THERE'S GOLD IN YOUR
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME
The move was scheduled for early spring and everyone in the house was busy packing for the journey. It wouldn’t be much of a drive, about fifteen miles, however, it would seem like we had moved across country. The house we were leaving had been my parents’ home since before the war, the Second World War that is, and it had been the only home I had known. It was a beautiful three-story home situated on a lovely street of other similar houses. It was probably built sometime just after the turn of the century. It was brick, with large windows and a front porch that dominated the entire front. A porch swing was stationed at one end. I can still remember warm summer nights, swinging with my father as he told me stories of his days in Hollywood and the movie stars he had met. A bottle of Coke and a Hostess cupcake finished the night’s activity and it was off to the second floor and bed.
My playroom was the entire third floor, away from everyone else. You see, my grandfather and grandmother lived with us and the third floor was a safe distance away. I could make all the noise I wanted and no one would mind. I could ride the range, or travel into space, or even bounce a ball off the wall; it was my space and I would never tire in the exploits that I created. From our backdoor you stepped down to a porch and then into a massive backyard, or at least massive to a kid. At the end of the yard stood an old carriage house that had been converted into a garage that opened onto the alley that ran the length of the block. Everything was fair game for the neighborhood kids; running the alleys, climbing the roofs of the garages (much to our parents dismay) and of course, playing a game of baseball. We would gather at one house or the other, stake out the bases and take to the game.
Directly across the street from my house stood an impressive gothic, turn-of-the-century three-story school with a massive playground complete with slides, swings, and tucked away in the far back corner, the remnants of a ball diamond. There was a high chain link backstop, benches, not dugouts, and a faint hint of bases. Most of the older kids would dominate the field, however, on occasion we would find it empty and proceed to "play ball." It was as if we were at Yankee Stadium, running the bases, pitching from a mound, or the distant memory of a mound, sitting on the benches and cheering each other on. It was a great way to spend an afternoon, in the fresh air and sunshine, hanging out with friends.
Across the street from the school stood a small narrow building that housed the local candy store. Actually it was much more than a candy store; it offered milk, bread, assorted household items, but to all the kids in the neighborhood it was just the candy store. Immediately as you entered the front door, just to the left, stood a counter that, to a kid, seemed to go on forever. I couldn’t reach the top of the counter, but it had tiers and tiers of every kind of candy. Now if you are from a certain generation, and I certainly am, the candy sold for a penny – that’s right, there was a time when a penny actually purchased something, something wonderful, maybe a piece of licorice, or bubblegum, or maybe a fireball, there was so much to choose from.
On one of my visits I noticed a rectangular item in a boxed marked "Topps" and I was immediately drawn to it. To my surprise, it contained a flat pink piece of gum and under the gum, with a faint coating of pink dust, was a couple of baseball cards. Now this was a major purchase, since it had cost a whole nickel. Again, it was a time when a nickel could purchase something. As I began chewing the gum, I studied the cards. On the front of the cards were pictures of baseball players in their uniform and on the back was information about the player. Of course baseball cards were not novel in the 1950s, but I felt that I had discovered a hidden treasure, and I began saving my nickels so that I would be able to complete the set. That was a lot of chewing gum, much to the chagrin of my parents and our family dentist. I would separate the cards by teams and stack them carefully in my dresser drawer. Then came the idea of trading the cards with the other kids in the neighborhood, however, I just couldn’t let any of my cards go. I would guess that was the beginning of acquiring the "collector" gene.
One day while playing in the alley, I noticed a shiny new Ford pull into one of the garages and out stepped a gentleman dressed in a baseball uniform – a real baseball uniform. He was a player for our local team, a minor league team, but a ball team nonetheless. I had known of the team, however, to that time I had never seen a player or been to a game, so I just stood there transfixed, looking at him. He noticed me and, with a knowing smile, came over and stuck out his hand and introduced himself. He asked me if I played baseball, had I ever been to a game, what my favorite team was. He was just great, taking the time to make a kid feel good. I couldn’t wait to share the encounter with my dad and to ask the big question, "Can we go to the ballpark?" I regaled dad with the chance meeting and popped the question, without hesitation dad said we could and it wasn’t a week till we were walking into the stadium. Now, compared to the major league facilities ours must have been pretty meager, but to this kid it was if we were walking into the House of Ruth. I even expected to see him there. We sat down behind home plate. There was activity everywhere; the vendors, the organ music, the fans, it was better than the circus. Dad and I would return to the park on occasion and each time it held the same excitement as it did that first night.
It wasn’t long after that that we made the move to the country, into a new, "modern" home, a one floor, ranch style, set on an acre of land. I had mixed feelings leaving our house and the old neighborhood, however, the new home was unique in its own way. By this time I was beginning to become interested in movies so Dad created a small room in the basement and decked it out with a small stage. He even found some second-hand movie projectors for me. He installed a screen, actually a white window blind that you could pull down, but to me it was the Ohio Theatre. I discovered that you could purchase 16mm and 8mm films from the Blackhawk Film Company and my nickels now went into collecting old films. One of my first purchases was a silent film from the early 1930s featuring Babe Ruth teaching young boys the game of baseball. I ran the film over and over, watching The Babe run the bases, hit the ball, and pitch to the various kids. I imagined me as one of those kids, working with Babe Ruth and learning at the foot of the master.
As I settled into my new home, I was scheduled to begin school so it was off to the new building and new adventures and friends. As we drove up the drive to the school, standing next to the playground was a real ball field, with dugouts, scoreboard, bleachers for the fans and lights; could this be connected with the school? I quickly discovered that it was for the use of the Little League team, and that everyone was invited to tryout. The season had just ended, and tryouts were not scheduled until the following spring, so I had plenty of time to practice. This would be a real team, if I were lucky enough to be selected, that played under the lights, with fans in the stands cheering the team on. I couldn’t believe it. I worked every day after school on my pitching and running, and I would hit the balls in the backyard over and over again, running to pick them up. As fall gave way to winter, the time seemed to grow longer and longer until the tryouts. I would watch the film over and over, reading the subtitles and the advice of the Babe.
Spring arrived and the notice was posted for the tryouts, and it was off to the ballpark with my glove in hand. I was asked to field a ball, hit, run, doing everything with the image of Babe Ruth in my mind. I was told that they would post the results within a week and I embarked on one of the longest weeks of my life. After school each night, before I began my paper route, I would run to the field and check to see if they had posted the team. One night there it was, the roster, and I ran the names and sure enough there was my name. I had made the team! I finished my paper route quickly and made a dash for home, to tell Mom and Dad that I was a full-fledged ball player. Dad couldn’t have been happier and indicated that a new glove was in order, not to mention the cleats that I would be needing. He took me to the town’s hardware store that Saturday and purchased all the equipment that I would require; a new glove, the shoes, bat, ball, everything. Practice was due to begin in a couple of weeks and I couldn’t wait to start.
On that first day we introduced ourselves to our fellow teammates and were assigned positions. I would begin on first base, and be held out for right field. Then we were fitted for our uniforms. I couldn’t believe it! I hadn’t even thought about having real uniforms. This was the big league for me, with the first game just weeks away. One night I arrived for practice and there was a box with my name on it. I opened it and found a pinstriped uniform with the team’s name on the front and my name on the back! What a thrill! The only thing missing now was a baseball card with my picture on it.
The first game is a memory that lasts a lifetime, we gathered behind the park and entered into the dugout as a team, an announcer calling out our names and the positions that we would play. My heart was pounding and my thoughts were racing through my mind. Would I catch the first ball thrown to me, would I hit the ball, would I be worthy of the Babe? As we took to the field I noticed Mom and Dad in the stands and all I wanted to do was make them proud. The first batter struck out, the second batter hit a ground ball past the pitcher to the second baseman and he threw it to me. Tagging the base before the runner got there, all I heard was the first base umpire shout "OUT" and I knew that I had done my job. The crowd applauded and I noticed Dad smiling. It was one of the biggest rewards that I have ever known.
After the game, a game that our team won, on the drive home, Dad told me that he had enjoyed this game more than any professional game he had ever attended and that I had done a good job. I fell into bed that night with a feeling that I have rarely experienced, a sense of accomplishment that is both satisfying and complete, along with the knowledge that a simple game can make a difference, in both a boy’s, and a man’s life.
That summer has disappeared into the recesses of my memory, but the experience lives on, the experience of being outdoors on a warm spring evening, under the lights, with all the dust and noise of a ballpark swirling around, with your dad smiling from the bleachers. What baseball taught me was how to work together as a team, how to make quick decisions and how to make your father proud. It’s been a long time since I walked into a ballpark. Today we have a modern new stadium here in Columbus, and maybe, just maybe I’ll make the time to take the family to a game. Or maybe, I’ll find a Little League field and take in a game. It would be so nice to look into the stands and see the smiles on the faces of the fathers.
Until the next time, remember, THERE’S GOLD IN YOUR ATTIC. Have fun and happy hunting.
Michael Hurwitz is a lecturer, filmmaker, and author of three books. THERE’S GOLD IN YOUR ATTIC: Memoirs Of A Collector, a compilation of many of his life experiences, is now available in book form on www.amazon.com and www.Bordersstores.com. It contains the articles that have appeared in The American Antiquities Journal over the preceding ten years and is richly illustrated throughout. Visit Michael’s website www.intriguedbyhistory.com.