I love baseball! I thought with the baseball season underway I might recount some of my earliest experiences with the game I came to love.
I was born into poverty in 1943 in the hills west of Trinidad Colorado. My daily diet consisted primarily of eggs, tortillas, beans, and fried potatoes. Occasionally we had pasta which is to say elboroni with tomato paste. My grandmother was adept at preparing only enough for one meal since we had no electricity or refrigerator in which to store leftovers. Looking back now I must admit that I did not even know I was poor. I was happy, well fed and loved. I spent my days playing “Jungle” in a dense clump of trees on the banks of the Purgatoire River or “mountain man” in the hills behind our two-room adobe house. We had no indoor plumbing, no electricity, and no television…. but I had baseball! I played baseball in grade school and I was a good hitter considering I was not a big kid. One of the great things about baseball, unlike basketball and football where height and strength are everything, in baseball you can be small and still be good like Phil Rizzuto or Chico Carrasquel who once had a 7 RBI (Runs Batted In) game for the Cleveland Indians in April of 1956.
When I was not playing, I was studying baseball and learning all I could about the game I came to love. We did not have electricity, but I had on old radio that operated on tubes. Although it only worked sporadically, I could occasionally listen to the game on that radio. I was a very astute student of the game, quick to learn the fundamentals. I could correctly assess the strategy in most situations; sacrifice, hit and run, cutoff man, bunt, hitters count. I loved everything about this game, from the countless pantomimes to the staccato rhythm of the chatter from the infield to the pitcher or the batter, and the special language, “rhubarb,” “Texas Leaguer,” “Hit ‘em where they ain’t.” On Saturdays when grandma thought I was playing down by the river I would hop the train that stopped in Jansen for water, then stopped in Trinidad 10 minutes later before moving on to Pueblo with a load of coal headed for Colorado Fuel and Iron Works. I would get off the train and head for Scavina’s Bar and Grill on Main Street where I would watch from outside the window Dizzy Dean and Buddy Blattner bring you the play by play on ABC’s Baseball Game of the Week. The TV was a snowy black and white and I watched through the window.
In 1954 there were no positive Mexican American role models for a poor Chicano kid like me, but here on the radio you could hear names like Rivera, Avila, and Garcia. So, baseball also helped me forge a positive image of myself, because it was one of the few places where you could see Mexican Americans and other Latino players could ply their trade. Naturally, I lionized Mantle, Mays, Musial, Jackie Robinson, and Ted Williams but I also I was very fond of Bobby Avila and Mike Garcia of the Cleveland Indian. I cheered as Avila won the American League batting championship in 1954. That year the Indians won 111 games and finished ahead of the Yankees by eight games. I was my most memorable baseball season and ended in disappointment when the NY Giants swept the Indians in four games in the world series, highlighted by the memorable over the shoulder catch by Willie Mays off the bat of Vic Wertz but baseball was a game of possibilities and second chances; you go 0 for 4 one day and the next hit a grand slam home run in the bottom of the 9th to win the game. In that respect it mirrored everyday life filled with mystery and opportunity. Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Clause, and the sun will come up tomorrow! In the end it would be a stretch to say that baseball saved my life, but it provided for a poor 11-year-old Chicano kid countless adventures in an otherwise unremarkable childhood and a thousand hours of entertainment and diversion as well as a lifetime of happy memories! I love baseball!
In 1962 I visited my brother who since relocated to San Francisco. That summer my brother took me to my first Major League game to see the San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park. I loved Willie Mays, but I also loved Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda. I was never so awestruck as I walked down the tunnel to my seat and watched the green field and crowd unfold, like the parting of the Red Sea, A Kodak moment if ever there was one. That was 60 years ago! I still love baseball!