Professional baseball in Cleveland, Ohio when I was not even a decade old in the 60's was like watching an accident during a NASCAR race. The results less than stellar. But I couldn't take my eyes or mind off of my favorite sport and the hometown "heroes" that wore the Indian uniform and the Chief Wahoo (some say Chief Boohoo) that came with it.
I believe my dad introduced me to baseball before I was born. I honestly think that even before my birthdate of September 12, 1961 I already knew who Jimmy Dudley, Herb Score, "Sudden" Sam McDowell and Ken Aspromonte (who could very well be who I was named after) were. There are those that claim my mother gave birth to a glove, bat and ball before me.
Back in those days one maybe two games a week were on TV. Almost always on weekends. Sometimes two or three weeks would go by where there were none. When a game was on, I'd park myself in front of the "VHF only: channels 2 to 13" black and white floor model Motorola?, Philco?, Zenith?...I can't remember what model TV it was. All I knew is that while sitting or laying on the floor, if it were to fall on me my parents would have had to file a missing persons report.
Hundreds upon hundreds of hours were spent watching games and film highlights of the Indians in black and white before my four-almost five year old life would be considered complete. My first live game at Old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Built in the 1930's with hopes of hosting the Olympics. Eighty thousand plus capacity. Real live Cleveland Indians in front of my very own eyes!What more could I ask for?
It was a Saturday in the summer of 1966. June 11 to be exact. Sam McDowell took the mound against Frank Howard and the Washington Senators. McDowell was a stud. A southpaw that could have befuddled Ruth and Cobb. The Indians were riding high and in first place. They'd opened the season with a ten game winning streak. Fan interest was at it's peak with 72,000 empty seats filling the Stadium. What? Empty seats? A first place team playing in front of only 8,000 fans? On a Saturday in June? Perhaps people were saving their money for the August 14 Beatles concert at this very Stadium. Those tickets were at a premium. The cheapest seats were $3.00. Most expensive? Five bucks.
Back to important stuff...baseball. The ride to the park was a shortcut my dad came up with that I actually used myself up until the Old Stadium was demolished in 1996. There was no air conditioning in the '63 Impala but it never mattered when you were a little boy that spent every waking hour outdoors playing baseball.
I had known nothing but television in black and white as far as seeing my Cleveland Indians goes. Then I saw it! The Grand, Great Lady On The Lake! Cleveland Municipal Stadium! It was HUGE!!! You could fit a bazillion people in there! It was bland and gray just like on the black and white TV. But I was there! The concourse was also bland and gray. But I was there! Then it happened. The walk from the concourse up the ramp that would lead to our seats. I believe I heard the aaaah, aaaAH, AAAAAAH! of the angels singing in the background!
COLOR! I saw COLOR! Yellow and red seats! Blue rails! And GREEEEEEEEEEEN GRASS! Acres and acres of green grass! Indians uniforms were red and white not gray and white! There were guys playing catch just like me and my dad. There were guys throwing and hitting baseballs just like me and my dad. There were guys that appreciated the fact that they could spend a summer afternoon at a ballpark. Just like me and my dad. There were guys laughing. Just like me and my dad.
The Indians won that day, 6-4 and spent another day in first place. It didn't matter that by September they were in fifth place and eventually finished at 81-81. What did matter is the bond that had been taken to another level between me, my dad and baseball.
Simpler times have resulted in the greatest memories for me. I would never, a million times over ever trade my childhood for anything. There is no price on the relationship between a little boy, his dad and baseball. And even now that my dad has gone to a better place and most assuredly is a member of the Dad's Hall Of Fame, I know that some 40, 50 or 60 years later the following things will never change. On a hot summer night I can still listen to the Indians on a transistor radio, have a can of "Off" close at hand, listen to crickets chirp, watch lightning bugs glow, and hear the sound of my dad's voice say, "We just traded McDowell".