“Take me out to the ball game” is my blog on major-league ballparks and the wonders of witnessing America’s favorite pastime up close.
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By Bobby Ross Jr.
The stadium felt like a furnace — think obnoxious Texas heat in early July — when I walked into my first major-league baseball game at age 14.
By then, of course, I was already a big baseball fan, with thousands of baseball cards, an autographed picture of Pete Rose and a dream of growing up to do radio play-by-play.
For all the hours I had spent watching televised games and poring over newspaper box scores, though, I had never actually been to a game.
But in 1982, my family moved to Dallas-Fort Worth, and a heaven with the greenest grass I had ever seen beckoned us.
We made it to our bleacher seats in the bottom of the first inning, just as Texas Rangers slugger Larry Parrish stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. That Saturday was “Bat Day,” so 10,000 wooden bats banged thunderously against the concrete and the crowd roared at an obscene decibel as the ball sailed over the fence — a grand slam!
A young lifetime of rooting for the Cincinnati Reds suddenly vanished. I fell in love with the Rangers that day.
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If it’s anything like one’s first experience at a major-league baseball game, it’ll be an amazing place. If you’ve seen the movie “Field of Dreams” (and if you haven’t, why not?), you remember this exchange:
John Kinsella: Is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella: It’s Iowa.
John Kinsella: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.
[starts to walk away]
Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.
[Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]
Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven.
I asked folks on Facebook and Twitter to share memories of their first major-league game.
Some remember the score. Many don’t. But all — OK, let’s say most — cherish the experience.
Some of my favorite responses:
“For my first game, I saw the Reds beat the Pittsburgh Pirates at a night game at Crosley Field in 1968. But I don’t remember the game; I only remember eating popcorn from a cardboard container that you used as a megaphone when it was empty, and my 5-year-old brother shouting through his megaphone into the ear of the man in front of us.” — Chuck Hinkle, Houston, Texas
“Tigers vs. Yankees in old Tiger Stadium for a matinee game on “Ladies Day” in the mid 1960s with my mom, brother (Greg Hadfield) and Uncle Dave, who was visiting from Kentucky. Sat down the third base line in general admission section, under the second deck overhang. Al Kaline and Mickey Mantle, bright sunshine, grass as green as the painted wood seats and outfield, the smell of hot peanuts and popcorn and stale cigar smoke, and the crack of the bat. I was hooked.” — Ron Hadfield, Abilene, Texas
“My dad took me to the old Busch Stadium in St. Louis in 1971. I don’t remember who the Cardinals were playing because I was only 8 years old. I remember the long drive from the Air Force base in northeast Arkansas on a bus and eating Boston Baked Beans candy for the first time. I also remember seeing old rundown buildings along the roads into downtown St. Louis.” — Edward A. Williamson, Houston, Mo.
“My first game was the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in 1987. … I came home from the game with a white ballcap with the Fenway 75th anniversary logo embroidered in the front. I had that hat for a long enough time that the snapback ripped out and was replaced with an elastic, but it must have been tossed sometime during one of several moves.” — Peter Huoppi, New London, Conn.
“I was 16 years old visiting family in New York. We went to the Polo Grounds to see the Giants. Mainest thing I remember is Willie Mays in center field making his patented flyball catch while running away from home plate. In this day of 250-foot fences, I seem to remember centerfield fence was 505 feet. Amazing player.” — Harold Wuest, Clovis, N.M.
“My dad loved the Astros, and we listened to the games almost nightly on the radio. We got to go to the Astrodome in the early ’70s when I was about 10, I think. I don’t remember who we were playing (we did, alas, lose). But I was thrilled to get to see (from waaaayyyy up in the bleachers on the home-team side) all the players I heard on the radio — I’m thinking Larry Dierker pitched, but I could be wrong.” — Jenny Lee Garrison, New Orleans
“Cleveland Indians at Washington Senators. About ’66 or so. Frank Howard hit one into the upper deck that literally cut through the fog. He was one big, powerful hoss.” — Don Gammill, Edmond, Okla.
“I was 23 years old before I ever attended a major-league game. It was on April 17, 2001, at Wrigley Field. The Cubs were hosting the Phillies. My wife and I took the train in from downtown, and we sat in the family section, which was behind the left field wall. The only memory I have about anything on the field was watching Sammy Sosa walk onto the field for the first time. The dude was much bigger than I expected. (Of course, now we all know why.) I can’t remember who led “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” but I remember the unique feeling of singing with the crowd. I felt like I was on baseball holy ground. The history of the place was overwhelming to me. My favorite thing was eating a hot dog with mustard and onions. It was the most delicious and expensive hot dog I’ve had to date. The Cubs lost. But that didn’t even ruin the best baseball experience I’ve ever had in my life.” — Joseph Pauley, Belle, W.Va.
“While visiting Wisconsin, we took our son and daughter (elementary school-age) to their first major-league game at the Brewers’ home park. If you’d scripted it, you couldn’t have foreseen the excitement — that included a triple play and not just home runs but a grand slam! We worried that our kids would leave there thinking every baseball game was that thrilling.” — Sandy Stevens, Chicago
“My personal first MLB game was in May of 2010 in Detroit. I was there on business and found out the Yankees were in town, so I had to go. Not unlike most people, one of the things that sticks out is coming through the gate and catching that first magnificent glimpse of the field. They always look so perfect. It is almost breathtaking, and it makes you feel a spiritual connection with generations past. Of course, I had to do all the staples, so i had a hot dog and some peanuts and roasted almonds. Some maybe less traditional things that struck me about it, though, include the juxtaposition of Comerica Park in the heart of dilapidated downtown Detroit. That stadium seems so extravagant set against the backdrop of boarded-up skyscrapers and homeless shelters. I also enjoyed the interaction of the crowd around me.” — Michael Lawrence, Oklahoma
Your turn: Share your memories by tweeting me @bobbyross.
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My personal reflection was adapted from a 2006 Christian Chronicle column on God, family and baseball.