50 shades of gray Allen – Days 7-9
Year six, or as you probably recall it – 1970.
I turned six and moved into the first grade.
I broke my arm this year while playing superman – dressed in a cape (aka dishtowel) and my underwear. When my mom took me to the hospital the doctor asked me about my arm and the other bruises I had. I told him, “Oh, my mom beats me up all the time.”
Now in today’s vernacular, that would result in a platoon of operatives from Child Protective Services descending upon my house and my parents being led away in shackles. But in 1970 it means the doctor looking at her, looking back and me and my adding, “We wrestle all the time.”
He looked at me, at my mom and back at me. And without a word went back to work.
At age seven I finished up first and moved into second grade, meeting two of the singularly most influential people of my life.
The first was Kurt Seaman. We met in Mrs. Urseth’s second grade class, sitting across from each other. My mom had yet to really find her ‘brown bag lunch mojo’ at this time in my life, and so my midday snacks were marginal at best. But Kurt’s mom made these magical mustard and ham sandwiches. I’m not sure how Kurt gained any weight that year, or if even did, as I was regularly haggling with him to get those sandwiches.
As it turned out, we only lived a few blocks apart and so we’d get together and play from time to time. And then one day he introduced me to this new kid, Jeff Johnson.
Jeff and Kurt fed the two sides of the person I’d later become. Kurt was the adventuresome, devil-may-care stuntman that we all wished we could be as a kid. There wasn’t anything on this planet that Kurt wouldn’t try to launch him and his bicycle over.
On the other side, Jeff was the ultimate planner. He created so many things that the rest of us could hardly keep up. He created an arcade-style baseball game in his backyard using baseball cards, a large marble and a ruler. He created a NASCAR racing game using 1/24 scale models, a pair of dice and an action/hazard card deck that he created. And possibly best of all, he created a new brand of croquet that had all us perfecting the shot where we plopped our opponent’s ball into a compost pile.
This is where the ‘sickness’ began.
In the spring of this year I was at Kurt’s house one day when his mom informed us it was time for him to go to practice.
“What do you have practice for?” I queried.
His reply was one word. One beautiful, action-filled word.
After several more occurrences of Kurt having to leave for practices, I somehow got invited to go. I don’t recall it if was from Kurt or his parents inviting me or if my parents asked how I could get involved. But somehow I got there.
And from that day to this, baseball has always been the game I truly love.
Football is great and basketball is exciting. But they just aren’t baseball.
I played with Kurt that year on the Red Sox, coached by Richard Dominguez. He was a great guy and taught me all the basics of the game and who became a good friend as I grew into a man.
With a new-found love of the game, my dad made it a point to take me to my first game at Dodger Stadium that summer. My parents had friend named Rudy and Lenore Garza who lived in the Los Angeles area, and they happened to have four season tickets on the first base side of the most beautiful stadium of the day.
I can remember walking into the stands on the field level and finding our seats, some 15 rows behind first base and right in line with second. It was like we were right on top of the field, so close you could smell the grass and see the actual faces of the players. My temporary addiction for baseball cards would come later, so this was the first time I’d ever seen these guys except for the few times I watched games on TV with my dad. It was surreal.
At the time the big player for the Dodgers was outfielder Willie Davis. Davis was the man then, with the likes of Garvey, Cey, Lopes and Russell not even assembled yet for their historic run of consistency. But all I wanted that night was a foul ball.
Sometime in the second inning that opportunity came. Davis was at the
plate and flared a foul ball out way, looping toward our seats behind the right field dugout. As the ball neared it became clear that it wasn’t going to make it deep enough to our seats. Rather, it was angling toward this guy and his girlfriend. He sat there with his arm around her and very calmly raised his hand to make the catch … BAREHANDED!
He looked at the ball for a moment and tucked it away in his pocket.
At the time, Dodger Stadium was not sold out every night and the stands were lean for that game as well. Many of the patrons had transistor radios on them to listen to the dulcet tones of Vin Scully as he filled in all of the nooks and cranny’s of the game. But even Scully, a broadcast veteran of some 20 years at that point, took a minute to acknowledge the catch made by this guy.
A few innings later Davis was at bat again. It seemed too much to hope that he’d flare another one our way, but a few pitches in he did just that.
It looked like an instant replay of the one he’d hit earlier, arching high into the night and spiraling down toward Rudy, my dad and I. And just like the previous time, it just didn’t look like it was going to make it quite far enough.
And sadly, it did not.
For the second time in as many tries, the guy with his girlfriend reached up and snagged the ball barehanded … AGAIN! This time I had run up much closer, hoping that he might take pity on me and give me the ball. He looked it over for a moment before slowly reaching over and, with a smile on his face, handing it to his girlfriend.
It was a lot of years later before I recognized the value of a girl, and I certainly didn’t see it in that moment what possible use they could be. I’d learn that a few years later.
This time Scully exploded, immediately recognizing that the same guy had caught the ball a second time. The fans even gave him a small round of applause.
I walked back up to my seat without a ball, but that, as Billy Crystal once said, “Was my best day ever.”
Well, at least to that point in my short eight years of life.
Next time, age 9!