Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sports gems & baubles with Dad

Sports always charged through dad’s veins, energizing his blood. He seemed to have memorized team standings at all levels, from professionals down to the high schools. He probably inherited these enthusiastic traits from his father and maternal grandfather as they both competed at or near professional levels in their eras.

In 1968, even though fires were still smoldering in Washington D.C. from the riots following Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, dad took me to see the Opening day baseball game at what became RFK Stadium. This was one of the few opening games where not every seat was filled, but we made sure to attend.

The next year we attended another baseball game, this time with our Cub Scout troop. Hall-of Famer Ted Williams was the coach now and the team was finally becoming a contender again. As the game wound down to the final outs, the fans began slowly trickling towards the turnstiles. I followed some of the group’s lead, pausing at the exit to watch one or two interesting plays. As the game suddenly ended unexpectedly on a double play, a mad rush ensued –as always happens at such endings. However, being too young to foresee this, I was swooped along the concourse with the crowd, while desperately looking for friends from either group.

Finding nobody I knew, I walked the full perimeter of the outside of the stadium, where the crowd was more spread out, in my search for family or friends. It was to no avail, but following the Cub Scout creed of “be prepared” I clenched my emergency dime on a mission over to some pay phones attached to the stadium outside wall, just past where two motorcycle police officers were surveying the crowd. I inserted the dime with a small degree of confidence to call ma, then deliberately dialed the rotary, “5252-654.” Problem was that the phone didn’t work. And it swallowed up my dime too. Immediately, I started swallowing my little boy pride and begin crying at this unfairness.

As I walked by the motorcycle police officers, they could see I had been bawling and asked what the trouble was. They called a squad car, which took me to their precinct headquarters. Meanwhile, both sets of station wagons hauling the cub scouts back to Virginia, assumed that I was in the other car. When dad got home, mom asked him if he had forgotten anything, as she had received a call from the D.C. police.

The police placed me alone in one of their offices, which had a bunch of mug shots of bad guys posted on the wall. After forty-five minutes they let me out in their side yard, where I played a game of self-catch by repeatedly lofting a baseball high in the air and then catching it. As he made the return trip to D.C., Dad had been wondering how I had been doing. When he saw me peacefully tossing a baseball in the fresh air of the police station side yard, it brought him some sense of relief.


As a young lad I used to bring my glove to the games, thinking that I might actually catch a foul ball, but the reality was the one time a ball came near us, ten people strongly grasped at the souvenir, until one of the strong men finally pulled the ball free.

Tagging change

Once, my brother David and I were walking around the interior of RFK stadium by ourselves, when we were confronted by three black kids, two of whom were slightly larger than I, and one who was between David’s and my size. They asked us for some money and we lied that we had none; even though we had just received change from the Ball Park Franks we were holding. A larger kid asked the smallest one to check us out and he actually put his hands into our pockets and touched our change – then he too lied, and not desiring some sort of confrontation, reported that our pockets were empty. Looking back on it now, it was an amazing diplomatic truce displayed by the small black kid. He certainly must have been fearful of what trouble might have ensued had their group actually stolen our money, as he was probably equally fearful of being punched by his bullying mentors had he not gone so far as to actually reach inside our pockets to tag our invisible change.


Back in the 90’s one afternoon, Dad and I were driving through Fairfax, when we drove past one of the old Germantown Road baseball fields. Dad pointed over to the diamond and remarked that back when I was ten years old, he remembered me catching a ball in center field and then in one motion throwing the ball well over 200 feet to catch a tagging runner at home plate with a perfect throw. Not only that he said that he remembers that play every time he drives by that field.


A few years ago, Rob Catlett, old friend from the neighborhood contacted me and we talked a bit about the legendary days. It was so easy back then to get a group of kids together for a game of baseball, hide and seek, or smear-the-queer.[1] Rob remarked told me that his best memory of that era was when my dad packed a bunch of us neighborhood kids into a VW microbus and drove us all down to a ballgame at RFK.

[1] Not a politically correct term anymore.

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