It was a beautiful early summer afternoon in 1961. I was a wide-eyed 9-year-old who can recall the excitement and anticipation of attending my very first Major League baseball game. The images are set in stone, walking up the concrete steps to our seating section, the air filled with the smell of cigar smoke (it was 1961, after all), and then, my first view of the most beautiful place on Earth, a huge dark green grass masterpiece known as Connie Mack Stadium.
Black and white television simply could not capture the beauty of this field, a perfectly smooth infield with finely grounded dirt, a closely cropped diamond of grass, and what seemed like an endless outfield. How did anyone ever hit a home run? I simply could not imagine the ball traveling that far. In Little League, any kid who hit the ball out of the short infield was considered a “slugger.” It seemed the distance to the back of the dirt at shortstop here was way further than our Little League outfield fences.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, defending World Series Champions, were in for a Sunday doubleheader. Remember those, two games for the price of one? The rest of those memories are of a perfectly enjoyable day, everyone getting along, sitting back and watching baseball. I can still recall the gracefulness of Roberto Clemente in right field for the Pirates, and clumsy Dick Stuart at first base. The lovable loser Phillies had the famous Poncho Herrera at first base, Tony Taylor at second, and well, a laundry list of other unknown, but lovable, ballplayers.
Yet here’s the kicker, I would take that era of baseball over anything offered up to us today. What has happened to my game? Who knows how to bunt anymore? What happened to the beautiful strategy of the game taken from us with designated hitters? And what the heck have they done to the baseball? The way the ball flies out of stadiums today makes me think baseballs are now made by the same folks who gave us super balls when we were kids. Remember those? You’d bounce it and they’d bounce 20 feet above your head. Seems it’s not just the players who are juiced up anymore.
The game has become a mere shell of its once proud self with records soon to become meaningless. So sad!