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Mementos of baseball in summers past

Posted Sept. 30, 2011, at 3:49 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 30, 2011, at 5:03 p.m.

On this fine autumn weekend when September morphs into October, there is no joy in Mudville.

Red Sox Nation is in deep mourning after watching the home team spectacularly flame out, blowing a nine-game late-season lead over the Tampa Bay Rays for the wild-card spot in Major League Baseball’s American League postseason playoffs that began yesterday.

A dramatic Red Sox loss to Baltimore with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning in the last game of the regular season on Wednesday night, coupled with an even more dramatic come-from-behind Tampa Bay win over the detested New York Yankees, put the Rays into the playoffs and the Red Sox on a plane bound for Boston, their season over.

In a script worthy of Hollywood, the amazing Rays, trailing 7-0 going into the eighth inning, rallied to win 8-7 on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the twelfth inning.

The “wait-until-next-year” mode once so familiar to Red Sox fans in the days when the team regularly disappointed its supporters, immediately kicked in and now lies heavily upon New England. The second-guessing and the Monday morning quarterbacking began as soon as Wednesday’s loss was in the scorebook and likely will continue until Opening Day 2012, when hope will spring anew.

The end of big league baseball’s regular season is a bittersweet occasion for many fans. From April through September, the nightly baseball game provokes a sense of continuity, a link with carefree days spent at ballparks in those glorious days of immortal youth. Then, all too soon October arrives and the connection is broken, not to be renewed until we read in the morning newspaper some five months later that pitchers and catchers are due to report for spring training.

I have before me several mementos of big league summers past — summers before steroids and such, when baseball heroes were bigger than life, noted more for their skill on the field than for the size of their signing bonuses or king’s ransom salaries. I discovered the items recently while rummaging through a foot locker of stuff I had long forgotten about.

There is a high school club membership card, the back of which sports the autographs of slick-fielding and good-hitting first baseman Earl Torgeson of the Boston Braves, his teammate, infielder Sibi Sisti, and Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Frankie Gustine, all since deceased. When my gang made an annual pilgrimage to see the Braves play at Braves Field in the early 1950s, good seats were plentiful. But frugal to a fault, as befits sons of the Great Depression era, we most always chose to sit in the cheap seats of the famed “jury box” section in right field.

A small glass vial marked “Centerfield grass, Yankee Stadium, 1948” brings to mind a trip to New York City as a teenager to see the Yankees play at Yankee Stadium, the New York Giants play at the Polo Grounds and the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. For a wide-eyed country kid enamored of baseball, it was the trifecta of a lifetime.

While walking across the diamond to leave the old Yankee Stadium, as fans were allowed to do in those laid-back times, I pinched a clump of outfield grass from the very turf that the immortal Yankee Clipper and Hall of Famer, Jolting Joe DiMaggio, had roamed. Today, its green long since faded to dust-bowl brown, the souvenir grass-in-a-bottle reposes with other sports memorabilia in my den.

Included in the collection are the raincheck portions of three tickets to baseball games played at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, which both the Phillies of the National League and the Athletics of the American League called home

The stubs trigger memories of occasional forays to Philly from Fort Dix, N.J. in the summer of 1953 with Army buddies to see Phillies and Athletics games. “Not good if legal game is played,” advises the fine print on the Athletics tickets bearing the signature of legendary club president Connie Mack.

The thing that brings a smile today is the price of the bleacher seats: 75 cents, which was about all we could afford on the meager pay of a buck private. The charge included 18 cents in federal and city taxes.

Go in search of such a deal today, in this age of multimillion-dollar players’ salaries, and let me know how you make out.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. His e-mail address is maineolddawg@gmail.com.

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