Covering All the Bases

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Excerpt: from the Introduction

Silver Spring, Maryland

This is the story of one avid baseball fan's love affair with America's greatest game—a traveling, rambling, on-the-road love affair. This is my story, starting as a ten-year-old boy who played the game by bouncing tennis balls against a wall and imagining big league play. Born in 1929 and growing up in semi-rural Silver Spring, Maryland, I never played Little League, which was organized in 1939. (Today, hundreds of Little League teams play in and around Silver Spring, which has grown to become a major suburb adjacent to Washington, D.C.)

Unable to play on a real field, I lived my dreams in those early days by being a pitcher and hurling fastballs against the side of our house as hard as I could throw them. When the tennis ball came back low, I became a shortstop in a flash—"Little Phil" Rizzuto—gliding to my left to scoop up the ball and feign the throw to first, or to second to start a double play in my mind. If the ball bounced high over my head, I raced back to catch the fly—as did Stan Musial in his heyday with the Cardinals. Playing alone like this for hours on end, I could be any one of the great stars playing somewhere in America that very afternoon, or an immortal, one of the All-Stars of another era reborn in my driveway, or all of them before supper time came.

I could be one of the Washington Senators, my hometown team heroes, though they were usually in or near the cellar in the 1930s and 1940s. ("First in peace, first in war and last in the American League," as wags used to say. Through the years, I listened regularly to the Senators on radio as the voice of Arch McDonald gave the play-by-play through the static.) I could play Cecil Travis at third or short and get the most hits in the League in 1941; or Mickey Vernon, who still holds the record for double plays at first; or Stan Spence, the four-time All-Star in center field. On the mound, I would throw a knuckleball à la Dutch Leonard, the great right-hander who invented the knuckler.

At Montgomery Blair High School, I wanted desperately to play baseball but couldn't because I had to work after school (in a gas station and a grocery store). If I'd tried out and hadn't made the team, my friends might have elected me team manager, but my work schedule didn't allow that either, so wishful thinking was as close as I came to earning my high school letter. I managed to play some in summer recreational leagues, although a good glove and a lot of desire were never enough to overcome not being able to hit the hard stuff. Graduating from high school in 1946, I went to work for the local utility, the Washington Gas Light Company, for eight years and then moved on to the Shell Oil Company for thirty-six years. I played fast-pitch softball in industrial leagues for both companies until—like the great Joe DiMaggio and many others—I could no longer get to a sinking line drive.

During my working life and retirement years, I nursed my love for baseball as an avid fan attending games whenever and wherever I could. Traveling a great deal on business for Shell, I realized that many "Shell cities" were Major League cities, and after work I could often take in a game, especially as night games became the rule.

Somewhere along the way, in the late 1980s or early 1990s, I set myself a goal: to attend a game in every Major League ballpark. I'm proud to say that today, when Major League teams call thirty cities home, I have been to at least one game in fifty-three Major League parks! Yes, I've seen Major League ballgames in more ballparks than there are teams today because older fields have been retired and razed to be replaced by shining new palaces. That has simply meant more venues for me to visit and enjoy.

My experiences at those baseball parks over the course of sixty-five years are the basis for this book; my motive is to share with other fans the experiences, the memories of colorful travels and the thrills of many games. I've visited with commentators in broadcasting booths, observed batting practice from behind the cage, and even had the honor of throwing out the first ball for my adoptive home team, the Houston Astros. I've seen the final game in a number of old ballparks and the debut game in ten new ones. I've cheered with fans in the Washington Nationals' spankin' new home, the New York Mets' new Citi Field, the new Yankee Stadium and Target Field in Minneapolis. I've seen four All-Star Games in four different parks, several playoff games and league championship games and six World Series games.

Along the way, I've had many memorable experiences and exciting moments—from Candlestick Park on the edge of San Francisco Bay to Fenway in historic Boston. And speaking of the home of the Red Sox—the house that Ted Williams built—when the powers-that-be decide to pull down that antique ball yard, I hope to see the last game there and the first game played in its successor—and many more as I continue my quest.

Come to think of it, that quest may never end because there always seems to be a new stadium about to open in some Major League city or on the drawing board somewhere, or is maybe just a gleam in someone's eye as bright as a ten-year-old Maryland kid's dream of playing ball in the Big Leagues.

It has been a real joy for me to share these experiences. My hope is that readers will find some enjoyment in my sharing these experiences and stories. I am confident that we all share in the love of this, our national pastime. To me, there is no more exciting moment than standing with my hat over my heart and hearing our National Anthem at a Major League baseball game. The thrilling follow-up to that is to hear those magical words, "Play Ball!"