Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How Did You Get Hooked on Baseball?

My least favorite time of the year is the time between the end of baseball season and the start of spring training.  I am a baseball junkie and have been since I was a young boy.  I thank my lucky stars for the internet as it is a virtual methadone to help get me through to the day that pitchers and catchers report.  I was in a conversation recently with another avid fan about our earliest memories of attending Tribe games and discussing the circumstances that led to what has became a lifelong obsession with baseball.  At the end of the conversation we reflected on the experiences we had with baseball in our lives and how little we remember about the actual games but how much we remember the events and the people which surrounded them.
The conversation carried us back to the days that the live music scene was jumping at the Last Moving Picture Company (LMPC) and at the Cleveland Agora, to the failed “Build the Dome Committee” and other failed stadium attempts, to the rise and fall of the Flats and the corresponding stories surrounding post game celebrations in the Flats, to the situation that the Cleveland Indians find themselves in today.  The story of how you became a baseball junkie may not extend back into the early 70’s, it may go back even further than that or it may begin in the early 90’s.  I am posting my story below and would love to read some other fans journey into the world of major league baseball or more specifically the Cleveland Indians.
Baseball became my obsession as a very young boy growing up in Cleveland Heights.  The obsession began when my dad, the family dog, and I would take our two block walk up to Bonn Drug to buy the morning paper.  My dad would buy his cigars and the Plain Dealer and would allow me to choose either a candy bar or a pack of baseball cards and more often than not I would choose the baseball cards.    As we would walk home, my dad would read parts of the sports page to me as I opened my pack of baseball cards.   He would ask me if I got any Indians, which was always the most exciting part of the rifling through the deck, and if I did, he’d show me how to find the players in the box score and how what the abbreviations meant. 
On Sunday’s we’d head over to a park bench in front of what is now the Tavern Company on Lee Road.  I’d go through my Sunday special cello-pack of cards and look up each player in the leader board which was included in the Sunday Plain Dealer.  It was on this park bench that my dad trained me in the secret art of how to properly fold a newspaper in order to read it comfortably and how to work with the wind to skillfully defeat any gust of wind.  Often times, I would go home, lay the Sunday PD on my living room floor, grab my box of baseball cards, and begin evaluating which players were stars and which players were not.   As the seasons changed the ritual was repeated with football cards, star wars cards, and basketball cards, but the number of times I chose the candy was vastly more often than not and the walks weren’t as frequent due to the wintery weather.   The end of winter and promise of spring was never as strong as when that first box of baseball cards would arrive at Bonn Drug, usually in early March.   
By age eight I was completely obsessed by all things baseball.  My clock radio was tuned into the listen to Herb Score broadcast the game and would stay up to listen to the Pete Franklin post game, often falling asleep to the wonderful Jimmy Durante singing Good Night.   I seldom was able to watch a game on the color tv because I had to older sisters and often lost the vote for the programming.  In my room I had an old Zenith black and white television which would allow me enough time to watch the Indians bat before the picture tube would overheat.  So, I’d watch the Indians half of an inning on the Zenith and listen to the opposition inning on the radio.  The only time I watched the Indians pitch was around the 6th inning of Len Barkers perfect game.
My family didn’t have a lot of money growing up but my dad did as much as he could to feed my addiction.  My dad is a guitar player and on nights that he didn’t have a gig, which thankfully wasn’t too often, we’d head down to the East 9th Street Pier to fish.   I had a Zebco rod with a poor bloodworm at the end of my hook sitting in the water, but I spent more time with my transistor radio and talking baseball to the older guys that were fishing at the pier.   The East 9th Street pier was probably the first “Tribe Forum” that I belonged to and probably the first time that I debated and argued with adults.   The bonus at the East 9th Street Pier was Captain Frank’s pickup window where I would normally score a soda and a soft-serve dipped ice cream cone.  The best nights were the old fireworks nights.  I could hear the roar of the crowd from the pier and there was always extra energy at the pier on those nights.
Those walks with my father to Bonn Drug, the baseball cards and learning how to read a box score, and the evenings fishing at the East 9th Street Pier complete with ice cream and soda from Captain Frank’s all took me back to a much simpler time in my life, and I smiled the whole time I wrote this.  I hope others have as much fun as I did reflecting back on whatever events triggered their obsession and I look forward to reading others stories.

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