Baseball Way Back: Taking in Wrigley Field, then-Comiskey Park for the first time
"Get your pencils and score cards ready. And I'll give you the correct lineup for today's ballgame," intoned the wizened voice over the public address system.
I would later learn that the man's name was Pat Pieper and that he had been the PA announcer at Wrigley Field for more than 50 years. In fact, he began announcing players through a megaphone in 1916, five years before my dad was born.
My dad, who in 90 years would never see the Cubs win a World Series but would see his son -- a traitorous White Sox fan -- live long enough to enjoy the 2005 World Series championship.
My 8-year-old fingers held a stubby pencil and a scorecard. Nothing fancy. Basically one page folded in half to make two pages but full of information -- the players from each team and their uniform numbers, a primitive spreadsheet to mark the plays of each inning and a summary of the pitching staffs of each major league team. Today, ironically, it bears the inscription "Steve's Cubs."
In the aisles, vendors passed back and forth, hawking beverages I was too young to drink and such gourmet delicacies as slices of Pro's Pizza, the brand of third baseman Ron Santo. That wasn't my favorite -- I still fondly recall the Smokey Link.
There were, of course, the vines in the outfield, as well as the organ, which would have a theme for each player -- I believe that Don Kessinger's was "South."
And in the left field bleachers were the Bleacher Bums, occasionally given direction from the bullpen by Cubs reliever Dick Selma.
That was my first game and my Wrigley initiation.
Later that year I would receive my Comiskey baptism. I had been watching the games on Channel 32, called by the breezily bland Jack Drees. Channel 32 had a reputation for snowy reception, but I was able to fiddle with the ring shaped UHF antenna to watch my new heroes -- the pre-surgery Tommy John, Bill Melton (who was just beginning to belt), Walt "No Neck" Williams and Little Louie Aparicio, a remnant of the Go Go Sox in his second tour of duty with the team the papers called the Pale Hose.
Unlike the game at Wrigley, this was a night game, and I remember being dazzled by the lights of Comiskey. There was also something unusual in the infield. It was covered by artificial turf, something dubbed Sox Sod.
The park's dimensions were gargantuan compared with Wrigley's, but it had its touch of nature as well, with views of trees through the outfield arches.
And there was its own Mount Everest, the outfield roof, which few baseballs would climb.
In center field was a raffish looking fence that had been installed to aid the hitters but became better known for Ken Berry's dives over it.
The program was very different from the one at the Cubs game. It was a glossy booklet filled with illustrations and a picture of a Sox player on the cover. It also had an ad for a dealership owned by a former Sox player, Tony Piet.
The Sox were playing the Cleveland Indians, whose roster included an outfielder named Ken Harrelson.
And when a Sox player hit a home run, he would be greeted by a barrage of fireworks, which impressed my childish ears.
Those are my first memories of being at a Major League Baseball game. No doubt every one reading this has their own special treasury of baseball memories.
And that reservoir of collective memory will be the focus of this column, as we delve into obscure nooks and crannies of Chicago baseball history, relating an anecdote here, interviewing an old-time player or fan there, or unearthing some tantalizing historical nugget.
Perhaps they will strike a hidden, long unplayed chord that will remind you of the childish wonder of the game of baseball.
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