Saturday, January 26, 2013

Random '70s Flashbacks

My first exposure to baseball was during the "Swinging Seventies" when I was in elementary school. Though a great deal of my research pertains to the game's golden era, I will always have a soft spot for baseball's grooviest decade. What I rememeber most is the long hair, the wild afros and the tacky uniforms (the Astros and their rainbow colors in particular). This was back when baseball card collecting was still for kids and you could actually trade two Rollie Fingers cards for one Hank Aaron.

Depending on where you lived, game coverage was a crap shoot. You watched the playoffs and World Series in October, but during the regular season, you were at the mercy of whatever matchup appeared on "Monday Night Baseball" or NBC's "Saturday Game of the Week." In Schenectady, New York, we listened to a lot of games on the radio with Phil Rizzutto, Frank Messer and Bill White calling the plays for the Yankees. Rizzutto of course had that famous catchline "Holy Cow,"but he also tended to wander off topic. I guess that's why they hired Messer and White--to reel him in. I can remember one broadcast during which some player had just smashed a dramatic homer while Rizzutto obliviously continued to read off a list of birthday greetings to selected listeners.

The first World Series I was aware of took place in 1973 when the Oakland A's in their blinding yellow uniforms disposed of the Mets in 7 games. The first Fall Classic I followed religiously was the '75 showdown between the Red Sox and Reds. I really liked Johnny Bench and "The Big Red Machine," but I was torn since rookie Fred Lynn's daring outfield escapades had captivated nearly every kid in my neighborhood. Playing Wiffleball in the backyards of Schenectady, we would try to simulate Lynn's circus catches while also producing serviceable impressions of various player batting stances. Joe Morgan's was the most memorable with his quirky flapping arm. I can remember staying up way past my bedtime and watching Game 6 of the '75 World Series on an old black and white tv with rabbit ears. Something was wrong with the internal parts of the television and every so often I had to throw a pair of socks at the screen to get the picture to come back on. I can't remember if I fell asleep by the time Carlton Fisk hit his memorable homer in that game, but I've seen it plenty of times on highlight reels. They must have been rocking in Boston that night!

The next season would forever change my loyalties as my father took me to my first game at Yankee Stadium. When describing their first ballpark experience, most people comment about how green the grass is. That was not my first impression of Yankee Stadium. What struck me most as I entered the park for some unknown reason was the billboards. In particular, there was a hulking Brut aftershave sign in centerfield. I had seen it on television countless times and as I looked up, the thought that entered my head was "Wow, that's the real thing!" The next thing I noticed was the players themselves tossing the ball around. We wandered down toward the field to get a closer look and my heart skipped a beat when I realized I was standing about four rows away from Yankee center fielder Mickey Rivers. He seemed so much bigger in real life. Before I knew what I was doing, the words "Hey Mickey!" tumbled out of my mouth. To my utter amazement, he actually turned and smiled at me. I will never forget it and he remains one of my all-time favorites because of it.

As the years have passed, I have had dozens of other memorable ballpark experiences, but the most vivid in my mind is that initial one back in 1976. As the old saying goes, you never forget your first. To honor my fond memories of the '70's, my next few posts will feature some of my favorite anecdotes from that era.

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