Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spring Training For Baseball Memories

Since spring training has begun, my thoughts are naturally starting to turn to baseball/softball. As the real season gets underway in April, and progresses through October, I'll no doubt have many longer stories (and, of course, I'll blog about my own softball playing, as usual.) For now, though, I need a warm up before the season, so here are two small stories about my younger days at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.

I was reminded of this first story by My Darker Gray Friend, Michelle, during the course of some personal correspondence.

Those of you unfamiliar with baseball may not be aware of some of the merchandising gimmicks employed by ballclubs to fill seats that otherwise might go unsold. They will offer a prize or premium to go along with the ticket to the game. The ticket holder might be rewarded with a keychain, a t-shirt, a figurine, or some other inexpensive tchotchke bearing the logo of the team. Most often, these souvenirs are offered to kids, and then perhaps only to the first 3,000 to enter the park (or whatever number matches the availability of the tidbits.) More often than not, lesser clubs offer premiums. The good clubs, who sell out their games anyway, don't have to do so.

When I was 9, the Red Sox didn't sell out every game as they do now. They were a bad team, coming off of a ninth place finish. I loved them, anyway. And when I heard that the Red Sox were going to have a Bat Day, I had to go! The first 3,000 kids would all receive a baseball bat.

In those days of relatively normal salaries for athletes, a ticket to the bleachers - the cheapest seats, out in centerfield - cost only 75 cents. I was amazed that, for such a small expenditure, I would not only be able to see my beloved Red Sox play, in person, but also be given an authentic baseball bat. Just 75 cents? Heck, a bat cost 3 or 4 dollars, all by itself.

I went to Fenway, bought a ticket to the bleachers, and went inside. As I handed the ticket to the turnstile operator, he handed me my bat.

It was about 10 inches in length and weighed maybe 4 ounces. It was similar in size, and heft, to a policeman's nightstick, a billy club.

Of course, being a baseball playing kid, when I heard that they were giving out bats that day at the Sox game, I thought I'd be getting a real bat I could actually play games with, a Louisville Slugger of some 34 inches in length and weighing in at 36 or 38 ounces. When I got the little bat, I was disappointed, to say the least. Not that it wasn't a nice thing to have as a souvenir, but when you're expecting to haul some real lumber home, getting what amounted to a big splinter was less than exciting. Of course, now I realize that the cost of buying Louisville Sluggers for every kid in the ballpark would have been enormous, and it was ridiculous to expect such awesome swag for 75 cents. Still, that's what a little kid like me expected. Live and learn.

My other story concerns the closest I've ever come to getting an actual baseball while at a game.

I was very young - maybe still 9, as in the previous story. I was at a Sox game with my Mom and Dad. My Dad had scored some excellent seats in the first row, just beyond the third base dugout. As was the custom among kids from my neighborhood, I had brought my glove to the game, just in case I had a chance to catch a real major league ball.

Along about the fourth inning, Tony Conigliaro is batting, and he was my absolute all-time favorite player, my baseball idol. He's still my all-time favorite athlete, God rest his soul. Anyway, Tony swings and hits a vicious line drive, foul, coming right at me.

I had EXCELLENT reflexes in those days. I have no doubt I would have caught it, even though it was a 100-mph liner from about 100 feet away. I started to raise my glove.

Before I even got my glove above my chest, My Dad shoved my head down, out of the path of the deadly ball. He was only trying to protect me, but I was as disappointed as a starving dog might have been who had been shown a big steak and been given a kick in the ass, instead. It would have been a ball off of Tony C's bat, and everybody would have applauded me for making a great catch, and all the other kids in the neighborhood would have been jealous for weeks!

Oh, well. Maybe my Dad was right. Maybe it would have crushed my face and, instead of doing voice-overs for a living, I would have ended up talking like Elmer Fudd for the rest of my life. Still, it was a ball hit by Tony C. It might have been worth it.

Soon, with more batter stuff.

[Got the excellent Tony C. photo from an excellent tribute page - Now Batting 19 Sports Cards.]


Jazz said...

Your passion for baseball boggles the mind. My mind at least. I have never understood the attraction of that game. Seems like they spend most of the time standing around waiting for something to happen.

Chris said...

Yep, it's that time of year again. I remember going to Bat Day at Yankee Stadium, where they DID give out actual Louisville Sluggers. Now, I don't know whose idea it was to give 40,000 New Yorkers a weapon, but a fun time was had by all. I also attended Jacket Day at Veterans' Stadium where we basically got a plastic tarp with sleeves, emblazoned with the Phillies logo.

Reggie Bar day was another fiasco entirely.

Unknown said...

It's really a shame that the price of tickets has soured past the ability of a person of average means to afford. I guess I'll just have to continue watching on TV. Last spring we bought a 42 inch, and it's almost as good as being there.

Suldog said...

Jazz - Ah, it's a game for thinking men, you see? Lots of time to ponder the possibilities and argue about what you would do if you were the manager - stuff like that. Of course, that takes a certain amount of knowledge of the game for it to be interesting, so for the casual fan (or non-fan) it does seem like less of a constant buzz than that afforded by many other sports. Also, baseball is the perfect game for summer. Just strenuous enough to work up a good sweat, but nothing likely to give you a heart attack. Also, the pace of the game allows for being laid back when watching, enjoying a good cold beer and maybe a nice snack. Also, it is the best game to listen to on the radio, preferably while at the beach or while swinging in a hammock. What's not to like? :-)

Cricket said...

I loved Bat Day, as my sons do now.

Maybe someday you should come to a PawSox game and reminisce about the days when tickets and concessions were cheap, ball games were easy to come and go from, and the game was all about fun.

Sometimes you even see the likes of Papi, Schilling, or Youk as well. Bonus.

PawSox and Cape League is how I get my baseball jollies these days.

Suldog said...

Chris - You got REAL bats?!? Way cool. Maybe ticket prices were higher by then, you youngster?

Eva - As I mentioned to Jazz, I find baseball ON THE RADIO one of the most enjoyable listening experiences available (provided you have decent home team announcers, of course, which we do.) A good baseball call puts you right in the park.

Uncle Jim - See Chris's comment, and my remark. Yeah, it was a rip, but not too bad of one. It was still a real nice souvenir.

Suldog said...

Cricket - The Paw Sox are a great take. McCoy is a beautiful place to see a game. As an aside, MY WIFE swears they have the best french fries she's ever tasted.

Another great place to go for a ballgame is Campanelli Stadium, home of the Brockton Rox. Five buck tickets are available, and there's almost always something fun going on at the park aside from the game.

Brian Miller said...

wonderful...we love baseball here...miss spring training since we left florida...

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip said...

Is that a picture of an A-Rod bat? Say it ain't so.
I do believe that to understand a passion for baseball/softball, one must have played regularly at some level.
One of my all-time favorite moments occurred at a Friday night game in SF. The Cubs were in town. A high school friend of mine and I decided at the last moment to take the bus into the city for the game at Seals Stadium. We had left field bleacher seats. Ernie Banks played left field that night. So we had Willie Mays for half an inning in center field and Ernie for the other half inning. It was like attending an All-Star game. I have no idea who won.

Land of shimp said...

I loved the Phillies when I was a kid, and remember that spring training excitement :-) I actually outgrew my love of baseball...or rather, I don't know, I think the game outgrew me, really. Big names, even bigger salaries, scandals, misbehaviors...something, I'm not sure. It just stopped being fun, and I stopped loving it.

But I remember being a kid, and that great feeling of anticipation. I swear, I thought baseball was some kind of magic, and that if I concentrated hard enough, I could impact whether a ball sailing through the air ended fair, or foul.

I'm glad other people still think of baseball with excitement.

On the "would you broken your face" question, well, if you were extremely lucky that's all that would have happened. I think you might have been playing a role in a drama starring Ichabod and that horse, man.

Just a guess.

Buck said...

I must be some sort of worthless, godless, commie pinko coz I've never understood what people see in baseball. But I always watch the World Series. But then again I usually watch the SooperDooper Bowl, too. So maybe I'm NOT a commie... just a clue-free person when it comes to certain things.

Reasons said...

I love the stories, though I don't have a limey clue about the game. You look very dashing in those whites though - it IS YOU isn't it Jim? ;-)

i beati said...

certainly remember when listening to baseball on the radio was a big thing. Conigliaro huh??wow .

I sell tickets for baseball her e in Sebring 8 years now. I meet the greatest people, scouts etc. I feel blessed to love sports and the players as much as I do.

My late husband taught at a school that did not have baseball and they won the championship first year he tried.. A kid from New York drove the bus on the opposing field and Don had to get him out of jail..Our banquet , a pig roast in the groves -
I saw Clemente and many greats long gone and my son laughs when I talk of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Happy 2010 season !!all fans !!

Sueann said...

Oh no!! Your dad didn't??!!! You could have had the ball!!!! Darn!! I would have been so upset!

CiCi said...

Wow, they were playing baseball when you were nine, that long time ago????
I went to Dodger Stadium when I was in high school.

Michelle H. said...

Ah, going to the baseball game. And I still have that little bat given on game day (as you know) with the Pittsburgh Pirates logo on it. Yet those where the days you could expect to see a decent game. Nowadays, not so much. Maybe they should give out the bats again instead of those stupid bobble heads.

Hilary said...

I always enjoy your fun stories of your childhood days. I can imagine the disappointment you felt to receive a small souvenir bat. It sure didn't dampen your enthusiasm for the game or the team. :)

Shrinky said...

I still say this is just a jumped up version of our "rounders" (a game for girlies, I might add), I used to be a decent player in my schooldays (teehee, running outta' here before you have chance to retaliate..)!

Craig said...

I'm sure there's some form or another of crude humor to be made about the little bats that boys have, versus the full-size manly bats that their dads play with. . .

I went to Bat Day at Tiger Stadium once, and my reaction was identical to yours - WTH was up with this tiny little toy bat?

BTW, I think Tony C is still the youngest major leaguer ever to hit his age in home runs - 24, when he was 19. . .

Anonymous said...

A sports story-but one of yours so that's ok then. Only for you Jim will I read anything to do with bat or balls of any shape or size. I feel for your young self and the tiny bat. I can see you all shined up, freckles and red hair on end yearning for a Red Sox bat. Early inroduction to life's disappointments. Thanks to your father from saving you from an ugly mug.

Ananda girl said...

I could almost smell the popcorn!
Antisipation is making me crazy.

This weekend I hope to get to see a college baseball game. O Ducks vs Seattle. At this point it hardly matters... I just want them to play ball!

Sniffles and Smiles said...

I'm so sorry about not having a chance to make the catch of your lifetime!!!! Sigh...and I can well understand your disappointment over the bat...I was disappointed too upon reading this...however, many years later ;-) Looking forward to your baseball memories!!! You tell such amazing stories!!! Hugs, Janine

Duchess said...

I got one of those little bats in Fenway Park. I also was a little surprised by how small it was, though I would not have made any use of a full-sized one, except possibly to hit my brother.

I was watching on the tele when Tony was hit in the face with that ball.

Jeni said...

I'm trying to remember now -so bear with me cause some things it takes a lot longer to conjure up the memories and such but I think in my entire life I've only been to one baseball game and that was in the 60s when my best friend and I went to see the old Washington Senators play. The game we attended had something else a bit more interesting at the time though as former President Eisenhower was in attendance at the game!
But anyway, I've always very much enjoyed baseball -I understand the game (well the majority of it until you start getting really technical and all) but I hate to watch baseball on tv unless it is a world series game with a team I really like playing. So, since my favorite team is the pitiful Pirates from Pittsburgh, you can imagine I haven't had an opportunity to watch all that many games on tv. However, I enjoy listening to baseball on the radio as I can follow the action easily as the announcer describes what's happening on the field. And that to me can be almost as exciting as seeing a game in person.

Sandra said...

What a great story! And this does bring back a really fuzzy memory that I actually had one of those miniature bats when I was a little kid too. I can't imagine that I actually got it at a ball game, so I'm guessing a relative who HAD been at a game where they were given away, may have given it to me.

I remember being very disappointed when I wanted Daddy to throw a ball to me so I could bat it and he said it wouldn't work because the ball was so small.

Loved both stories, and I think talking like Elmer Fudd the rest of your life would have been worth it to make that catch! :)

lime said...

75 cents. man, i can't wrap my head around that. nowadays you need a second mortgage to afford a major league ticket.

thanks for sharing your memories. i just remember trying to comfortably wedge my pregnant self into those slatted wooden seats on the third base side in fenway on one sweltering august day many moons ago.

CSD Faux Finishing said...

For as many Sox games as I've been to in my life I've never once ended up going to a tchotchke game. I have gone when bleacher seats were only like $5 though. And I thought that was cheap! Of course it could have been less, my mind may not be as keen on the cost because a parent or grandparent was usually always paying. Do you still have the teeny bat?