A Trip Down Memory Lane: A 2nd Grader's First Post-Season Experience
I woke up on the morning of Sept. 29, 1959, and told my mother I felt really sick.
“Really,” she said.
“Yeah, my stomach hurts and I have a headache,” I said.
Truth is, I had Baseball Blues. I wanted to stay home so I could watch Game 2 of the Dodgers and Braves best-of-three tiebreaker playoff series.
The Dodgers were going to play the Braves at the Los Angeles Coliseum that afternoon, the Braves having objected to the Dodgers wish to play a night game allegedly so the players would be better rested after flying in from Milwaukee, where Game 1 was played the day before.
The Braves, however, knew better. The Dodgers played in the 90,000-seat Los Angeles Coliseum and were looking at getting nearly double the attendance of 36,528, which is what showed up for that Game 2 of the NL Playoff.
“That’s too bad,” my mother said. “I was going to take you out of school today so you could go to the Dodgers’ game,” she said with a smile.
Immediately, the stomach felt great. There was nothing like the anticipation of a Dodger Dog to cure an upset stomach. And, the headache disappeared.
And it was a game worth seeing. The Dodgers didn’t merely sweep the Braves in what was a best-of-three playoff, but they did it by scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game, and then rallied in the 12th for the 6-5 victory, and then needed six games to upset the Chicago White Sox in the World Series.
The next day, I went back to school, giving the teacher my parent’s excuse, which explained, “When Tracy grows up he is going to be a sportswriter. As a result, this should be an excused absence because it was an educational experience.”
The teacher bought it.
My mother explained over the years it was a legitimate claim on her part.
“You may have been in second grade,” she explained, “but your athletic ability already had made it clear that the best chance you had to be around baseball when you got older was watching, not playing.”
Forty-three years covering baseball in a career that included receiving the J.G. Taylor Spink Award as a part of the 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony underscores the brilliance of my mother in her scouting ability.
And while every day at the ballpark is a great day, some are greater than others, and this September afternoon in 1959 was one of the greatest ever for an eight-year-old future ball writer.
The Dodgers had moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn the year before, and it was a good thing Southern California was just excited to get a baseball team because not a lot on the field happened to build a fan base.
The 1959 season, however, was different. The Dodgers, longtime rival Giants, whose move from New York to San Francisco was a part of the deal for the NL to approve the Dodgers migration, and Cardinals staged a three-team battle for the NL pennant. With eight games to play, the Giants actually had a two-game lead on the Dodgers and Braves, two-time defending NL champions and 1956 world champions.
That next-to-last weekend of the season, however, the Dodgers swept a three-game series, which sent them on the way to an 86-68 season, tied with the Braves, setting up the best-of-three series. The Dodgers won the coin flip for Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Game 3 wasn’t necessarily.
The Dodgers won Game 1 in Milwaukee’s County Stadium on Sept. 28, and that night both teams flew to Los Angeles for what remained in the playoff.
A Game 3 loomed. The Braves had taken 5-2 lead in the eighth. They were not able to add on in the ninth, even though a young Sandy Koufax came in from the bullpen and with two out, loaded the bases with walks to Hank Aaron, Joe Torre and John DeMerit, a September call-up who had only one hit in five at-bats during the regular season.
Clem Labine came in from the bullpen to strike out Mickey Vernon, and the game went to extra innings.
Both teams left the bases loaded in the 11th, Denver native Stan Williams, out of the bullpen for the Dodgers, pitched out of a self-created jam in the top of the inning by getting Joe Adcock to ground into a fielder’s choice. That was big. I may have been eight years old, but I was a native of Cheyenne, and there was an allegiance to any ballplayer born in the Rocky Mountain Region.
And then came the bottom of the 12th. Braves reliever Bob Rush retired Wally Moon and Williams on fly balls to left. There were two outs and nobody was on base.
But then. … Gil Hodges walked on five pitches. … Joe Pignatano singled Hodges to second. … And Carl Furillo lined a shot to the left side. Braves shortstop Felix Mantila made a sliding stop on what was a base hit.
Hodges, however, never slowed on his way to third, and with third base coach Chuck Dressen waving, Hodges kept running, scoring on Mantila’s errant throw from his knees.
Mantila was in tears.
The Dodgers and their fans were all smiles.
And this second-grader was excited.
It was a perfect day. He got to skip school. He got to go to a ballgame. And the Dodgers were going to the World Series.
Who cared if the seats were in general admission, located in the upper deck at the Coliseum? It’s where we would sit those times my dad would schedule his vacation so we could see a week’s worth of games.
And, the Dodgers had won the hearts of Southern California, bouncing back from that seventh-place finish in their first season to become world champions in the second.
But then it is easy to be a fan of a winner.
That second-grader? Well, his loyalty lasted two years. When those expansion Angels arrived in 1961, things changed. It would only seem natural that a kid whose mother could see early he had a future in the press box, not on the field, would become enamored with a product of baseball’s first expansion.
Anyone, after all, could jump on the bandwagon of the Dodgers.
It took a true commitment to be an Angels’ fan.
And to think, 18 years later, that second-grader was actually covering those Angels for the Long Beach Press-Telegram in the first post-season in that franchise’s history.
Just like, after a career that entailed covering the Kansas City Royals (1976, 1983-85), Angels (1977-79), Seattle Mariners (1980-82), and Texas Rangers (1986-91), I’d come back home as an adult, thanks to the creation of the Rockies, and Denver’s proximity to Cheyenne, and have a part in coverage of everything from the pre-expansion year of 1992 until now.
I guess being able to hit a fastball wasn’t so important after all.