Saturday, October 24, 2015

DCAT's First Baseball Game and Childhood Baseball Memories

I was already a huge baseball fan by the time the 1980s arrived. I turned 9 in 1980 and had never been to a Red Sox game, even though at that point I could give you the Red Sox lineup from top to bottom (and yes, I could probably do fairly well in replicating the 1980 Red Sox lineup now. Fisk, Perez, Stapleton, Burleson, probably Glenn Hoffman, Rice, Lynn, Evans, and by this point Yaz at DH)  But we remember teams from our childhood in ways that we don't those from our adulthood. The 1995 and 1999 Sox both made the playoffs, in 1999 Pedro Martinez had the most impressive playoff relief appearance in baseball history, and I just did the 1980 lineup from memory and couldn't do the same for either of those far more recent teams.

It was May 3rd 1980. I used to spend a few weeks every summer with my uncle and aunt, first when they lived in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania and then when they lived on Long Island. I loved baseball and so did my uncle. In future years we'd go to Yankee and Shea Stadiums (I hate the Yankees with the white hot intensity of the thousand burning std's that Jessica Alba allegedly received from Derek Jeter) so often that to this day they are the two stadia I've been to most often after Fenway.

In any case, I'd just turned 9 and my uncle was in position to take me to my first baseball game.

I feel as if I remember everything about it. I remember the Vet in Philly, and this being my first time in a Major League stadium thinking it was the greatest thing ever, and not the total shit-show that the Vet was.  I remember seeing the players -- and I'm doing this from memory (I'll link the game somewhere above) -- Ron Cey and Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Dusty Baker. Steve Yeager at catcher, right? (I'm missing one.) And I know that former Red Sox player (and unfortunate victim of traditional Red Sox racism) Reggie Smith was part of that team. And the Phillies, who I came to like a lot (only 9-year-olds are allowed to have a "second favorite team," but I was nine and the Phillies were thus mine) consisted of Mike Schmidt, of course, and Bull Luzinski (more on these two later) plus Bob Boone, Pete Rose, Larry Bowa, One of the Maddoxes (Maddoxi?), and I think Bake McBride.

My memories of the game, as opposed to the teams, is a bit vaguer.  I was nine, my brother was six, and I remember explicitly both that Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski hit home runs, and if they weren't back-to-back they were damned close (Note after writing this: They were back-to-back, which only means that 9-year olds think home runs are fucking awesome, because, well, home runs are fucking awesome). Those home runs came off of Bert Hooten, a name second only to "Boobie Clark" (a Bengals running back, as I recall) in the child's name hierarchy. And what was even more memorable is that it was the 2nd or 3rd (Note: 2nd) inning and my brother had to go pee. So my uncle took him to pee, in the childhood-trauma-inducing Vet, and missed both home runs. My brother could not have cared less. My 20-something-baseball-fan uncle cared very much. Never bring children to a baseball game if you care about that baseball game.

But here is the honest truth. I became a huge sports fan, wrote a book about baseball, and care about these things way too much. And yet seeing Steve Garvey and Mike Schmidt from the third deck vertigo seats was an absolute thrill, probably one of the biggest of my life, especially if we compare these things relative to the influence on my life at the time. Yet the thing I remember most to this day? May 3, 1980 was the Phillie Phanatic's birthday. They handed out the sort of fan gift you'd never get today -- a quality stuffed Phillie Phanatic that I kept for a shockingly long time even after I stopped caring about the Phillies (which was sometime around January 1, 1981 even if Tug McGraw jumping up in the air after getting the last out in the 1980 World Series is still etched in my brain).  I did not give a shit about the Phillies by 1981, but I bet I had that Phillie Phanatic through high school.

[Oh, and looking it up, as I did every memory in this post after I wrote it, Boobie Clark died of a blood clot in his brain when he was 39. Fuck. It's a lot better to be a kid.]