It was 1951 and the eight-year-old boy played catch in a pasture in northwestern Illinois with a near seven-foot tall teenage giant named Dwayne. He was a big farm boy who could hit a fungo so high that it seemed to disappear into the clouds.
Dwayne was a Chicago White Sox fan, and he knew everything there was to know about baseball. Or, so I thought. Yes, I was that eight-year-old boy who on tiptoes only came up to Dwane's waist. But for whatever reason, he liked me, and he was my first introduction to a game that I've loved for a lifetime.
And because of Dwayne, my first favorite team was the White Sox, especially a 5'5" second baseman named Nellie Fox, a tobacco chewing singles hitter who is now in the baseball Hall of Fame. Fox was a tough guy, a perennial .300 hitter who you couldn't strike out, scrappy, one who proved you didn't have to be huge to be a great baseball player.
Yesterday, I visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, some 68 years after I listened to White Sox games on a homemade crystal radio set high up in the belfry of the little white church just down the road from Dwayne's family farm. My father, the preacher, fashioned that "radio" for me out of a block of wood, some wire, a tiny round crystal encased in metal, and his World War II leather helmet with earphones.
There I would sit overlooking the cornfields and the parsonage where we lived, with that Army leather headgear enveloping my head, touching a tiny point of wire to precisely the right spot on that piece of crystal to pick up the White Sox games with the broadcasting team of Bob Elson and Don Wells. That was remarkable, considering we were 115 miles from Chicago, where those broadcasts originated. To me, it was magic.
Elson and Wells described in vivid detail the exploits of Nellie Fox, Minnie Minoso, Chico Carrasquel, Dick Donovan, George Kell, and all of the other White Sox heroes of the day as they battled the hated Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees.
So yesterday, when I gazed upon Nellie Fox' Hall of Fame plaque and those of players from his era, I was flooded with memories of those childhood days, playing catch with Dwayne, of listening to the games on my dad's crystal radio set, of later hiding an actual radio under my pillow so I could listen to games without my parents' knowledge, since I was supposed to be asleep.
It was as though I was tracking my life through the decades as I read the inscriptions on those plaques. Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente, who I loved. Ty Cobb, whose legend of tough play I admired. Tough guy Giants manager Leo Durocher. Pitchers Early Wynn, Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford. Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. Jackie Robinson. And, of course later, Frank Robinson, Brooksie, Jim Palmer and the great Cal Ripken.
And then, as we continued through the Hall of Fame, we paused at an exhibit of famed baseball writers and broadcasters. And sure enough, there was a recording of the Pirates' Bob Prince with his famous "Kiss it Goodbye" call of Bill Mazeroski's World Series winning home run against the Yankees. There was also a recording of that White Sox announcer from my childhood, Bob Elson. It was remarkable.
Before visiting the Hall, we stopped by famed Doubleday Field, where a Legends of Baseball tournament was underway. Players of all ages -- some clearly in their 50s and 60s and maybe older -- all wearing jerseys of their favorite teams and players were competing.
We sat back, watched, as "Frank Thomas" strode up to homeplate and promptly grounded out to the pitcher. Chatter filled the infield as the pitcher went into his stretch, then fired a nasty curveball, striking out another "legend."
Here's some play-by-play of that sequence. The announcer is definitely not Bob Prince!
Hope you don't mind this trek down memory lane, but it is one I just had to share.