My friends Tammy (left) and Randy (center) and I
attend a baseball game in St. Louis in 1987.
Pay no attention to the idiots behind us!
At this time of the year, no matter where I am or what I'm doing, my thoughts take me back to the spring days when I was 9 or 10 or 11, baseball season was about to begin and my friends and I had begun collecting that year's edition of baseball cards.
I began collecting baseball cards the year Mickey Mantle retired, and I collected them for about three or four years. Then, I guess I sort of lost interest in baseball cards — but I never lost interest in baseball.
The first time I ever saw a major league game was on a trip through south Texas with my mother, my grandmother and my brother. My father was a college professor, and he was spending the summer enrolled in an advanced education course in Chicago, so the rest of the family went on a trip.
We stopped off in Houston and saw the space center, then we went to the old Astrodome and saw the Astros play the Big Red Machine from Cincinnati. They were having a promotion at the Astrodome that night, and every kid got an official Astros patch. My mother sewed those patches on the sleeves of T–shirts for my brother and me, and that shirt became my favorite.
The next year, my father didn't go to summer school, and we all went on a family vacation. I think I must have been about 10 or 11. We went to St. Louis and saw the Cardinals play the Cubs one night at Busch Stadium.
It was long before the cable TV era, and games weren't televised every night of the week the way they are today. I knew who the players were from my collection of baseball cards and from hearing the games on radio. In central Arkansas in those days, you could hear the Cardinals on the radio every day so they were practically the home team. And the minor league team in Little Rock was affiliated with the Cardinals.
Anyway, the Cubs hammered the Cardinals that night so we left early and were back in our motel room before the last pitch was thrown.
The next summer, we returned to St. Louis, this time to see the Cardinals play the Mets. Willie Mays, who was nearing the end of his career, had just been traded to the Mets. As I recall, he was introduced to the crowd but he didn't play in the game. They also introduced the Mets' manager that night, Yogi Berra. It was a pretty memorable night in many respects — the starting pitchers were Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson.
It turned out to be an unusually chilly night for mid–summer, though, so my family left the ballpark and went out to the motel's courtesy van to be warm, and we heard the remarkable conclusion on the radio — the game went 13 innings, and the Cardinals won it when Ted Sizemore hit an inside–the–park home run.
The folks who stayed to the end were treated to quite a show.
I've seen a few ballgames as an adult. The photo above was taken more than 20 years ago when I visited my best friend and his wife in the St. Louis area. For a few years, we made a habit of getting together for Cardinals–Dodgers games. And, when I've been living here in the Dallas–Fort Worth area, I've been to a few Rangers games, including a Boston–Texas game in 1989 in which the starting pitchers were Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan.
I guess there is something about the arrival of baseball season that brings out the kid in a person — the kid who used to collect baseball cards in the summer or who sometimes would rather listen to a game on a radio than watch on a TV. It brings back all kinds of memories for me.
A lot of things have changed — some good, some bad.
I think they ought to play more day games — one of my fondest memories is from the autumn of my fifth–grade year. They still played all the World Series games during the day in those days, and the principal arranged for a TV to be brought into the cafeteria and all the boys who were interested in the series could be excused from afternoon class to watch the games. And they ought to play more doubleheaders — too many of today's fans don't know what it means when somebody says, "Let's play two."
But it's still baseball. And if they could just get rid of the influence of steroids, I could handle the other changes.
In another week, the major league season will begin. I don't claim to be an expert, but here are my humble predictions for the 2009 season:
- In the National League East, I think the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies will win their division with a 90–72 record.
- In the National League Central, I think the St. Louis Cardinals will bounce back from last season's fourth–place finish and win the division with a 95–67 record.
- In the National League West, I predict the Los Angeles Dodgers will repeat as division winners with a record of 87–75.
- I predict the wild–card team will be the New York Mets with a record of 89–73.
- East: I think it's going to be tempting for people to pick the Tampa Bay Rays, but they may find the glare of the media spotlight a bit blinding. So I'm going to pick a team that has had plenty of experience dealing with postseason success in recent years, the Boston Red Sox. I predict the Red Sox, who excelled in both pitching and hitting last season, will win the division with a 96–66 record.
- Central: I think the Minnesota Twins will win the division outright this season (in case you've forgotten, they lost a one–game playoff to the Chicago White Sox last year). The Twins might have to fend off Chicago or Cleveland, but I think they'll win the division with a record of 87–75.
- West: The Los Angeles Angels finished 21 games ahead of their nearest competition last season, and they were the only team to win 100 games, but they lost in the first round to the Red Sox. I don't think they'll win 100 this year, but they'll come close — 98–64.
- Wild card: New York Yankees with a 89–73 record.
In the A.L. playoffs, I predict that the Angels will shut out the Yankees, 3–0, and Boston will outlast Minnesota, 3–2. The Red Sox will prevail over the Angels in six games.
Which sets up a Boston-St. Louis World Series. I'll pick Boston in six games.
And that's about all I have to say, except for this — if you have a kid, take him or her to a ballgame.