Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.
Memory is a strange thing. You can drive the same road to work for years, decades even, and then suddenly a house springs up that you haven’t seen before. No, it was always there, you just never noticed it.
At the same time, have you ever noticed that when you buy a new car or pickup that suddenly the same model is everywhere? No, there probably wasn’t a rush on your new F-150 or Prius, but now they pass you on the street, fill parking lots and become ubiquitous, once again, they were always there, it’s just your perception that has changed.
When it comes to athletics, I can almost (note almost) pinpoint the first time I watched a sporting event. As a four-year-old in Puerto Rico, I have a dim memory of a night baseball game I attended with my mom and dad. They were Puerto Rican teams since I remember the announcer calling the game in Spanish and the light seemed strange to me as a little kid since I’d never seen any event under the glare of stadium lights before that.
Another sporting memory is much clearer, “Friday Night Fights,” sponsored by Falstaff beer were a weekly event for me and my dad. He celebrated the event in those days with a few cans of Falstaff as we watched the grainy images on a small black and white television.
We lived on Ramey Air Force Base, near Aquadilla and the TVs had little boxes on top that would broadcast the shows and games in either Spanish or English, depending on which way you twisted the dial.
My friend Ismael who live a few houses down and I could communicate with his parents and my parents with no difficulty, but my dad and his father couldn’t break the language barrier. Their solution when trying to talk was to get louder and louder until they were both yelling at each other. Yelling in Spanish and responding in English doesn’t do much if you can’t speak the other language. As preschool kids, we often interpreted for our fathers.
Jump ahead a few years, and at 11 years old, I attended my first professional sporting event.
My dad, and my uncles Chris Pallas and Quentin Raymond took me and my cousins to Candlestick Park in San Francisco to watch the Giants play the Cardinals.
I knew who Willie Mays was, he was my favorite player and remains so to this day, but the rest of the lineup was a mystery.
There was another Willie on the Giants roster, Willie McCovey. No, I did not realize he was the National League home run leader that year with 36.
The Cardinals were unfamiliar as well. They had some guy named Bob Gibson pitching, I had no idea who he was, though I do now.
I looked up Gibson’s stats years later and discovered he had a league-leading ERA of 1.12, an astounding figure in these days of situational pitching where no one goes the distance on the mound anymore.
Gibson won 22 games, lost nine, and was the National League’s Most Valuable Player that season.
All three of these baseball immortals now have busts in Cooperstown at the Baseball Hall of Fame, but that skinny, excited soon-to-be sixth grader had no idea who they were.
What I do remember is watching Mays and McCovey hit home runs off Gibson in the game. Home runs were a big deal for someone who didn’t understand the nuances of the game.
Shifts, bunts, tagging up on fly balls, double plays, all those were a mystery to be conquered later in life. I just liked watching the guys hit the ball. Singles and extra-base hits were great, and home runs were over the moon, but the rest of the game was just background to what was happening at the plate.
In many ways, my 11-year-old ignorance is reflected nightly on nationwide broadcasts as the rich and famous sit in the front row directly behind home plate in full view of the television audience. I often marvel (ok, maybe snicker) at the preponderance of bored expressions and cell phone usage displayed by the beautiful people just a few feet behind the umpire, catcher, and batter. Their ambivalence astounds any true baseball fan.
Yes, I wish they’d take down the net behind home plate just to keep them on their toes, or to get a few graphic replays of balls screaming in and destroying iPhones.
My dad was a sergeant in the US Air Force, my uncle Quentin was a baggage handler at San Francisco International Airport and my uncle Chris owned a television store in the Mission District with his brothers. None of them were wealthy, but they were able to take their sons out to a big league ballgame in style.
We ate hotdogs, drank too much pop, had popcorn and cotton candy, and we all left with pennants or other souvenirs. A similar experience by working class men today for their sons would break the bank.
As good as the game was in those days, it remained just a game.
I learned to be a sports fan that summer day back in 1968, and the magic has remained with me my entire life.
I don’t follow baseball as much as I do the NFL, high school, and college athletics, but I still catch a game on TV once in a while.
In spite of the hype, fancy uniforms, ridiculously complex statistics (thanks to the computerized database), and media focus on salaries rather than performance, it remains a great game.
America’s game, if you will.
But somewhere in the back pages of my memory, that hot, humid afternoon in the City by the Bay and that dusty, noisy game I watched from rickety wooden bleachers, announced in a different language hold more importance to me.
Baseball is the game of summer, whether T-ball, Little League, Babe Ruth, Legion, the minor leagues, or the American and National League.
The dog days of summer on a diamond. What a concept.