July Heat, All-Star Tilt Spur Memories

By Michael Kaufman

I am nine years old on a crowded bus en route to Fritz Costigan’s day camp in Long beach on a hot day in July and one of the kids shouts “National!” In a New York second another one hollers “American!” Thus begins a game of who can yell the loudest: kids who will be rooting for the National League in the impending Major League Baseball All-Star Game (a temporary alliance of Brooklyn Dodgers fans and supporters of the New York Giants) versus those who will be cheering for the American League (Yankees fans and perhaps an oddball or two who favor an out-of-town team, i.e. the Boston Red Sox or Cleveland Indians).



The shouts gett louder as more people join in, evolving into a rhythmic call-and-response:“National!”


In the days leading up to the All-Star Game the shouts on the bus provided a welcome break from the endless singing of “Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” I’ve always suspected that this experience has served me well later in life, especially at anti-war demonstrations. I am always among the first and loudest to shout “Peace!” when someone hollers “What do we want?” and “Now!” when someone bellows “When do we want it?”

I loved the All-Star Game Tuesday night despite the fact that my team lost and in spite of all the annoying ways the game has changed since I was a kid. I hate the hoopla and hype and sideshow events such as the Home Run Derby they put on the night before. The game doesn’t need it. No Home Run Derby or other falderal can provide a memory as splendid as Mariano Rivera’s final All-Star appearance when called upon to pitch the eighth inning: the cheers for the great Yankees closer roared long and loud from a crowd composed largely of Mets fans as players from both teams stood and applauded in appreciation.

Watching the game Tuesday night triggered other treasured baseball memories: my father taking me to Ebbets Field to see Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers; Jim Bunning’s perfect game against the Mets at the Polo Grounds; getting autographs at the Polo Grounds from Stan Musial, Gil Hodges and Casey Stengel, and Opening Day at Shea Stadium in 1964 (when a stranger handed me and a few high-school friends passes that got us into the Diamond Club for a fancy post-game reception).

In 1975 I took my five-year-old son Kenny to Shea to see his favorite team, the Yankees. (Lord, where did I go wrong?) The Yankees played their home games there in 1974 and 1975 while the old Yankee Stadium was being refurbished. We had seats close to the field between first base and right field and as Kenny’s favorite player, Lou Piniella, trotted past us between innings, Kenny called out to him by name—at least what he thought was his name: “Loop! Loop!” Piniella looked up and smiled and to this day that is one of Kenny’s baseball memories too.

A few years later I took Kenny to Yankee Stadium to see an American League playoff game between the Yankees and Kansas City Royals. That was the year George Brett came close to hitting .400. The Yankee fans sitting near us didn’t take kindly to my cheering for the Royals. One guy poured beer on my head. Another, who had obviously had one too many, pointed at me and loudly told Ken, “Get rid of him. He’s no good!” We still laugh about it.

I took my daughter Sadie (who I sometimes inexplicably call Kenny) to her first game when she was seven. The Mets played the Pittsburgh Pirates that day and I don’t remember who won–but I will never forget the look of wonderment on her face when we entered the ballpark and she saw the field of green for the first time. (I felt the same way at her age at Ebbets Field.)

In the years that followed we went to many a game together, including game seven of the 2006 National League playoffs. The Mets lost to the St. Louis Cardinals that night but we saw one of the greatest plays of all time: the amazing catch by Endy Chavez, leaping above the left field wall to rob Scott Rolen of a home run in the top of the sixth inning. Two years later we said goodbye to Shea at the last game.That seems a fitting place to end on this hot day in July. I think everyone who loves baseball has a unique set of personal memories. What are some of yours?

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.


One Response to “July Heat, All-Star Tilt Spur Memories”

  1. bennett Says:

    Baseball was life in August 1963. First thing every morning, I’d check the box scores in the Post. Last thing almost every evening, I’d track down long fly balls that my dad fungo-ed into the darkening skies over Trojan Field in Pelham Parkway.
    So when by chance I got to spend a few minutes with a real live major league player, I was tingling head to toe.
    On that steamy August afternoon the subway was packed with Met fans who just watched their lovable losers drop their 90th game of the season to the Milwaukee Braves. Out of curiosity, I sidled my way into a cluster of kids who were gathered around a tall man who answered their questions over the rumble and clatter of that stinky old sweat box headed south to Grand Central. It was indeed a player from the Braves. I was struck speechless. Well speechless for a minute or two anyway.

    But I had to put my two cents in. (Some things never change). When a kid asked him who was going to win the pennant that year, he snapped back, “We are of course”. The Braves were hopelessly out of contention at that late point in the season. I touched his forearm to get his attention and snidely asked “OK, then who is going to finish second?” He looked me straight in the eye, smiled and said, “Well the Dodgers have a shot at that.”

    Oh My God. He actually talked to me.

    By the way, his name was Hammerin Hank Aaron, the man who still holds the major league record for the most home runs hit with natural human arms.

Leave a Reply