My passion for baseball began at an early age and grew, as each year our family headed to St. Louis for a series, usually in July, which is just as miserable in St. Louis as it was in Arkansas. But I loved the Cardinals more than I hated the heat, and looked forward to the trip each year.
As I watch today, I realize how much the game has changed. I don’t mind most of the changes, but there’s going to be trouble in River City if the National League decides to implement the designated hitter. Here are a few things I remember from my younger days.
It was not unusual for a pitcher to throw a complete game; in fact, I remember that being more of the norm than the exception.
There were starters and relievers; no one talked about closers or middle relievers, and certainly no one brought in a pitcher just to pitch to one hitter.
No one ever talked about pitch counts.
Nolan Ryan (California Angels, before they were called Anaheim Angels) was the first pitcher I ever heard of who threw 96 miles per hour, and it was. A. Big. Deal. I was glad he wasn’t in the National League, but curious to see what that looked like, so occasionally I’d tune in to an American League game.
A lot of them had names like Three Rivers, Riverfront, Candlestick Park, Shea, and Veterans, before the days of the ubiquitous naming rights. Of course, Busch was Busch even then, replacing the old Sportsman’s Park.
Ballpark food was hot dogs, ice cream and peanuts, cotton candy and sno cones. I don’t remember Bar-B-Q nachos or that fake-looking yellow cheese product.
Astroturf was a hot surface, so a field box at a day game in St. Louis in July meant you were going to be miserable. Except for the fact that you were mere feet from the field in Busch Stadium. They’d always tell the temperature, and then follow that with, “But it’s 120 degrees on the turf.” And probably about 110 in the field boxes.
Lou Brock and Bob Gibson were my favorite of all, though Hank Aaron was right up there with them. I remember one day being at Busch and watching Gibson warm up pretty close to where I was standing. I had never heard that sound so close up before; when the ball hit the catcher’s glove.
Al Hrabosky was so much fun to watch. He would have been a closer if he were playing today; he threw heat, almost exclusively fastballs. And he looked wild and weird and psyched the hitters out. Which is why he was always called The Mad Hungarian. He’s a Cardinal broadcaster today, and, although a lot of people hate listening to him, I love him. He reminds me of my childhood.
I saw Hank Aaron play at Busch the year before he broke Babe Ruth’s record. He had gotten pretty close that year, and we bought our tickets with the hope that we might see him hit one out. Sadly, he didn’t hit a home run that night, and ended the season one run short of Ruth’s record.
There was no such thing as Twitter; the only time fans had a chance to interact with players was before the game if you were lucky enough to have great seats close to the field, or organized autograph signings. No tweeting your favorite player or following the team via social media. Though I don’t imagine Bob Gibson would have been much of a tweeter.
There were Expos (Montreal), but no Nationals (Washington D.C.); Senators (Washington D.C.) but no Rangers (Texas); no Rays (Tampa Bay), no Mariners (Seattle), no Diamondbacks (Arizona), no Rockies (Colorado); the Brewers (Milwaukee) were in the American League and the Astros (Houston) were in the National League. And there were only 24 teams; six in the Eastern Division and six in the western division; no central. The Cardinals were in the National League East, along with the Mets, Pirates, Cubs, Expos, and Phillies.
They always gave out scorecards. My daddy taught me how to fill out the scorecard and keep track of the plays. I always started the game filling it out, then got slack as the game went on. I can’t remember the last time I was handed a scorecard at a baseball game, either minor or major league. I bet there’s an app for that, though.
Lights in Wrigley Field
I never thought I’d see the day, but Wrigley finally got lights in 1988.
One of These Days …
Someday I want to see the Cardinals in every National League ballpark; I’ve only ever been to Busch. I still get a little giddy walking into the stadium. Even though it’s not the same one I grew up going to each summer, half of the new stadium sits on the grounds of the old one, and they have markers to indicate where the old foul lines were.
I remember the bottle-cap stadium, the view of the Arch, and most of all, sitting next to my daddy in those hot red seats.