Bitter baseball memory for two innocent kids

April 05, 1994|By WILEY A. HALL

Today, I'd like to tell you about the time my brother and I went to the ballpark. Needless to say, you don't have to listen to this, especially if you believe you have something better to do.

But this story is kind of important to me. It marked a defining moment in my life and I'd like you to take a moment to hear me out. Next time, I promise to put aside my important affairs and matters of state and hear your tale.

Besides, this is part of what Opening Day and baseball is all about, right? Looking back. Marking points in time. Reflecting on dust found in the mental attic.

I have a theory about this: Each of the major sports carries its own subliminal appeal. Football is about war, the smash of armies, the subtle manipulations of the generals, violence with a cause. Basketball is like classic jazz -- improvisation and style and personality -- all within the team concept. And baseball is about history. Each game marks a moment, a paragraph in the never-ending narrative. Baseball is tradition. Tevye, the milkman in the musical "Fiddler On the Roof," would understand.

My story takes place in Washington, D.C., and I must have been, oh, 13 or 14 years old. So let's make it the summer of 1967.

It was a bright, blue, brilliant day, much like yesterday. My parents had sent me and my younger brother, Mike, across town to see the Senators play at D.C. Stadium -- now mark this -- all by ourselves. For all I know, it may have been the first time we ever got to see a game alone. Yeah, it was.

So, my brother and I caught the bus and traveled across town. Now, you must understand that all of this took place a long time ago in a city far, far away. At least it seems so. Never thought I'd be talking like an old timer, rocking on the porch, spittin' tobacco, talking about the way things used to be.

But check out the changes: The Washington Senators, with their bright red caps, are gone. Now, they're the Texas Rangers and the caps are blue. The privately owned bus line, D.C. Transit, has become a quasi-public agency called Metro. And D.C. Stadium is now known as RFK Stadium.

We got to the stadium, a big, bulging inverted fishbowl rising from a sea of concrete like a beached flying saucer. All around us, people streamed through the portals. Many of us wore the flashing red Senators cap. (Is tension mounting yet?)

Just as we approached the turnstiles, a uniformed stadium usher walked up. "Let me see your tickets, kid," he said.

I was the oldest. I was in charge. I gave him our tickets.

"Thanks, kid," he said and sprinted off.

"Hey!" I shouted and chased after him. (Yeah, like what would I have done had I caught him?) The thief ran to the turnstiles. Another usher let him in. The thief disappeared inside the stadium.

"Hey!" I shouted. "He stole our tickets!"

The other ushers laughed at me. I rattled the gate. A policeman came up.

"That usher stole our tickets!" I said.

"Get outta here," said the policeman and he shoved me -- not hard -- but I lost balance and fell. The other ushers kept laughing. Other fans looked at me indifferently as they filed into the stadium. My cap fell off. (OK, I don't specifically remember that part, about my cap.)

"Get outta here," said the policeman again.

So, I picked up my cap. Rejoined my brother. We took the bus home. "Don't tell Mom and Dad about this," I said to my brother.

So, that's my baseball memory. Some people believe America lost its innocence once and for all in November 1963 when President Kennedy was shot and killed. Some say the pivotal moment occurred sometime in 1968, during the riots and the assassinations and the protests against the war.

I know I lost my innocence for all time, my childlike trust in authority, outside of D.C. Stadium. Today, whenever I attend a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards -- where the ushers dress in uniforms remarkably similar to those at D.C. Stadium -- I clutch my ticket as though my life depended upon it. And I glare at all the ushers.

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