Cordova Chronicles: The sun sets on Tom Seaver

In April 2009, retired Met’s Hall of Fame great Tom Seaver fires the opening pitch at New York’s Citi Field. Photo by Sgt. Randall A. Clinton/ U.S. Marine Corps

Tom Seaver, Hall of Fame pitcher, died Aug. 31, from complications due to COVID-19. He was 75 years old.

Seaver was known as “Tom Terrific” for his blazing fastball, and perhaps most famous for leading the “Miracle Mets” to the World Championships in 1959, after the franchise had floundered for years.

I just happened to be listening to a Dodger game on XM Satellite Radio at our duck cabin, when Rick Monday, a play-by-play commentator for the Dodgers, announced the news of Seaver’s death prior to the game.

Monday, a former outfielder for Los Angeles who gained fame for preventing a protestor from burning an American flag on the field during a game at Dodger Stadium in 1976, was a close friend of Seaver.

In 1964, Monday and Seaver had established the friendship, in of all places, Fairbanks, Alaska. The duo was among many talented college players recruited to play for the Alaska Goldpanners in the Alaska Baseball Summer League.

The squad was managed by Fairbanks mayor Red Boucher, and several players went on to become major league all-stars.

During the broadcast, Monday described their unique summer schedule, which always includes a famous Midnight Sun Game. The contest dates back over 100 years, and is always played on June 21, starting late in the evening and taking advantage of 24 hours of sunlight, while never using artificial lights.

Monday mentioned that nobody could touch Seaver’s fastball in broad daylight, so “Tom Terrific” was especially unhittable in shadows and semi-light conditions.

Monday then proceeded to tell a wonderful anecdote about the first time he faced off against Seaver in a Major League game.

They had met and visited during pregame; and Seaver, who it turns out had a great sense of humor, told Monday that when he first came up, the first pitch would be his best fastball, betting he couldn’t touch it.

When his turn came, Monday stepped in, nodded at Seaver, who nodded back, and prepared to swing at high heat in the upper 90s. What he got was a slow curve ball, and he fell in the batter’s box after swinging wildly before the ball even reached the plate.

As he picked himself up and dusted off the dirt, Seaver could barely hide the laughter behind his mitt. And proceeded to strike him out.

It turns out, in 1974, Sue, I, and our 1-year old daughter Heidi drove to Fairbanks to visit friends Leo and Beth Kourmetis, and just happened to be there for that year’s Midnight Sun game.

By then, Seaver and Monday were both established Major Leaguers, but I remember a future Hall of Famer named Dave Winfield making a terrific catch in an outfield golden with late evening sun.

Flash forward to June of 1980. Sue, Heidi, Gretchen and I were about to head out to the Cordova airport to begin our first trip to Disneyland, and, coincidentally, our first trip to Dodger Stadium.

The doorbell rang, and there stood Red Boucher, who was running for lieutenant governor.  Unbeknownst to me, through his baseball coaching of top college talent, he had scouting connections with the Dodgers.

He noted our girls had little suitcases and discovered the destinations for our trip. He then asked if we already had tickets for the Dodger game. I said yes, and mentioned where the seats were located in the stadium.

He took out a small note pad, scribbled on it and handed it to me.

“Look, why don’t you call this number and ask for Marge,” he said. “Tell her you are a good friend of Red Boucher, and say he told you to call for tickets.”

So, I did. Sue was shaking her head, and the kids were getting antsy. There was a pause, and then Marge came on the line: “Mr. Shellhorn: We will have four box seat tickets for you waiting at the will-call window. And say hi to Red.”

Sure enough, after a seven-day drive from Seattle to Los Angeles, which included skirting Mt. St. Helens, which had just erupted, we spent a couple days at Disneyland, and then headed to Chavez Ravine.

We could smell Dodger Dogs roasting and hear the sound of batted balls from pregame drills as we climbed the stairs to the ticket booths and found the will-call window.

In the balmy 80-degree heat, with chills in my back, I introduced myself, showed my ID and asked for the tickets.

There they were, in a nice little packet, pinned to a wall board.

We all stood in awe at that first step into the unbelievable panorama of Dodger Stadium.

Red Boucher was Lt. Governor from 1970-’74. He failed in other attempts to regain the office.  But he got my vote every time.

At a cabin in the far reaches of the Alaska, Rick Monday’s farewell tribute to COVID-stricken Tom Seaver triggered a flood of memories of golden days of yore.

And hopefully, of golden COVID-free days to come.