The Brooklyn Dodgers and The Philadelphia Phillies, a Father/ Child Baseball Memoir
What’s more American than baseball and apple pie? And what game is more archetypal than baseball for the bonding of fathers and their children, especially their sons?
Watch the 4-minute video below from my blogger friend Charles K. Hale, and try to imagine why I connect viscerally with Charlie’s story. We are about the same age, but we lived very different lives.
Charles captures so perfectly the way in which baseball wraps itself around the psyche. He connects the deep emotions of fathers and sons to a special season and time of day — the twilight time of summer evenings when shadows lengthen.
No peanuts, no Crackerjack
My brother Henry and I wanted a dad like Charlie’s grandpa and Charlie’s dad — someone who would carelessly throw his arm around our shoulders and take us out to the ball game. And we loved the game itself, heading out to the meadow to practice hitting and pitching as often as we could.
Our father, however, was consumed by one thing in the summers of my teenage years: paying off the farm, the mortgage he owed to his father. That meant getting the hay in before it got wet, growing a good strong crop of tobacco, and keeping milk production high (keeping the cows cool and hydrated). When drought threatened the corn crop, Daddy turned it into silage. He couldn’t afford waste. Baseball was a waste.
Learning and listening with Lester
We had a hired man named Lester, however, who seemed relaxed and full of interesting stories. Lester loved the Philadelphia Phillies. He explained the finer points of National League rules and players to us as we leaned over the green and leafy tobacco beds, pulling the largest, healthiest plants and placing them in wooden boxes covered with wet burlap bags. Our little brown leather-covered transistor radio could pull in the broadcasts from Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia, allowing us to listen to the rich, deep tones of By Saam and Richie Ashburn doing the play-by-play.
I learned about RBI’s and ERA’s and read the statistics in the newspaper, following my favorite players Cookie Rojas and Wes Covington, two very different kinds of players who both helped the team in clutch situations. The year was 1964. I turned sixteen that summer, and my brother was thirteen.
If you are a Phillies fan, you may know what the 1964 season was like. First, there was irrational exuberance as the new pitcher Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game on Father’s Day and the team led the league in the latter months of the season. I listened to every game, including ones played on the west coast that ended after midnight Eastern time. I put a pillow over the radio to muffle the sound.
Then disbelief set in during the last two weeks as the team lost ten games in a row and tied for second place instead of going to the World Series. After coming so close to breaking the decades-old image of being losers, the Phillies reclaimed that title in a spectacular way.
The “Phold” — a season that has gone down in infamy
I had become a baseball fan during the “Phold” as it later came to be called — “one of the most notable collapses in sports history.” Neither my brother nor I ever went to Connie Mack stadium with Daddy. And we learned that life goes on even if your team lets you down. Lester assured us, “There’s always next year.” But when next year came round, the luster had worn off. Baseball would never be the same again.
Daddy died in 1980, having pitched a few innings with both Mother Nature and Father Time. Henry and I have both grieved for all that was unknown and undeveloped in our father. I once asked Henry what he thinks Daddy thought of our love affair with Lester and the Phillies.
We looked at each other knowingly, since both of us are parents. “He was jealous,” said my brother.
Do you have a baseball story? A parent/child, sister/brother summertime story? Please share below in the comment box. Batter up!
I loved reading your childhood sports memory, Shirley! I could feel the pit in my stomach as I read about the “Phold”, knowing how painful it is to watch a season slip away from you.
I grew up in a house full of girls. There were three of us sisters so my step-dad took me in as the “boy he never had”. I watched sports with him practically year round. My favorite was football, one of the reasons Autumn is still my favorite season of the year.
We did go to a few Los Angeles Dodgers ball games as a family, though. Eating Dodger dogs and sharing a soda with my sister (something we never got elsewhere) are my most vivid memories of those days. The excitement of the games were a close second but to this day, I have to have a Dodger dog everytime I go to the stadium!
Fun memories to think about 🙂
I love this story, Sarah Renae. And I’ll bet you loved the video.
Your story reminds me that many girls become honorary boys to their fathers, depending on where they come in the family line.
Isn’t it wonderful when we can use our senses to relive memories? The sense of taste is exquisitely primed for memory. Eating brings in all the senses!
So much fun. Thank much for taking time to tell a story.
Sorry, Sara, for inserting that “h” at the end of your name.
This is so evocative and so poignant, so telling about you and where you came from and your delightful childhood passion.
Having had a father like yours, and having made some of those same mistakes, perhaps, I can say that it’s really hard to get the work-life balance right. Especially for farmers! I really doubt your father was jealous, though; but of course I haven’t yet read your full story. It is neat his hired hand was so laid back and fun.
Richard, thanks for making the father and farming connections. I have no way to access my father’s feelings, since he died in 1980, but my brother and I might have been projecting jealousy onto him because we were so fascinated by Lester at the time. We may have felt a little guilty when we compared our feelings toward the two men. With later perspective of understanding the pressure Daddy was under, we no longer feel that way.
Perhaps the baseball fling was a way to have another kind of Daddy for awhile, Thanks for provoking that thought!
I pretty much grew up without baseball. If there was a pro team in the entire state of New Mexico, I didn’t know about it. A couple of times my grandfather took my sister and me to watch bush league games in Clovis while we were there visiting. Games were played in the afternoon, in the sun, and it had to have been about 100 degrees, but I don’t remember being hot. I don’t remember much about the games themselves, but I do recall Pop’s enthusiastic cheering. That taste of dust along with the peanuts epitomizes REAL baseball for me. Baseball when tickets were cheap, you could park right there, you sat on crude bleachers, and everyone was there for fun. How could it possibly be the same in today’s high tech, sanitized, high security stadiums with the triple-priced food?
You mention a brown leather covered transistor radio. I bet I had the same one — a birthday present the year I turned sixteen. That was obviously a gift of pure love. My father still talks about picking it out because he knew I wanted one.
Anyway, we were not allowed to have them at school during World Series time, but I had very long hair and devised a way to run the ear bud wire under my blouse and keep my hair over my ear. I actually got away with it. I wasn’t as interested in the game itself — I have no idea who was playing — as I was in reporting the score to the guys during the break.
In spite of this disconnect with the sport, I still go along with the group when we travel overseas and are asked to sing a typical American song. It is ALWAYS Take Me Out to the Ball Game.
Sharon, what a fun journey you take us on. First, you don’t think you have many connections, Then you go on to enumerate lots of them!
My favorite was the story about the transistor radio, the long hair cover-up, and a way to get attention from the boys. You had me all the way.
Thanks for sharing. I’m sure others enjoyed as well.
Great post, Shirley. Your “Phillies Phold” was my “Cards Comeback.” At age ten in 1948 I asked my father which major league team was closest to us in Kansas. He said, “The St. Louis Cardinals.” The Cards became my team. I adopted the batting stance of Stan Musial. I tried to field like Harry “The Cat” Brecheen. Even though some of my fourth grade classmates could run faster and throw farther than I could, I imagined I could play in the major leagues if I had the hustle and guts of Enos Slaughter, who ran to the dugout from the outfield after the third out, while the rest of the players walked.
My father, unaccountably, was a Yankees fan. The Yankees seemed to win the American League and the World Series every year. I was not a rebellious child, but the Yankee victories rankled.
Most of my classmates were fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who regularly beat the Cards and won pennants year after year. And then there was that awful Sunday morning when the pastor of our Eden Mennonite Church, Walter Gering, announced from the pulpit that he was a Dodgers fan. Why? Because the Dodgers had broken the color bar with Jackie Robinson. My loyalty problem was acute. I had never doubted the moral authority of our pastor. But I stubbornly stuck with the Cardinals–that losing season and more losing seasons to follow.
By 1964 I was married and in graduate school at Indiana University. The Cardinals had gone eighteen years without winning a pennant. In late July they were tied for 7th place in the National League, ten games behind the Phillies. My best friend at IU was Stan Clemens, a Phillies fan from Pennsylvania. My joy when the Cards won the pennant on the last game of season was matched by Stan’s despair.
By 1964 I had learned that major league baseball players were not necessarily good role models. Even the great Enos Slaughter, I had read in a sports magazine, had been one of Jackie Robinson’s greatest tormentors. But now the best St. Louis player was a black man, Bob Gibson. And when Gibson pitched three games in the 1964 World Series against the Yankees, winning in the final game, my career as a Cards fan finally climaxed. I got more satisfaction than I should have as I thought about my grade school teammates, my pastor, my father, and my grieving Phillies fan friends.
Jim, I love this story, and you told it like a pro, weaving all the elements together at the end.
One team’s “Phold” is another team’s joy, and I feel better about my own despair knowing that you were over the top with the miracle of the comeback,
And by bringing in the social and moral dimensions of the game, you have offered us all a new way to view the game.
Hope you watched the video. It’s a love letter to the Brooklyn Dodgers, among other things. It will help you get over any residual resentment of your pastor’s choice. 🙂