Those of you who have been faithfully reading my blog know that I am enamored with Sarasota‘s commitment to culture and the arts. But this morning I saw that sports in Sarasota is also important. I have always known that Florida (along with Arizona, where I also lived for 11 years) is the winter training grounds for Major League Baseball. Today I learned that Sarasota has been hosting spring training since 1920, longer than any other city in Florida. The Cincinnati Reds train here and a huge crowd was on hand to welcome them back at a rally this morning in front of the downtown library. The faithful came in all shapes and sizes:
Seeing all these ballplayers and their hoards of devoted fans brought back memories of my childhood. I grew up on the south side of Chicago and we were White Sox fans. Those were the days of our first TV. I can see it even now. It was a small wooden console with a rattan inset and a tiny picture tube that had rounded corners. The picture was black and white and grainy. There were no remote controls in those days but my Dad found an alternative. After a hard day delivering milk he would plop himself on the couch and use us girls as a remote:
“Barbara, turn it to channel 7. Ed Sullivan is on now.”
“Linda, Channel 2 – hurry up, it’s The Honeymooners.”
But the most important shows were the White Sox games. When the Sox played we were not allowed to talk.
“Sshhhh!” Dad would demand, if we made the slightest peep. “Quiet! I can’t hear the game,” he commanded when we roughhoused on the living room floor.
Baseball was KING in our house. There were no boys in our family – Dad got stuck with three girls – but I was as passionate about baseball as any boy. I played softball in the alley with the neighborhood boys and knew all the rules. Dad took me to the Father and Son baseball outing that was sponsored by his employer, Hunding Dairy. I was the only girl on the bus and I think Dad must have taken some ribbing about it, but I knew better than any of the boys how to keep a scorecard and I bellowed at the players with the rest of the guys:
“Come on, Landis, you bum – hit that ol’ apple!” Jimmy Landis was the center fielder and a strike-out king. He couldn’t be counted on for a clutch hit when the Sox were behind because he always “swung away,” trying for the home run. The fans were always screaming at him – me included – but we also realized he was arguably the best outfielder the Sox ever had (when Landis retired after the 1967 season, his fielding percentage was the second best all time in baseball). Toward the end of the game, I remember one of the other milkmen leaning over from the row behind us and saying to Dad, “I gotta give it to you, Bill, she sure knows her baseball.” I walked on air for days – all I ever wanted was to make my Dad proud.
Perhaps my most vivid memory of baseball was the 1959 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers. My Dad couldn’t afford tickets – not on a milkman’s salary and with three kids to feed – but we all gathered around the TV, sitting as close as possible so we wouldn’t miss a single play. We held our collective breaths when we needed a hit and hooted and hollered along with the Sox’s infamous announcer, Jack Brickhouse, whenever they they came through with a hit (“Hey! Hey!”) or a home run (“Going…Going…..It’s GOOONNNNNE!!!!!”). Sadly, despite the batting power of Ted Kluszewski or the fielding magic of second baseman Nellie Fox and shortstop Luis Aparacio, the Sox lost the Series. We were despondent for days.
I sometimes wonder where that passion for baseball went. To my father’s dismay, I grew up and became a Cubs fan. Later I became a devotee of football for a number of years. Nowadays I really don’t follow sports. It’s just not the same as it used to be. But I’ll always have my memories of the Golden Days.