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Posts Tagged ‘Vaughn Stadium’

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This is about a romance, the start of an ending that began long ago. It’s about romance and a team that came and went and came and then, as things always do, went again, and now is gone, awaiting a return. I speak of baseball, the great American pastime, roundball, the search for home, the Mick, the Babe, Jackie Robinson, Ebbets Field, my grandmother, and baseball in my hometown, Portland, Oregon.

There is a scene in the movie Field of Dreams where an aging Burt Lancaster tells Kevin Costner in very romanticized terms about wanting to play big league baseball.
“I-I never got to bat in the major leagues. I’d have liked to have had that chance just once, to stare down a big-league pitcher. To stare him down, then just as he goes into his windup, wink. Make him think you know something he doesn’t. That’s what I wish for. The chance to squint at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes just to look at it. To feel the tingle in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases, stretch a double into a triple, and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. That’s my wish, Ray Kinsella. That’s my wish. And is there enough magic out there in the moonlight to make this dream come true?”   It’s a beautiful scene, full of wishful thinking about how we rarely get the chance to do what we truly want in life, and the wonderment of what might have happened if.

To me, baseball IS what might have happened if, or at least the baseball I grew up with, the baseball I learned to love, is. It’s filled with it. Baseball is a way of life in the US, just as much as hot dogs, picnics, the soft breeze on a summer’s day as you jump into the lake, riding your bike to the store to pick up a paper for your dad, scrambling from your bike, over the fence to the neighbour’s farm for some strawberries or apples on the way and hoping the farmer’s dog doesn’t spot you before you jump back over the picket fence to safely enjoy the fresh fruit. The strawberries were always perfect, the green apples never too tart and the dog was always a few steps slower than you.

I first learned about baseball from my maternal grandmother, a wonderful, caring, strong woman. She would sit by the television and watch the baseball game of the week every Saturday. She grew up in Brooklyn and as probably everyone in Brooklyn was back then, she was a Dodgers fan. While I grew to love the Yankees and Cubs, I appreciated deeply her passion for her team and felt her sorrow, even as she grew to an older age, at the memory of the day the dreaded Walter O’Malley moved the team she loved away to the west coast. The dreaded day the Brooklyn Dodgers became the Los Angeles Dodgers, the first team on the west coast. The classic beautiful Ebbets Field has been torn down now and is covered up by a 20-story brick apartment building, having only a sign mentioning the glory hall that it supplanted. Ebbets Field was built in 1912-1913. This year marks the 100th year anniversary of the first major league game played there. The 100th year anniversary of when a love affair turned bittersweet was born.

My older brother played little league baseball when he was young. I remember watching the games (I was too young to join). I also remember the day we got tickets to see the minor league team, the Portland Beavers, play a game in old Civic Stadium. I couldn’t have been older than 6 or 7 years old when I went to that first game but I had a great time. I even won a baseball glove, which made my brother jealous to no end. (Actually he was hoping for a bat, but would have loved the glove!) The team, founded in 1903, was a good team, occasionally a very good team, with a great loyal blue-collar following. They first played at old Vaughn Stadium, now long gone, and then moved to Civic Stadium in 1956. They were, or are, both inner-city stadiums in a workers filled neighbourhood in Northwest Portland long before the area became so very fashionable.

I hate to admit it but that was the last Beavers baseball game I ever went to. I always followed them. I knew whether they won their last time out or not, knew if they made the playoffs or not, (not often). But I took comfort knowing they were there. A sort of a sense of continuing tradition in a time where we questioned every tradition we ever had as a country.

In this spot originally, was Multnomah Field, opened as an athletic playing field in 1893. Multnomah Stadium, which later became known as Civic Stadium, was originally built in 1926 at a cost of 502 thousand dollars or about 6.51 million dollars in current value. It has recently been completely rebuilt and is known as Jeld-Wen Field, at a cost of over 36 million dollars. Ebbets Field, by way of comparison, was built in 1913 for 750 thousand dollars, or about 17.4 million dollars in current value. But none of those statistics matter worth a damn. It’s about the game, isn’t it?

A lot of great sports writers and others are going to write about their memories of games at Ebbets Field. Very few will write this year about their memories watching Beavers games at Civic Stadium or Vaughn Stadium before that. My baseball memories started there, with a winning ticket, a glove, a hot dog and a coke, the organ in the seventh inning, the sky so blue that it hurt my eyes to look at it. It will continue to Seattle, watching the Mariners play, the beauty of Ken Griffey Junior’s swing and Edgar Martinez playing the game like it was the 1930s again. It continues to New York and Yankee stadium and Reggie Jackson in the World Series belting out three homers, to Los Angeles, Kirk Gibson’s miracle home run, to Shea Stadium in 1986 where poor Bill Buckner misplayed the ball, the sad deaths of Roberto Clemente and Thurman Munson. The almost unhittable Vida Blue, Rickey Henderson, Don Drysdale, the Bambino, Sandy Koufax, Wilie Stargell, Derek Jeter, and a list to long for anyone’s blog.

True, not all of baseball is perfect, not by a long shot. When Jackie Robinson finally broke into the big league as the first African-American player he was hated, threatened, abused (and that was even during the games), when Henry Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, he was also threatened and suffered terrible racial injustice his entire career. Steroids have eaten away at the very fabric of the game, to where no great accomplishment goes unquestioned. Players seem to be more concerned about money than winning, etc. etc.  All of this is public record; feel free to look it up. However, none of that has dampened my love of the game.

I rarely get the chance to watch baseball here, now that I live in Stockholm. My beloved Beavers have moved to Tucson. The networks over here don’t understand the game and don’t carry it, so I have to try to stay up all night to catch the game of the week on ESPN Sunday nights, or actually very early Monday morning. But when I do, I sit there with my late grandmother, we both enjoy the smell of the grass, it’s a beautiful perfect night for baseball and all our friends are there. I don’t give a damn how much some guy earns for knocking it out of the park. Just play the game guys, it’s a beautiful game to watch and play!

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