seat.  The activity at the ballpark felt electric as it touched Mike even before the game started.  As he played 2nd base, he couldn’t wait to see Red Schoendienst take the field.  He waited on the edge of his seat for the Cardinal to take the field & hoped to see the Budweiser Eagle flap his wings, and one win put-up on the win column for the Birds.

The 1953 Cardinals finished the season in 4th place in the National League with a record of 83-71.  So far during the 1954 Season the Cardinals struggled to maintain a .500 pace and finished the season in 6th place with a record of 72-82 (please don’t tell Mike).  Despite the Cardinals less than stellar performance so far in the summer of 1954, Mike stayed a true fan and rooted enthusiastically all the way for the Cards, hoping until the end for a winning streak that never happened.  Again, like a good fan Mike hoped for better things to come next year in 1955.

When Springtime returns each year, a baseball fan’s expectation of his team winning a championship are reborn.  As the fan sings Auld Lang Syne, he forgets the past and believes all things are new, and a World Series Championship is possible when on opening day the umpire yells out, “Let’s play baseball; batter up.”  It pains me to  note that the Cardinals finished 7th 1955 with a record of 68-86, but that’s baseball.  Mike’s memory fails him when he tries to remember who won the game that special day, but he remembers they played the Phillies, and he remembers the pre-game entertainment.

The first event of the pregame entertainment included the Phillies center fielder, Richie Ashburn, and the center fielder for the Cards, Wally Moon, representing their teams in a sprinting contest to determine the fastest ball player on the field that day.  Mike sat in the lower section about two-thirds down the left field foul line, back about thirty roles with a steel girder interrupting a small portion of his view toward the infield.  Being young and healthy he stretched his neck easily and twisted his torso in such a manner as to minimize the intrusive girder.  The girder did not impede his view of the race course out in front of him.  The competitors raced from the left field corner, across center field, and finished at the right field corner.  As the two men raced full throttle across the outfield grass, Mike crossed his fingers on both hands and held his breath as Wally Moon just nipped Ashburn at the end. Until the announcer reported Wally Moon as the winner, Mike remained unsure as who won.

The second contest pitted the Cards catcher, Bill Sarni, against the Phillies catcher, Stan Lopata, in a contest where a pressure cooker without lid was placed on top of 2nd base, and whoever threw the baseball into the pressure cooker first from behind home plate won the contest.  Both catchers made several throws before Bill Sarni hit the jackpot and won the contest.  It surprised Mike that several throws went astray before on of them hit their target.  His first hint that Big Leaguers were human after all.  Mike remembered the Cardinals won both contests while failing to remember who won the game.  It’s a good bet the Phillies won the game.

During the game Mike’s Dad went to the concession stand and brought back hot dogs & soft drinks for all.  As it always is & was, the ball park hotdog tasted better to Mike than any other hotdog he ever ate.  He took a couple bites of hotdog and then a big swig of his soft drink and declared breathlessly to his Dad, “This is the best darn hotdog I’ve ever tasted.”  His Dad just smiled and nodded his head yes.  The hotdog and drink complemented one another beautifully, as if a magic chef had chosen the special ingredients himself and put it all together only to be eaten at the ballpark.  What is it about ballpark hotdogs?  “A hotdog at the ballpark is better that a steak at the Ritz”—Humphrey Bogart.

    Harry Caray

During the game Mike’s dad pointed up to an area high above the stands behind home plate and pointed to a box where the announcers Harry Cary, Jack Buck, & Milo Hamilton announced the Cardinal games on KMOX radio.  Milo Hamilton was fired the next year to make way for Joe Garagiola. While Mike  listened to a game on the radio some time back, Harry Cary reported that the Cards pitcher, Harvey Haddix, had been “knocked out of the box.”  Mike had never heard that term before and wondered if the pitcher had been hit in the head by a line drive and knocked out.  He attentively listened to the announcer to discern if the pitcher had been seriously injured, but nothing came of it other than another pitcher came in to replace Haddix.  Back then the little leaguers in Mike’s neck of the woods referred to a change of pitchers as “opening up a new can of pitchers.”   Knowing that a hard baseball could be dangerous, Mike wasn’t satisfied until he found out the answer.  His Dad later informed him what the phrase meant, but until then he figured there was nothing to worry about if Harry Cary didn’t appear too concerned about it.

On the long trip home Mike stayed awake until about halfway home.  Prior to that he listened to the men talk about the game and tell some pretty crude jokes on the risqué side.  Most of his life he had been sheltered from that sort of talk and found it rather shocking.  As the men took turns in telling their jokes, they laughed at the punch lines heartedly, which gave Mike the impression they were having fun.  The ease in which they told the jokes lessened the original shock value of the naughty stores.  Mike laughed at some of the jokes later on.

Before tiring and going to sleep in the back seat of the car, Mike reviewed in his mind the excitement of the game and his introduction into the company of adult males.  Most of all he knew he wanted to be a Major Leaguer if ever he could.  But he knew it was a long way from his little league team to the Major Leagues.  The game played tonight at Sportsman Park looked more like a game played by Greek gods than of ordinary men on this earth.  That night Mike dreamed about a foul ball coming his way in the stands, and he crabbed it for a souvenir.  He awoke with a smile on his face.  He reported re-experiencing that dream several times hence and later into his adulthood.

Most likely players for St. Louis Cardinals on the day Mike watched his first Cardinal game:  Catcher, Bill Sarni; 1st base, Joe Cunningham; 2nd base, Red Schoendienst; 3d base, Ray Jablonski; SS, Alex Grammas; Left Field, Rip Repulski; center field, Wally Moon; Right Field, Stan Musial; and Pitcher, Jerry Staley.  Mike believes Tom Poholsky came in as a reliever that game because he remembered liking his overhand delivery and pitching motion to the plate.

An interesting fact about Wally Moon is that in 1954 he easily won Rookie of the Year beating out Henry Aaron, Gene Conley, and Ernie Banks.  garland dale

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