Friday marks the 50th anniversary of my first baseball game on May 20, 1961. I didn't know exactly when it was until recently, but thanks to Baseball Reference, I was able to find the box score.
My uncle Norman took me in his ’54 Studebaker, which he would have kept as a classic except that the floor rusted out. We had great seats behind the plate, not hard since the attendance was only 9,103--on a Saturday. As a seven-year-old, I hardly knew the rules, and remember nothing about the game except that the Cubs beat the Stan Musial-era Cardinals 1-0 on an Ed Bouchee homer in the ninth.
What I do remember is how stunningly green the Wrigley grass appeared, and how fascinated I was by the holes that kept appearing and disappearing in the scoreboard.
The 1961 team wasn’t a good one, despite four future Hall of Famers--Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, an over-the-hill Richie Ashburn and September callup Lou Brock--plus Ron Santo, who of course should be there as well. Strangely, the highest OPS* on the team belonged to George Altman, in his best season. The team's most unique feature was P.K. Wrigley’s bizarre College of Coaches system, used instead of a manager.
I moved to the Bay Area when I was 18, never looked back, and became an A’s fan to avoid rooting for another National League team. When the Cubs beat the Giants, it’s double the fun! I've been to hundreds of MLB games in 15 stadiums, many in the company of my three children, who share my love for the game.
I don't know what's worse--the fact that it's almost impossible that I'll get another 50 years to go to ballgames or that even if I did, the perennially mismanaged Cubs probably wouldn't win the World Series.
Uncle Norman, an outstanding handball player and old-school bodybuilder, is in a Chicago hospital now, his familiar Coach George Allen-like voice replaced by a voice box. I now realize that to take me to ballgames (we also frequented Comiskey), he had to make the roundtrip from the North Side to my house in Highland Park twice in a day. My late father loved the Bears but thought baseball was boring, my mother had no interest in sports, so who knows whether I would have become a lifetime fan if he hadn’t stepped up to the plate?
A half-century of thanks!
*A statistic that hadn't been invented yet.