“It was your mother chopping wood. There you see your mother — getting up early; cooking meals all day long; washing and ironing — and still she has to go out in the back yard and chop wood. I suppose she just got tired of asking you. She just gave up and decided it was easier to do it herself. And you eat her meals, and put on the clothes she keeps nice for you, and you run off and play baseball.” — Thornton WilderLong ago, when I was studying to be famous, I thought Mickey Mantle was a god (or at worst the president of the United States). On Saturday afternoons I worshipped at the altar of our old black-and-white TV any time there was a Yankees game that was televised.
My dad was an underdog sort of fan. As such the Yanks weren’t really his favorite. He was mostly a Milwaukee fan because of Lew Burdette, their ace pitcher from West Virginia. Dad always rooted for athletes who were homegrown. I was less discerning. I liked winners.
At any rate, Little league Baseball had come to my little town only a couple of years earlier, and the field over by the old B&O tracks in Ceredo was nearly new. About every boy in my sixth-grade class trekked there the first week in June to try out, most walking along the tracks and some driven over in tanks of cars chauffeured by a father whose own love of the game would surface later in a dugout or coaching at first.
Now, this was before I got glasses and stopped tripping over playing cards. I didn’t know I couldn’t see well (or much at all it turns out). I just had borrowed my brother’s glove, gotten enough balls bounced off my head by my cousins to know it was hard and left peculiar stitch mark bruises everywhere, and trundled off to what is now known as Mitch Stadium.
I played for the Cubs. Or at least I got on the field in every position. My coach was a patient and compassionate man, but strikeouts, passed balls and throws that as often landed in the stands as they struck unsuspecting bystanders put me out in left field. It was there I learned the real meaning behind the phrase.
At any rate, my experiences trying to actually compete at baseball were uniformly disappointing. Still, my love of the game lingered and that old TV filled my dreams with cathode ray fluorescence, especially when Mantle was backlit by it.
The summer of 1960 I was 11 years old and by September pretty much resigned to the fact that I would not achieve stardom on the diamond. Yet my Yanks (and the beloved “Mick”) were going back to Series yet again. Come October they would meet the Pirates and the games were going to be televised on NBC. And we could get Channel 3 by dint of a dog-eared antenna wrapped in aluminum foil. Oh, the glory of anticipation!
The Series went (unbelievably) to seven games. I was pretty positive I knew how it would end, what with Ralph Terry on the mound and Berra, Mantle and Maris eyeing the fences at Forbes Field. The Pirates would be dis-“Mantled” and my relegation to just being a fan would be complete and utterly happy.
Bill Mazeroski (from West Virginia, for crying out loud!) changed all of that with a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning (to that date the only Series that ended with a home run in the seventh game). I got to see that in vivid (albeit somewhat grainy) black and white — real time. I wasn’t well-schooled in four letter words in those days, but I am sure I tried mightily to express their meanings in whatever way that was acceptable for an 11-year-old in 1960 seated in his family living room.
Shortly afterward I switched my allegiance to football, Jim Brown, Milt Plum and the Cleveland Browns. Take that, Yankees!