Monday, October 28, 2013

The Summer of Baseball

Watching this year's World Series and reading Eben Pindyck’s “The Knuckle-Curve” essay in last week’s Sunday New York Times Magazine brings back memories of my summer of 1982. That was the year the Milwaukee Brewers, dubbed "Harvey's Wallbangers" with their record 216 home runs, journeyed to the World Series to play the St. Louis Cardinals in an epic seven-game face-off.

I was 10 years old. Parenting books today will tell you it’s all about moms and dads spending “quality time” with their children, but all I knew as a kid was "quantity time." Every day was a day working with mom and dad on the farm, while evenings were spent playing cribbage and listening to Bob Eucker call Brewer games on the radio. That was our "quality time".

Once a year in the summer, we carpooled with family friends and trekked to Milwaukee to watch a live Brewers game. This was a big deal for a 10-year-old farm kid. Watching the Brewers play in County Stadium was equal to a whole day of vacation, which didn't happen often. It would be still two years before my mom got sick, so she would cook for days preparing the annual tailgate shindig of potato salad, baked beans and cold meatloaf sandwiches. We'd even get to purchase potato chips and dip from the grocery store. It was magical.

It was from these annual treks to County Stadium that I learned watching a baseball game in person is vastly different than listening to it on the radio. Armed with my $3 program and wearing my Milwaukee Brewers ball cap, I astutely kept score in the program’s pull-out paper score box, using shorthand to mark strike-outs, base hits and the occasional fielder's choice. I knew the name of every player and could recite their stats by heart.

First Baseman Cecil Cooper. This guy was the first man I ever saw do the splits. On purpose. Cecil could catch any ball thrown in the vicinity of first base and do it in style, often stretching his left leg out so far while keeping his right foot on first base that he looked like a professional gymnast. Every time he came to bat, the crowd would chant "Coooooooop" low and loud, so that if you didn't know better, it sounded like he was being booed. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Coop was beloved.

Second Baseman Jim Gantner. Jimmy was a Wisconsin-native and played his entire career with the Brewers. Known as "Gumby" because of the way he could turn a double play on a dime, poor Jim got a bit outshined in the infield because of two superstars to his left. Which leads me to:

Third Baseman Paul Molitor and Shortstop Robin Yount: To a 10-year-old, these two guys summed up everything good there was about baseball in 1982. All-stars and repeat MVPs who were also nice enough to give a farm kid an autograph during batting practice, they proved their worth in every game. Yount was a 20-year career Brewer veteran, while Molitor broke all of our hearts in 1992 by accepting a three-year, $13 million deal to move to the Toronto Blue Jays. I'm still bitter about it.

Outfielders Ben Oglivie, Gorman Thomas and Charlie Moore
: I remember playing baseball just once on the farm with my dad. He was busy, and let's face it, I was a girl. It was a few days after we'd gone to a Brewers game and were sitting in the front yard on a Sunday afternoon after church. I asked if he thought he could hit a ball as far as it was to Center Field in County Stadium. To my surprise, he said "Let's find out." We rounded up a bat and a chewed-up baseball. I clumsily pitched and on the first try, he cracked the ball so hard it made my ears hurt. I watched the ball fly over the yard fence, past the creek at the bottom of the hill and toward the grain bins by the road. He smiled and went back to his lawn chair. I went in search of the ball in the pasture. And that was that.

Catcher Ted Simmons
: It would only be in later years that my dad and I would argue over who was a better catcher: the up and coming B.J. Surhoff or the veteran Bill Schroeder, a steady catcher but crappy batter. By 1988, I was 16 years old, and B.J. was young, cute, blond, and could both catch and actually hit the ball. I don't remember what Schroeder looked like, so that about says it all. Dad always referred to Schroeder as a "gazelle" because he once hit a rare single and lumbered to first base, where he miraculously was not called out. Meanwhile, B.J. would go on to successfully play every position except pitcher during his 18-year major league career. Google him. He's still hot. I win.

Starting Pitcher Moose Haas and Reliever Rollie Fingers: sometimes as daughters get older and dads flail at understanding what makes them tick, talking baseball is all they have left. Put two guys named Moose and Rollie in the conversation and we could talk for hours. After mom got sick, we talked about baseball a lot. Reciting stats and predicting who'd make a run for the play-offs was better than talking about hospital bills and increasingly-worse diagnoses. When mom felt good enough, she'd even take my side in the B.J. Surhoff vs Bill Schroeder debate. Because let's face it, he was hot.

These days, I'm the kind of parent who sadly refers to "quality time" because I don't have enough of it to even approach "quantity". My daughter and her father have never listened to or attended a baseball game together. It just isn't their thing. But watching the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series this year brings back good memories of my childhood. Even if the Brewers would go on to lose in the 7th game in Busch Stadium, the summer of 1982 would be one of the best ever. It marked a season of both quality and quantity in a time when I was too young to appreciate either.


Marisa said...

Lovely post. Seeing all those names in one place brings back my own memories of that season, as a 4 year old snuggled up with my most favorite floor pillow at my grandparents' house.

Bob D said...

Great post still love listening to Bob Uecker call the games.