Category Archives: Baseball

The long walk home…

CleBusses

 

I used to call my boys “young and stupid” while they were growing up. You see – the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  I did a LOT of stupid things when I was a young man.  I attribute a portion of my problems to the time I grew up, which was much more simpler and innocent.  Another factor was my home life.  I lost my mother when I was 10, found out I was adopted at 12, never met my real father and left home by 16.  In other words, I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed with parental supervision.

One thing that never wavered throughout my youth was my love for baseball and the Cleveland Indians.  My grandmother used to take me to games and she was patient enough to let me beg for autographs outside the Gate A parking lot after the game. My most prized autograph was Rocky Colavito who signed a 10 cent scorecard for me.

It’s funny how perspective can be cruel.  When I was 12, from my PERPSECTIVE, I couldn’t believe how gigantic the stadium was.  the rampsChiefWahoo taking you from deck to deck seemed to stretch forever.  Even the walkways from the lower to upper deck seemed immense.  I remember well the Fourth of July series with the Yankees, when old Cleveland Municipal Stadium used to sell out. You could feel the old structure waving in the breeze as people banged seats and yelled at the top of their lungs.

I remember making a mess with peanut shells and those glorious hot dogs with stadium mustard.  As I got older, Saturday home games would include a trip up to Prospect Avenue for a visit to Record Rendezvous to pick up the latest WHK Fabulous Fifty Tunedex.  Or a leisurely stroll through Kay’s Books for some comic book bargains.  My limo for these trips was a Cleveland bus – sometimes two.  One trip to Downtown Cleveland when I got a little older turned out to be a very long day.

My friend Don and I decided to go to an Indians game. Now we never had a whole lot of money, but we always managed to save a quarter for the bus home. But on this day we didn’t.  We were older now, and from our PERSPECTIVE, walking home couldn’t be that big of a deal.

Tired feet

Well of course it was.  It took over two hours to walk from Downtown Cleveland to East 55th and Broadway.  It was dark by the time we got home, and I don’t remember being punished as I’m assuming the two hour plus walk was considered time served.  All kinds of bad things could have happened – but they didn’t. I learned my lesson though, I never did that again.  I can’t see my grandsons doing this today.  Not because  of emergency cash, cell phones and social networking but because from their PERSPECTIVE a baseball game wouldn’t be worth leaving the house.  My how times have changed….

 

 

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Baseball Cards #1

Upon honest reflection, I have self diagnosed myself to exhibit Obsessive Compulsive Behavior most of my life.  I am of the “collector” persuasion.  I don’t recall when I got my first comic book, but I was always aware of when the new books came out each week.  Radio turned me on to collecting records. The “high rotation” placements – the “pick hits of the week” if you will – drove me crazy until I had the 45 in my hand.  But my problems really started with little cards with pictures of my favorite baseball players on them…

Five cents for a little slice of heaven.  A pack of baseball cards with FREE bubble gum inside.  The aroma was very distinct.  Nothing like the combination of waxed plastic and bubble gum.  Nothing like that stick of gum either… a calming diversion to the mania of ripping open a fresh pack.  You chewed and chewed while checking to see how many cards you NEEDED to complete the year’s run.  Of course, there were often “doubles” and “triples” along the way, but NEW cards, they were worth the endless flavorless chewing.

Image     I collected cards printed by Topps.  I dabbled in Bowman briefly, but never cared that much for the cards, nor the gum.  Topps released “runs” of cards in series.  Amazingly, despite the fact we didn’t have the Internet, or social media, or 24 hour cable television… no news spread faster through the neighborhood as when a new series at one of our favorite places of purchase was discovered.  Of course, much like a taster to ensure the king didn’t get poisoned, there was the sacrificial nickel to buy just one pack to verify the new series.  Even back then, you couldn’t trust big business.  Owners of small candy stores and groceries would sell out quickly and substitute leftover series boxes to dump them on trusting dimwits.  Much to the chagrin of the store owners, the nickel thieving was stopped cold when Topps began printing the series number on the display box.  This may have been the birth of my consumer awareness…

I’ll discuss specific cards, swapping with my friends and even storage in upcoming posts….

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Batting champs and lefty power…

Summers during my Junior High days were spent on the Mound School playground.  I played “rubber ball against the wall” almost every day.  We loved it so much, we actually started a league.  Chose teams, made up lineups for each game and kept statistics.  I was so angry at the Indians for trading Rocky Colavito, I became the Detroit Tigers.  Not only did I get my revenge on Frank Lane, I wound up with a pretty good team.

We bought balls for .25 cents and took care to “break them in”.  We had to wear off the hard skin off or the ball or they could actually split from a had swing.  We got them good and soft before they were game ready.  You could actually throw a curve ball with these, although when I threw too many of them my arm hurt a lot.

One of the league rules, was that you had to bat the way the ball player in your lineup batted.  So the good news was I got to use Norm Cash every game – the bad news is I had to bat left handed.  I quickly learned why lefties were such sluggers, because I didn’t hit too many pitches – but when I connected – that ball was gone.  I had a more pronounced upper cut swing from the left side and very little, if any, bat control.

We hit against a 20 foot fence and the goal was to hit the fence on a fly for a home run, but very often it would go WAY over the fence.  The corporation that owned the lot had ADT security, so we’d have to scale that fence and get the ball and back onto the playground before they arrived.  Sometimes they would turn off the alarm and come onto the playground to chase us away.

Pitching stats were kept also, but I was only an average pitcher.  I remember oh too well those games when by the 5th inning my arm hurt so bad it felt like it was going to fall off.  But you just played through it, and of course most of the time you got clobbered.  but my batting stats were pretty competitive.

When the game was over, I made a beeline for the candy store on the corner of 55th and Mound and got a cold bottle of RC and either a bag of New Era Potato Chips or a Milky Way.  Before the next game, we all got an updated list of batting average and pitching leaders (just like in the Cleveland Plain Dealer).  Pretty impressive because back then, no calculators or computers, it was all done by hand.

I doubt very seriously that there are kids anywhere in the Cleveland area doing what we did and batting as Grady Sizemore or Carlos Santana.  Too bad… they don’t know the tremendous fun they’re missing…

 

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The roof and other imaginary friends

One of the reasons my grandparent’s house was so close to the neighbors is because they didn’t have a driveway.  I vaguely remember my Aunt Marge living right next to them and they parked their car on the grass in front of the house rather than park on the street.

The house I grew up in had a driveway of sorts.  It was two rows of concrete wide enough for the wheels with a strip of grass in the middle.  There was room next to it for a wider strip of grass and a smaller sidewalk that connected from the sidewalk in the front of the house all the way to the back door.

The car never got parked farther than the back door.  My step-father was building a fiberglass boat and it sat on it’s trailer in the yard for years.  I don’t remember if or when it ever saw water but it was a fixture in the yard and sat on the solid concrete in front of the unused garage.

Since I cut the grass (with a push mower) that yard always seemed immense to me.  I know now that it was a perspective thing.  After all, I was a lot smaller at the time and everything looked bigger.  The house seemed big, but it wasn’t.  The rooms were actually tiny compared to what we live in today.

I loved to play catch, but had no one to play catch with.  When I visited my grandparents there was a building to throw at, but at home I used my  imagination to create someone to throw the ball to me.  I would position myself in front of the house opposite ours (on THEIR grass strip) and throw my rubber ball up and onto the roof so it would come back to me on an angle and I would have to make a saving catch before it crashed into the neighbor’s house behind me.

Two older Polish ladies lived in that house and didn’t seem very bothered when I missed that spectacular catch and it banged into the siding.  I never broke any windows, but I hit that house a lot.  I also lost a few balls in their gutter due to errant throws.

But I was playing complete games in my head.  I threw the ball up there so many times I had the angles figured out pretty well.  Occasionally, I would throw it over the roof and it landed somewhere in the next neighbors yard.  There was some old guy living there who never cut his grass, so finding the ball was always a challenge, but I usually did and went right back to the game.

Was I bored as a child?  I suppose so, but I was literally told to “go outside and play” and not allowed in the house.  I had to come up with ways to amuse myself.  Eventually, I would make real friends and discover the magic of the school yard. My days of playing catch with the roof was over.  That roof never complained and was never too busy to play.  Now that I think about it, that roof was a pretty good friend and I’m thankful for all the days it took the time to provide me with one amazing imaginary catch after another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wiffle Ball

My grandparent’s lived on West 106th Street.  The stretch from Madison Avenue to Lorain Avenue seemed to go on forever.  There was a brick building directly across from the house with intermittent gaps of fencing.  Behind the fences were automobile and truck frames.  This company manufactured them and stored them.

My good friend Russ lived south of their house, closer to Madison.  Across from his house were two garages which seemingly were never used.  we used the brick facade that divided the two garages as home plate and white chalk allowed us to outline a strike zone on that aging red brick.

The pitcher threw from the curb.  Batters would smack those wiffle balls at the house that Russ lived in and also the one to the left, occupied by a German family with a son named Atilla, the aptly named scourge of the neighborhood.  If you made it to the porches on the fly – a home run.  Get it past the pitcher on the ground – a single.  you could get doubles and triples if you could hit the ball between the houses in the driveway – depending on the distance.  If you hit it in the driveway all the way to the backyard – a home run.

Given the fact that the street was the infield area, no running was done.  A lazy man’s game perhaps, but skills were needed.  The wiffle ball, was usually purchased at nearby Rose’s Drugs for $ .59 each… no small sum back then!

The wiffle bat was a ripoff because we all to easily destroyed them.  We went to broomsticks instead.  The magic of the wiffle ball after all was that it really did curve.  The extra length of the broomstick allowed the batter a chance to really drive those curve balls.  If you held those perforated slots the opposite way, you could throw a nasty slider.  Remember though… if the batter didn’t swing and miss, the pitch still had to hit the chalked box on the bricks or it was a ball.  It took a certain expertise to throw a sweeping curve ball with a wiffle ball… or a slider to a lefty.  The fastball grip was obvious and the rest fell on the strength of your arm.

Russ was a year older than me.  He was tall, wiry and strong, which meant he could bring the heat.  But Russ was fascinated with Hoyt Wilhelm who was mastering baseball with a baffling pitch called the knuckle ball.  So instead of just easily striking everyone out, Russ made it a game by trying to throw knuckle balls.  Like in real baseball, if it doesn’t “knuckle”… it get’s hit a long way.  I was always heavy set and slow, but had very good eye-hand co-ordination, so I could always hit.  I spent many summers at my grand parents house, and every Saturday was wiffle ball day.  Pitching while waiting for the traffic to clear was a nuisance, but what I wouldn’t give to be “toeing the curb” one more time….

The wiffle ball was introduced to kids in 1954.  Go HERE to read the original rules.  And yes, the wiffle ball is still being made, although I doubt that it still sells for $ .59.  Why not track one down and let your kids experience the thrill of throwing a “sweeping” curve… As it did for us back then, you and your kids may look at baseball differently and may want to take in a game or two… can’t hurt, it’s a GREAT game….

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