The things we touch bear us up and change with us. There may be no message but nothing survives us without a name given away, altered and given back.
--Lawrence Raab, February 1971
It can be traced to Max Alvis.
Influenced by three brothers from Brooklyn, I started collecting baseball cards in June 1968 in Berkeley, California. While my father studied the origins of the universe during a summer fellowship at Cal-Berkeley, I’d study the back of Max Alvis’s baseball card.
My Brooklyn chums, Yankee diehards, lived in the apartment building next door and spent the summer hoping to land a Mickey Mantle. We’d sit beneath a palm tree and wheel and deal. Max Alvis was always a throw-in. Never a pot sweetener.
Observant, my father. He watched our growing interest in baseball cards and on a Friday night in August, loaded us in our red-over-white 1967 Volkswagen microbus, across the Bay Bridge and into Candlestick Park.
Late in the game, Pop asked if I was hungry. “Kinda,” clueless about big-league ballpark eating etiquette. Pop spots a guy with a big satchel a section over, stands up and hollers, “HEY PEANUTS!”
I learned ballparks were these wonderful places where you can holler with impunity. A place where guys would actually come right to your seats bearing peanuts and hotdogs.
Back home in Wichita, more baseball experiences, one right after the next, would seal my love of the game.
In the spring of 6th grade, the Kansas City Royals started playing ball just up the turnpike from Wichita. A year later, the Cleveland Indians moved their Triple-A minor league club to our city and my best buddy, Scott Scheuerman, and I would bicycle downtown from Pleasant Valley, eat peanuts, hotdogs and holler with impunity at future big leaguers.
The 1970 Wichita Aeros remain vivid in my mind’s eye.
Chris Chambliss in left, Buddy Bell at third. Vince Colbert throwing gas. John Lowenstein hit a home run out of Lawrence Stadium that bounced in front of a taxicab on McLean Boulevard and rolled into the Arkansas River.
Munley got around (KFH, KWBB).
Scott (for whom my son is named) taught me some gems. “HEY CHAMBLISS! IS THAT A FLASHLIGHT IN YOUR POCKET OR DO YA JUST LOVE THE GAME?” I wanted desperately to lay that one on Jose Bautista from our right field seats in the ALCS last month, but my wife was next to me... and... well, I guess I’m no longer in seventh grade.
Holler with impunity. Within reason. As the circumstances dictate. So I opted for,
“LET’S GO ROYALS!” (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap).
At home, I’d tune my parents’ antique (even then) dark grey breadbox-shaped Zenith radio to KWBB and hang on Jack Munley’s every call of Aeros play-by-play. I used my mom’s pink nail polish to paint a line on the tuning panel at 1410.
“In there... for a CALLED... strike three!”
Then a book that would change my life.
Jim Bouton, erstwhile Yankee pheenom who had lost his fastball and was trying to hang on with a knuckleball, published a diary of his 1969 season with the expansion Seattle Pilots. Not an idealized portrayal, but accounts and descriptions of the game that were legit, written and disseminated without the expressed, written consent of The Man.
Bouton’s first line of Ball Four remains my fav from all of literature.
I’m 30 years old and I have these dreams.
Sharing Ball Four with my son when he was a kid, ca. 1999.
At age 10, my first pack of baseball cards, from a little mom-and-pop grocery store at the corner of Ellsworth Avenue and Parker Street in Berkeley, California.
Forty-seven years later on a November night in Queens, Eric Hosmer made a mad dash for home.
The memories have been washing over me since. The Brooklyn boys in Berkeley... Max Alvis and his career .247 batting average... my father hollering at the peanut vendor... Jack Munley on the radio... my childhood best friend... Jim Bouton... my son... Eric Hosmer.
Life is about moments and experiences. As I ease down into the precipice of middle age, my team won the World Series.
It just keeps getting better.