Baseball is one of America’s favorite sports, and the World Series is underway.
Its importance likely depends on whether your favorite team is involved, despite what 31st president of the United States Herbert Hoover said: “Next to religion, baseball has had a greater impact on the American people than any other institution.”
Even here in Cordova, Abner Doubleday’s 1839 invention continues to fascinate us. Witness the lively turnouts every summer, rain or shine, to the Little League field right across the street from the high school.
My first experiences with the sport were on the old City Field, which was located where Cordova High School now stands.
There were no organized leagues at that time. We played “work-up” in front of a worn-down wire backstop that dated back to the railroad days.
At that time, I was peddling this very paper for 10 cents a copy, and the first thing we paper boys would do with our profits was race down to Davis Superfoods to buy Topps bubble gum, flat chewy stuff that just happened to come in a pack with baseball cards.
Trading such cards was our first introduction to free market forces; and for me, nothing was more treasured than those of Brooklyn Dodgers.
To this day, I am often asked why I became a Dodger fan. The answer revolves around media of that era. A young sportscaster named Vin Scully was broadcasting their games, and if atmospheric conditions were right, we could pick up the play-by-play on shortwave channels of a Trans Oceanic radio.
At that time there were no lights in stadiums, so all the games were played during the day. Alaska had four time zones; and when the Yankees and Dodgers were paired up in the World Series back New York, Dad and I would listen to games over Rice Krispies at breakfast time.
The Yankees were traditional powers. It’s the American Way to root for the underdog; so Go Dodgers. How could you not pull for a team that had Pee Wee Reese at shortstop, Duke Snider in the outfield, and Sal “The Barber” Maglie coming in from the bullpen to give those guys in Pinstripes a trim with a sizzling high tight fastball?
My passion for the Dodgers continued when they moved to Los Angeles. In 1980 Sue and I took our T-balling daughters Heidi and Gretchen to Chavez Ravine, where we all ate Farmer John Dodger Dogs, which were as good as Vin described them.
A couple years later, we met up at Dodger Stadium with Ray and Anja Segerman and their two kids. The couple had lived in Cordova for several years, where I met Ray while working on carpentry projects. They moved back to Arizona, and Ray showed up with a baseball bat that he said one of the Dodgers was going to autograph for me. Turns out a friend of his had been college roommates with Ron Cey, who was now the LA third baseman.
Security was much different back then. We went down several elevators, until being stopped by a security guard right outside the LA locker room door. As we waited for him to check with Mr. Cey, Fernando Valenzula and Steve Garvey walked by, in white home uniforms trimmed with the LA script logo and bright red numbers. It was baseball heaven.
The Penguin, as Cey was called due to his short legs, was not signing autographs that day. In fact, said the guard, “Mr. Cey is in a slump, and is not playing today.” I still have the bat.
I also have a small Fernando statue from that trip. It stands somewhat askew, as my kids broke it while playing by our TV, and my wife tried to glue it back together, so I wouldn’t notice. That happened while I was at the duck cabin, and almost ran off its roof while jumping with joy over Kirk Gibson’s unforgettable home run in Game 2 of the 1988 World Series. It was the only place I could get the game on the radio; and bless her heart, she found a VHS tape to record the event.
Sue has been a very good baseball wife. Back in her vast collection of sands from our various trips sits a jar labelled “Dodger Outfield, Opening Day, April 2008.” We had gone down to catch the first game of the 50th Anniversary of Dodger play in LA, and arrived so early the gates to the outfield were open, allowing kids to shag fly balls during batting practice. Sue had to explain to the security guard that I really was a kid from Alaska; and also tell me when he was looking the other way, so I could scoop up some coarse dirt from the warning track in front of the left field wall.
So. Here we are. The Dodgers are back in the World Series for the first time since that 1988 Classic, in which they topped the Athletics, four games to one.
My five-year-old grandson Huck, who just started playing T-ball down in Austin, Texas is naturally rooting for the Houston Astros. This summer, when he wasn’t whacking Whiffle balls into Odiak Slough, he informed me that his favorite players were Astro centerfielder George Springer and shortstop Carlos Correa.
His Lone Star State squad has been around for 55 years, and has yet to win a World Series. Someday I am sure he will see that happen.
We recently made a wager on the Series. A milkshake of choice sounds perfect. He indicated salmon berry would be his choice if he won. He ate them by the bucket-full here in Cordova.
Both he and I have broken out our team paraphernalia to increase our mojo.
And in this Fall Classic, I’m going to be a winner, regardless of who wins.