Fond Baseball Memories

by Bob Sparrow

(Details for this blog came from a one-page account that my father wrote about his baseball experience in the 40s and brother Jack’s recollections) 

Dad, Jack & me about the time we started playing catch

The crack of the bat, the smell of freshly cut grass, the ‘pop’ of a hardball hitting a leather glove. Baseball’s spring training has started with the regular season just around the corner. Baseball is still called America’s pastime, but as far as popularity goes, statistically football, basketball and NASCAR get more viewers.

But I still have a more personal connection to baseball, even though I only played Little League for two years and one year in high school and not that well. That connection came from my Dad, who started throwing a baseball with Jack and me from the time we were old enough to . . . catch it.

Dad loved baseball. As a freshman at Willows High School in northern California, he made the varsity squad as a second baseman, but it was the pre-Depression era and his father made him get a job instead of playing baseball. He was heartbroken. He did get to play high school baseball when his family moved to San Rafael and played well enough to get offered a tryout with the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League, but his dad again insisted that he get a job, as they were now deep into the Depression. I’m sure this experience weighed heavily on Dad’s decision later in life to make sure that Jack and I had every opportunity to play high school sports.

However, Dad did get to play baseball again. Our hometown of Novato had a semi-pro ‘Merchants League’ made up of 20-30 year olds from town that played other teams from the surrounding area, including a team from San Quentin prison, who only played ‘home’ games! At Novato home games, several of the wives would ‘pass the hat’ in order to pay for the umpire and some baseballs and bats; brother Jack was the ‘Bat Boy’ for the team. After the home games, win or lose, the team would go to the local watering hole, ‘The Village Inn’ where the owner, Lydia Quarg would buy them their first drink and the kids had a table in the back room where we had sodas and popcorn.  During hot games Lydia would send a case of cold beer into the dugout for the team to enjoy.

Dad was a great fielder, had great hands and could turn a double play from second base with the best of them, and he could also hit fairly well, not the long ball, but lots of singles; some that could have been doubles, but due to his slowness of foot, he had to stop at first. His teammates in Noavato kidded him by saying, “Maybe he doesn’t know that you don’t have to stop at first, that you can turn left.” Dad was one of the older players on the team and after several seasons he was getting a little ‘long in the tooth’, but because he was such a nice guy, the team didn’t really know how to tell him it was time for him to retire. They knew he had a great sense of humor, so the last home game of the season, before he got to the game his teammates put a rocking chair out at the second base position. When he got there, he took one look, laughed and played his last game. Such a great memory.

Dad’s love of baseball included taking us to games in San Francisco to watch the San Francisco Seals in Pacific Coast League play at Seals Stadium. I remember the first game we saw was against the Oakland Oaks and I can remember to this day several of the Seals players – Roy Nicely, Les Fleming, Dario Lodigiani and Cliff ‘Ears’ Melton. When the Giants moved from New York to San Francisco in 1958, they first played in Seals Stadium until their new stadium was finished and Dad took us to a number of Giants games where we got to watch the great Willie Mays play.

Willie Mays at Seals Stadium

So spring practice is when hope springs eternal and every team is saying, ‘This is the year’. I’ve been lucky as a lifelong fan of the San Francisco Giants that they’ve had recent World Series wins in 2010, 2012 and 2014. I know they’re hopeful this year as it’s Bruce Bochy’s final season as their manager.

Whether the Giants win another one this year remains to be seen, but as a new season gets under way, I’m reminded once again of playing catch with Dad and Jack in our yard and watching Dad play for the Novato Merchants – truly great baseball memories.

 

If you’re not a subscriber, we encourage you to subscribe (it’s free) and have a new blog come directly to your email every Monday morning.  It also helps us better understand the demographic of our readership.  

THOUGHTS ON SPRING, ANGRY BIRDS AND BASEBALL

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Spring has sprung, the flowers has riz, I wonder where the birdies is?….Anonymous.

Soehrensia bruchii flowers 4 inch

Spring has definitely come to the desert.  As both my brother and I have mentioned in recent weeks (probably ad nauseam), the flowers in the desert are truly one of nature’s miracles.  They pop up almost overnight and bloom in magnificent colors – brilliant orange, pink, and yellow.    They signal the end of cold weather and the beginning of spring.  Of course, my brother has the advantage of viewing the beautiful flora here in the desert and then returning home to the wonderful climate of Orange County.  I, on the other hand, see the beautiful flowers and know that we will be enjoying springtime for a maximum of – to be on the generous side – 10 days.  Then, like someone has flipped the switch to a blast furnace, we begin our season of “dry heat”.  As I’ve often said when someone mentions that term – my microwave oven is also a dry heat but you don’t see me living in that, now do you?

The other sign that spring has come is that the birds start to fly about in great numbers.  They chirp endlessly – some sort of mating call I suppose.  If this year is any indication, we’re going to have a HUGE bird population in the next few months.  The most annoying birds are the woodpeckers who love the flashing on the roof that surrounds the fireplace chimneys.  Apparently woodpeckers must be related to roosters because at the most un-Godly hours in the morning they begin rat-a-tat-tatting on our roof.  Their constant pecking echos down the metal chimney flue to create the most startling sound known to man.  Or at least that’s how it seems at 4:30 in the morning.  This is such a problem that several men in the neighborhood have taken to shooting BB guns at them – a la the crazy father in “Steel Magnolias”.  There they are, outside before dawn, in all manner of undress, shooting at birds who are laughing their tail feathers off at the idiots trying to shoot them down.  2013-04-06 10.06.01

We unwittingly have found a way to exact revenge on all the birds.  A couple of years ago we installed a glass front door and sidelights, allowing a view to the backyard when standing at the front door.  The picture at right was taken at the door so you get the idea.   Birds, however, are not that smart. Somehow they have confused our house with a landing strip at Sky Harbor.  With the advent of spring, they are on a quest to fly right through our house. Consequently, it is not unusual to hear a loud “BAM!” and see the wingspan of a bird imprinted on our front door.  Before you even think about calling the SPCA , rest assured that no bird is injured in this process.  After they hit the door, they fly away stunned and most likely go home and take an Advil.  Usually by the end of spring word has gotten out in the bird community to stay away from the “trick” door at the Watson’s house.  But for the next few weeks we will be the pathway to hell for countless of our feathered friends.

Flowers and birds aside, the most telling sign that spring has sprung is that it’s baseball season again.  Somehow just hearing a game on the radio or on TV elicits fond memories of bygone days and gentler times.  I San_Francisco_Giants_logo_1977-1982know that people complain that the game is too slow or that the teams are composed of drug-addled, spoiled players.  But there is something nice about the timelessness of a baseball game. For me it brings back memories of our dad on a Saturday afternoon, chores done, relaxing in the back yard listening to Gil Hodges and Lon Simmons announce a Giants game.  Dad came by his love of the team honestly; his mother used to sit in her apartment sporting  a Giants cap, cheering them on through thick and thin.  I don’t think she ever missed a game – she transitioned from a huge radio in a wooden credenza, to portable radios, to television.  She never saw a Giants game in person until age 70, when our brother, Jack, treated her to a day at Candlestick.  He bought her a new cap, a hot dog, peanuts and a beer.  She was in Heaven – surely the highlight of her life.  And to this day we all love hearing Jack reminisce about that day.

So I’m glad that baseball season is here.  In full disclosure, I won’t actually watch a whole game until the playoffs.  My husband, who is an obnoxious Yankees fan, can’t sit through a whole game either.  But we have an entire summer ahead of us to catch snippets of games and root for our teams.  Ideally the Giants sweep the Yankees in the Series.  Such are the dreams of springtime.

P.S.  So many of you have written or inquired about Dana and we wanted to let you know that she is doing GREAT!  She is an amazing young woman who has a wonderful spirit.  She’ll be enjoying a few days in Palm Desert this week with family.  Nothing could be better for healing a heart.  Thanks so much for your kind thoughts and prayers during this time.