I received another jolt of reality over the weekend; a not so gentle reminder that time travels at warp speed once you reach a certain age..like mine.
When I heard that Duke Snider, one of the greatest major league baseball players in history and key member of my beloved Dodgers, had died, my mind immediately transported me back to Gruseth Field in the days of my youth. It was a make-shift ball diamond located on my cousin, Grouse’s farmyard just outside Volga. Most summer days we’d get enough guys together for an all-day game..breaking only for a glass of nectar and a few freshly baked cookies from Aunt Esther’s oven. The field’s dimensions were rather quirky to say the least; 200 feet to the home run fence in straight-away center..over 300 feet to the barn roof in left but right field was considerably shorter because of a big granary building and hog house in the way. We were all discouraged from hitting in that direction because nobody wanted to climb over the wooden fence into the pig yard to retrieve a ball which more often than not had landed in a pile of swine scat. Another old storage building served as a backstop. A sure way to bring more groans from the players was when the batter would hit a foul tip back over the roof and into the trees behind. Since we usually had but one baseball we all had to go hunt for it. Our our day was done if it wasn’t found lying amongst the leaves and branches. Anyway, Grouse and I were die hard Dodger fans. I wanted to be just like Gil Hodges and he was “The Duke.”
I’m not quite sure how such devotion developed other than through collecting baseball cards and watching the Saturday game of the week on TV which often featured either the Yankees or Dodgers. Unlike a lot of broken hearted fans in New York, our loyalty continued through the Dodgers controversial move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958. Grouse and I both loved the new L.A. Dodger logo and were delighted with the replicas which my Aunt Leila cut out from a piece of felt and sewed on our caps. Unfortunately, neither of us developed into the kind of hitters that would lead to Hall of Fame careers like our heroes Gil and Duke but there were a few times when all the planets were in alignment; we’d get a perfect pitch right in the strike zone, make an equally perfect swing and “CRACK” the ball would meet the bat exactly on the barrel sending it soaring toward the barn and off the silo’s metal roof. There is no feeling in the world like it!
Gil Hodges was sill in his forties when he died of a heart attack in 1972 but ol’ Duke made it to age 84.
Linda asked me what I was blogging about today and I said the death of Duke Snider… to which she replied..who? Sigh. I’ll bet she doesn’t even know that they’ve started playing actual games at spring training in Florida and Arizona meaning the beginning of another season is so close you can almost smell the brats and expensive beer. Hard to imagine, though, when there’s still mountains of snow piled high on so many home fields including the most memorable one of my childhood.