My Grandpa took us to games at an early age. Once we ate behind the fence with the Wahoo club as people watched batting practice from the outfield. I managed to step on the back of a folding chair and just get my chin above the rail to see. Instantly I was blinded by the bright evening sun. People were yelling for autographs as a Red Sox player walked by. I later learned that it was rookie third baseman Joe Foy. I must have looked pretty pathetic struggling to see because I remember him stopping, cracking an enormous smile and handing me the baseball from his glove. Shocked and stunned, I released my grasp of the wall to grab it and plummeted six feet onto the cinders below, tearing large gashes in both my knees. I held the ball in my tiny hand as bigger kids hovered over me, waiting for me to lose my grip. I charged through a forest of dirty knees until I could present my trophy to my Grandfather at our picnic table. I beamed with indescribable pride, though I did start to feel the stinging of my wounds, soon after. Early in 1973, Grandpa was still talking my brother and I to games as another year of hapless Indians baseball was beginning. Trailing by three in the bottom of the ninth, we prepared to start the long walk to the car when the Indians loaded the bases. An itinerant and unremarkable catcher named Ron Lolich lined the fifth pitch over the wall in the left corner sending the remaining fans into a spontaneous roar that still gives me shivers. After we leaped and screamed and hugged, we noticed my Grandpa sitting, unmoved, hand firmly grasping his ever present cane. We stared impatiently at him, waiting for his commentary. He withdrew a hanky, blew his nose, as he was apt to do frequently, and then carefully folded it and placed it back in his pocket. Warmth entered his face, which still remained serious, though. His deep voice plainly stated, “I have never seen anything like that in my seventy five years of watching baseball.” It was only the thirteenth walk off grand slam that had happened in baseball, at the time. I remember every detail like it was yesterday.
The voice of Herb Score seemed like the ever present soundtrack to Cleveland summers. As a young teen, we could take the green line from Shaker to downtown and buy a bleacher seat for buck, total, giving us an afternoon of independence and baseball. My mother would allow us to skip school, and go the season opener if tickets happened to fall our way as she had done in during the ‘40’s, taking the streetcars to see Al Rosen, Lou Boudreau and Larry Doby when the Indians last won the World Series. Opening day in baseball has a redemptive quality that exists in no other sport. It’s spring. School will soon be letting out. It’s warm, well; it is when the game is not snowed out. Even as an adult, opening day is occasionally a legitimate excuse for playing hookie. I think it affords us the opportunity to dream of six months of green fields under sunny skies, and maybe, if all our cards aligned, the excitement of baseball in October. Gramps probably thought so, too.