Hail the Cleveland Indians, and I hope they make it back to the World Series. I only wish it could have been in their old ballpark, and with me sitting in my “own seat” – a special seat right behind home plate. I’ll explain.
You recall the front page photo we ran not long ago with Hal McCoy’s column about growing up a Cleveland Indians fan?
I stared long and hard at that image as we published that night…thinking of some good times spent at that old girl on the lakefront in downtown Cleveland – Browns games, Indians games, a George Jones/Tammy Wynnette concert back in the early 70s. Yep, who knew the “Possum” and Tammy could draw such a crowd in Cuyahoga County?
OK, to be fair, they performed after a Vikings-Browns exhibition game and just about everyone was drunk that stayed. But a good time just the same.
When I was in college I had two wonderful roommates from the Cleveland, one from the west side (Dale Meggas, who grew up on 98th Street), and Duane Smith, who grew up on Plainfield Road on the east side of town and attended Brush High School. Both were huge Cleveland sports fans and both did their part to indoctrinate me in the ways of the lakefront on frequent trips home.
Meggas, who wrote for the Plain Dealer for years, and Press Pros until his untimely passing a year ago last March, was particularly adept at making his way around town – at getting tickets and access to events when there were no tickets, or access. Dale could literally weasel his way into anything…because he knew everyone in Cleveland, or so it seemed.
With the Minnesota Twins in town back in the summer of ’72, we went home for a weekend and down to the old ballpark to watch them play the then lowly Indians. Lowly? The Indians were in last place and had a Reds castoff named Frank Duffy playing shortstop. Their best pinch-hitter was a hillbilly character from North Carolina named Gomer Hodge (I’m not kidding). Hodge went something like 12 for 20 that summer and never got another hit afterwards (or time in the big leagues).
I had a friend on the Twins back then named Rick Renick, from London, Ohio, and of course with no one in the ballpark Meggas and I marched right down to the visiting dugout and found Renick. At that time I was pitching for Ohio State and Rick introduced me to a then very young Bert Blyleven, who was a curveball-throwing sensation and delighted to take the time to share the fine details of how he threw the pitch with me. Imagine that happening today. Amazing!
Blyleven pitched the next day and Meggas and I were there, sitting in the front row behind home plate in those old wooden box seats at Municipal Stadium, probably the same ones installed when it was built after the great depression of 1929. You could carry a pocket knife back in those days and I had one, which I used to carve my initials in the seat, along with the date – LOF, 1972.
The following spring I was in Municipal again, this time with Duane Smith on a frigid Sunday afternoon, sitting in “my seat” (LOF, 1972) to watch Gaylord Perry throw a two-hit shutout against the Detroit Tigers. There was no competition for seats, mind you, and that was a wonderful part of Indians baseball at the time. Sit where you wanted because the official attendance for the game that day was 2,009. I wrote it down on the scorecard that I still have. 1-0 was the final score. 34 degrees, fahrenheit, was the temperature.
That same year, later in the summer, Meggas and I were again downtown to see the Twins play, about three hours before the game, and we bumped into broadcasters Joe Tait and Herb Score as they entered the ballpark to go to work.
“You guys want to come up to the booth for a while?” offered Score, an iconic pitcher for the Tribe in the 50s before being beaned in the eye from a line drive off the bat of Yankee shortstop Gil McDougal. Within minutes we were sitting in their cramped confines behind home plate, listening to Tait (one of the great broadcast voices ever) and Score reminisce about baseball, past and present. I think we could have stayed there for the game itself, but Meggas probably had another, better angle to watch the game, and we left.
There were Browns games, and the Jones/Wynnette concert, when Meggas somehow talked his way down to the dugout as they sat up the stage following a horrific thunderstorm that swept the field in the fourth quarter of the exhibition game with the Vikings. The first base dugout had about a foot of water in it, and there sat George and Tammy waiting to go on – Tammy fussing with her “bouffant” hairdo in the heat and humidity…and George, quietly, looking almost moribund, sipping from a can of Schaefer beer.
All of these things came to mind as I stared at the photo that graced Hal’s story of growing up an Indians fan, the one at the top of this page. Of course, they had to tear the old ballpark down when the built the new Browns Stadium, which sits on the same ground.
And there’s no possible way that Progressive Field can match the memory and ambiance of the old “mistake on the lake” – where the urinals ran freely and all over your shoes if you didn’t watch. Another charming attribute and a great reason to limit your consumption while you were there. But who goes to a ballpark for the amenities, anyway, eh?
As Hal wrote about. Back in the day all that mattered was the game, the players, and the score.
And Herb Score. May he, and that old ballpark, rest in peace.