Sunday, May 20, 2012

America's Pastime

I didn't know it at the time, but my world changed on May 20, 1990.  

A mere 12 days earlier, I had turned 7, and my mom's sister (aka Auntie) decided to take me to my first baseball game.   There were four of us in the group:  Auntie and Benita, me, and my just turned 5 year old sister.   I am almost certain that Al and I spent the night at Auntie and Benita's that Saturday (in Cleveland Heights) and drove together to Cleveland Municipal Stadium on the shores of Lake Erie.  It was glove day; a ploy to get families to come out to the Mistake on the Lake in order to take home a 'free' souvenir and fill in a fraction of the seats in Cleveland Municipal Stadium on what could be a beautiful late spring afternoon, or what might also be a frigid day with strong winds blowing off the lake.  The box score shows that it was a  rather successful promotion, with more than 20,000 in attendance.   (It doesn't mention the weather, but I think it was a pretty nice day)

Sadly, we didn't stay til the end (Tribe lost 8-7) because my sister was ready to go before the 9th inning came 'round.   Three hours is a long time for a pre-schooler to sit still, and ballparks did not have play lands at that time.    I do remember not wanting to leave, and will forever remember Benita 'directing' the nonexistent traffic as we crossed over a bridge to the parking lot.

Note: this photo was not taken the day of the game, but it was taken that summer and gives you an idea of our ages

Lucky for me, Auntie took me to many, many, many more games in my youth and into adulthood.  She always explained what was happening when I was small, teaching me about the ball/strike count, why a runner could steal a base, and what a double play meant.  As I got older, I learned about specific players, legends and goofballs alike.  Somewhere along the way I taught myself how to keep score, and taught Auntie what was likely the only tidbit of baseball she didn't yet know.

I learned the history of the Cleveland Indians.  Sports fans will know this can be a bit of a painful history, and might question why we'd talk about it, but "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."   One might argue that we both remember AND repeat the past in Cleveland but that's a story for another day.   Auntie was a fan starting in the 1960s.  A fair-weather fan she was not.  Auntie's favorite player as a child was Max Alvis, and she still has his baseball card.   Through lows, highs, and mostly lows, Auntie is an Indians fan.   She has said, numerous times, that before she dies, she'd like to see the Indians win the World Series just once.   (Auntie was born in 1955, so while I'm hoping they'll have a lot of time to win, I am also hoping they'll win many times in that timespan!)

I realize that I lived through some of the most exciting years of Indians history, and they came during the 'formative' years when I was becoming a fan.  I went to playoff games, and even saw a World Series game in 1997 (yes, when it snowed).   I attended the All-Star game workout day in 1997 and watched the home run contest.  My dresser was full of Indians t-shirts, my bookcase stocked with baseball books, and I never went to a game without my Tribe hat.   After the powerhouse diminished slightly, my enthusiasm did not wane.  I went to night games in April when the thermometer was 38 at game time.

I sat in the bleachers in August in full sun.  My then-boyfriend (now husband) and I drove to Detroit and Chicago to see our team play in other ballparks.   When we moved out of northern Ohio in 2005, we subscribed to's sports package so we could follow the Tribe every day, no matter where we were.  Our subscription continues to this day, and without fail every day we watch a Tribe game.

What I'm trying to say is that my first game opened the door to what has become a huge part of my life.  When I was in grade school it allowed me to spend a few uninterrupted hours with my Auntie.  In middle school and high school being a baseball fan gave me something interesting (and legit!) to talk to the boys about, and keeping score was a great conversation starter.   Almost every night during baseball season I fell asleep with the radio on, listening to Tom Hamilton call the play-by-play of my Tribe.  For me, summer was swimming and baseball.   When I was in college, Auntie and I took a trip to Cooperstown, NY, a mecca for baseball

It's probably better if I put this into context.   Auntie went to her first baseball game in the early 60s with her dad, brothers, cousins and uncle.   She was the only girl.   She kept the ticket stub, and still has it, to this day, displayed in her home office, which we affectionately refer to as The Shrine.   You see, Auntie has been collecting baseball memorabilia (almost exclusively Indians related, spanning 100 years) for more than 50 years.  The Shrine is chock full of books, pennants, bobble heads, tickets, and even seats from Cleveland Stadium, and a turnstile from League Park.

Seriously, aren't these seats great?  Appropriately, I am sunburned from sitting outside at a baseball game

Alison holding a vintage ticket while walking through the old turnstile.  
You can see the Cleveland Stadium seats behind her

Some items are of value, and others, like her first ticket stub, are purely sentimental.   Lucky for me, she kept the stub from my first game because, as she said just this week, "these things are extremely important"

I couldn't agree more.

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