Thursday, July 8, 2010

From The Bleachers

With the Baseball All Star game just ahead it is time to do some serious reflections of my life in the bleachers.

While a student at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox came through Fort Worth, on what was then called a barnstorming tour.

Back then, following spring training in Florida, major league baseball clubs headed into the new season by playing their farm teams or each other in exhibition games.

Barnstorming, like so many good things, is a distant memory; when football players played offense and defense; and basketball was artistic, not bombastic. So wander back with me to the time sports were fun, not dictated by agents, millionaire bench-warmers and back-up quarterbacks; and “look at me!” showoffs.

I may sound like an old grouch at a hot-stove league gathering, but I think baseball announcers should cease using the stupid term: “a walk-off home run.” It is merely a home run that won the game. The San Angelo Colts announcers have not used the term as far as I know. (We are fortunate to have such professional sports announcers.)

It was the spring of 1954 when we drove over to North Fort Worth’s LaGrave Field, home of the minor league Fort Worth Cats. The White Sox and Indians of the American League were playing an exhibition game.

Exhibition games as a rule are boring. Not this game. Seeing Bobby Feller on the mound “live” was well worth the high-priced fifty cent tickets. During his 18-year career “Rapid Robert” struck out over 2500 batters. The Indians Al Rosen, a favorite of mine at third base, had won the American League Most Valuable Player award a year earlier. Al, sometimes called the “Hebrew Hammer,” was four times an All Star.

Cleveland also had Larry Dobie in center field, the second black to make the major leagues. Which is proof that coming second in anything is soon forgotten. Jackie Robinson made the history books by being hired a few months ahead of Larry Doby. Early Wynn, and Bob Lemon along with veteran Bob Feller went on to the 1954 World Series (with 111wins), against the New York Giants, the National League champions. Wanted to write more about Virgil Trucks and the White Sox but found the piece too long for the papers.

The underdog Giants swept the Series in four games defeating the heavily favored Indians, who had won an American League record 111 games during the regular season. It was the Giants first championship since I was three years old (1933), a season I have no memory about.

It was the first World Series we saw on our black and white Admiral TV (remember those) in the parsonage of the First Baptist Church in Eustace, Texas. In the very first game we still remember “The Catch,” as it has been dubbed by sports writers ever since. That was the running catch made by Giants center fielder Willie Mays. With his back to the infield, Willie snared Vic Wertz’s long drive near the outfield wall.

I had been to LaGrave Field once earlier when the Cats were in the Dixie Series, a best-of-seven-games contest between the champions of the Texas League and the Southern Association. Not having the money for a ticket, us boys sat on the outfield fence and had a great view until a big fellow with a bigger stick spotted us.

The Dallas Rebels set an all-time Texas League attendance record of 53,578 for a baseball game in the Cotton Bowl in 1950. By 1960 the Dallas Eagles (they had many names and owners) and archrival Fort Worth Cats, were combined into one team as the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers, later called the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs in a revived and short-lived Texas League.

When the American League Washington Senators moved into the ballpark in Arlington, Texas minor league baseball went on hard times. The Spurs are now basketballers in San Antonio and a bunch of rowdy Cowboys cornered the market in the metroplex. That’s the view from the bleachers this week.

(First appeared in the Brownwood Bulletin and San Angelo Standard-Times, July 9, 2010)

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