“They’ll walk out to the bleachers and sit in shirtsleeves in the perfect evening, or they’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere in the grandstand or along one of the baselines — wherever they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. They’ll watch the game, and it will be as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.”—Terence Mann, Field of Dreams
The memories will be so thick and they are. I’ve been to hundreds of Major League games and oh, the memories I have of baseball: Willie Mays back-to-the-infield basket catch in the 1954 World Series, Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man” farewell speech (“…today-day, I consider myself-self, the luckiest man-man, on the face of the earth-earth…”), Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round The World” homer that won the pennant for the New York Giants, Len Barker’s perfect game in 1981 and “10 cent beer night” at Cleveland Municipal Stadium (it is now estimated that over a quarter million people attended that game second only to Len Barker’s perfect game).
Of all of those great moments in baseball the only one that I actually saw was 10 cent beer night. Sure, I’ve seen some great games and some great plays and some great players but they all seem to blend together in a kind of fuzzy super game where Mickey Mantle and Bob Feller and Jim Thome and Minnie Minoso and Nellie Fox all play in the same game. My clearest baseball memories are way on the edges of the game like:
Walking down to the stadium and having a photographer take our picture and hand us a card to mail in for a copy,
The guy selling peanuts outside the stadium, “Pea-nuts, four bags for a quarter”, and that’s about all you got was four bags, 4”x4” each with two peanuts in each bag,
“PRO-grams, PRO-grams” and you got a pencil too,
Walking to our seats and if we were lucky enough to have box seats we would hand our tickets to the uniformed usher at the top of the section who would lead us to our seats, wipe them off and hold out his hand for a tip,
The men’s rooms which had been maybe painted once since 1932,
The hot dog vendor, “HOT-dogs” who would set down his big metal box, pull out a bun and place it in a wrapper, drive a dirty thumb into the bun to open it, reach in with a pair of tongs to pull out a hot dog from the warm greenish water, pop it into the bun, cover it with Stadium Mustard (whether you wanted it or not) and send it down the row from person to person with the money going the other way and then the change coming back.
The heavy, bald guy in the short sleeve sport shirt with the cigar in the corner of his mouth keeping score (he was in the row in front of you no matter where you sat).
“Coming in to pitch for the Indians and riding in a new Joe O’Brien Chevrolet Bel Air, number six, Joey Saver” and then the bullpen fence would open and out would come a shiny Chevy convertible with the Indians relief pitcher riding from the outfield bullpen around the warning track to home plate,
Heading out of the stadium after the game and finding a guy selling big balloons, “Two for a dollar on the big balloons, hey, two for a dollar now” because when you think of baseball you think of balloons.
Sure the sky was so blue it hurt your eyes and the grass was emerald green and the fans came to their feet as one when a home run was hit but those are part of the many memories of baseball that I can’t really remember if they were my own memories or something I saw on TV or maybe scenes from a movie. I do know that the guy in the short sleeve shirt comes charging back to life when I smell a cigar, the hot dog vendor is there when I see a piece of paper flying by just like those hot dog wrappers that used to swirl around the stadium and I think of the “four bags for quarter” guy when I now see the peanut vendors at Progressive Field. Those are my baseball memories, they’re all there, those memories so thick I have to brush them away from my face.