Posted by: Bill Tracy | March 12, 2010

The Families of Mudville

We are all citizens of Mudville.

For the unfamiliar or uninitiated, Mudville is the fictional town of the great baseball poem Casey at the Bat. Probably better than anything written, this short poem speaks to the emotional investment we make in our baseball teams. When our team wins, our hearts spring to elation. When they lose, “…there is no joy in Mudville,” as the poem laments.

Baseball traditionFor more than a hundred years, baseball teams have gone to warm climes this time of year for what they call “spring training.” They prepare physically, intellectually, even emotionally for a season that commences next month — Sunday, April 4 the 2010 baseball season begins. Every fan believes this is the year his team will make it to the World Series, the “October Classic.” Spring training is the one time of year when Mudville virtually drips with hope. Last October, the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies went to that mountaintop. While both towns and their teams played with pride and poise and even grandeur, Philadelphia closed out as the “Mudville nine,” joyless and thinking only of “next year.”

It’s a national tradition with a foundation built on the families of this country. While I dearly love baseball I had no idea that it was such a powerful mortar in foundations of so many families. Last October, a few days before the World Series began, The New York Times asked readers of its Web site to submit responses to this question:

Do you remember the moment when you knew you would become a lifelong Yankees or Phillies fan? We want to hear from you. Tell us your story, and we will publish the best one each day throughout the World Series.

There were over 500 stories submitted. Almost every one said it happened for them through the family. I had no idea that “…root, root, root for the home team” was such a force in so many families. I was among those who wrote my story, and yes, it’s a family story. My story follows; after that I’m going to quote others, many so touching they brought me to tears.

BaseballProbably nobody is born a Phillies fan. And you don’t just become a Phillies fan either. It’s something you learn as you learn to love the game. Baseball is about loss and accepting defeat, and if you’re really good and luck and the umps are with you, maybe you get a winning season. No team has taught its fans more about loss than the Phils. I have this quote I use when people try to compare baseball to other sports. It’s from Fay Vincent when he was Baseball Commissioner:

“Baseball teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure. We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in baseball and, precisely because we have failed, we hold in high regard those who fail less often – those who hit safely in one out of three chances and become star players.”

It was Sunday, August 30, 1953 when I began my hard road to being a lifelong Phillies fan. I was four months shy of seven years old and living in Runnemede, NJ. My grandmother, Catherine Cullinan took me on the bus to center city Philadelphia. At the Horn & Hardart automat (one more thing Philadelphia and News York have in common) on Market Street, we met my grandfather (estranged from his wife and the family) Cornelius Cullinan. He wanted to take his grandson to a baseball game. After being spoiled with a good lunch and dessert, we took the trolley up North Broad street toward Connie Mack Stadium. I’d never seen the place, but I did know it was home to my baseball heroes, Richie Ashburn, Del Ennis, Robin Roberts.

The city streets were dirty and dingy (It was not called Filthydelphia for nothing!) and the stadium was a maze of concrete ramps, gray steel girders and darkness until you broke out into the seating area. And that’s a moment of nearly divine awe for a child; I know my eyes were as big as harvest moons. The greenness of all that grass and the colors of the fences and billboards, the scoreboard lights — it was something even Walt Disney could not have imagined! This was hardly an age of television, never mind color television. How could such beauty exist in the middle of this big and dreary city!

We were playing two that day against the Cincinnati Redlegs (withTed Kluszewski and his unbelievably massive arms). I don’t remember if we stayed for both games, but I remember two things happened in game one that changed my life. The first made me a baseball fan forever. I don’t know who was pitching or batting at the time. I recall the pitcher releasing the ball, and at the exact moment he did, the shortstop moved toward second base. The batter hit the ball up the middle, and the shortstop was already there to catch it. How could he possibly know the ball was going to be hit there? That’s when I knew, even at that age, there is more to baseball than simply watching one guy try to throw balls past a guy with a stick in his hand. After that it was a simple matter of listening to the experts, like Ashburn and Kalas and eventually Tim McCarver to understand the subtleties.

The second thing that forged my fanhood that day happened in the bottom of the eighth inning. There were no outs, the Phils had men on first and second, and I think they were ahead in the score. I decided it was a good time to go to the concession stand for popcorn. When I got back to the seat between my grandparents I was informed I had missed a triple play. To this day, I don’t stop watching an active game for any reason!

PhilliesOver the years I accepted that the Phils were my team and that likely as not they would lose again in any given season. I also learned that my heart would be broken if I yearned too deeply for the coveted prizes, ones that teams like the Yankees seemed to take for granted. Last year the people here in California who know I’m a Phillies fan kept saying they were good and they had a shot. I kept saying Phillies fans know better. We don’t hope openly in the face of the other teams. I was stunned by the championship, stunned almost to disbelief. I still am not truly sure I’m awake and experiencing reality.

This year it’s like a dream is continuing. I don’t know how it can be happening, but I’ll be sitting here in the Sierra foothills, watching every second of every game and cheering on Eagle Scout Victorino, and scrapper Utley and cocksure Rollins and Howard the Babe and even manager Charile Manuel, who my Mother calls the “old farmer.”

By the way, the Phils won both those games on Sunday, August 30, 1953. They played two more against the Reds the following day and lost both. How would today’s pitchers cope with a schedule like that?

And here are excerpts of what others said in their stories:

In April, 1968, my grandfather took me to Yankee Stadium to see Mel Stottlemyre pitch against the A’s.  This is how I became a Yankee fan. My grandfather, a construction worker, invested less than 15 dollars in giving me that experience. Thank you, Grandfather Behrman.

— Chris in Bethlehem

Ball
I grew up listening to the Phillies games on the radio with my grandfather. He took me to my first game in 1964 (age 9) at Connie Mack Stadium. My grandfather took me down to the railing by the dugout where the players happily signed my ball – Jim Bunning, Richie Allen, Gene Mauch the manager and my favorite player, Johnnie Callison. I was the happiest kid in the world that day.
— Cathi Mercer

October 21, 1980. I was 10. I was already a big Phillies fan. The Phillies were in the World Series for the first time in my life. We were up 3 games to 2 in the series as it moved back to Philadelphia for game 6. My single-parent mother took me down to the Vet to get tickets. Of course there were none to be had at the box office. I remember her talking to all these shady characters. She finally found someone with tickets she could buy. “A hundred dollars?!” I heard her say. And I remember her looking down at me one last time as she paid the man a small fortune for what turned out to be the very last row of seats over right field in Veterans Stadium. It was worth it. I was ecstatic. She was elated. My favorite pitcher threw a dominating game. Mike Schmidt gave us an early lead. Tug McGraw made it interesting toward the end but came through in the clutch to win the game and give the Phillies and me our first World Series win. It was a truly magical experience that I will never forget. I’ve been a Phillies fan ever since. Thanks Mom.
— Matt Botwin


I was 5 in 1980, too young to remember the Phillies Series win, but by 1983 I had become a Phillies fan because of my mother and Harry Kalas. My mother, a New Yorker who idolized Willie Mays in her youth, took me to games in 1983, and as partial season-ticket holders we got to go to one of the Series games against the Orioles. The Phils lost that game and the Series, but I already knew that losing was something Phillies fans had to get used to.
— Jeremy Sullivan


My Dad drove us up to see the Yanks play the Indians at the miserable old Municipal Stadium. My sister and I worked our way down to the Visitor’s dugout to try and scrounge some autographs, and Billy Martin tossed her a ball. That ball sat on our mantle for 20 years. Our daughter was born in late September, 1998. She spent the first weeks of her life on my lap with the post-season games on, and she barely stirred when we celebrated the Yankee’s World Series victory over the Padres. Now she is 11-years-old, and she and her brother spend their
summers rooting for the home team.
— hjcho


I think my love for the team was solidified during the games I went to with my sister and my dad when I was 10-12. We sat in the bleachers, in the scorching sun, and had a grand time.
— Chelsea


The year, as I remember, was 1956. My father, a Yankee fan, was an employee of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Early memories of the Yankee/railroad connection were of my father telling me of seeing Lou Gehrig walking down the platform…just a massive set of shoulders and a few years short of what is considered one the best, short, off-the-cuff speeches in American history. That, along with seeing Mantle put one in the upper deck during a Labor Day double-header loss in 1965….and walking along that same platform, Track 4, at Pennsylvania Station. Thanks, Dad. I miss you.
— richdriscoll


I was around five years old when I was faced with the reality of the situation. My parents, both Bronx natives, had settled down in Massachusetts. My father simply said something like this:
“You have two choices, Jesse. Either you can be a Yankees fan, or you can find somewhere else to live.” From that moment on, I knew I was a lifelong Yankees fan.
— Jesse


It was 1958 and my father came home with a ‘portable’ television. It was a huge pink and white Sylvania but it had a handle on the top and so it was ‘portable.’ He ran an extension cord and put the TV outside for the neighborhood kids to watch the Yankees-Braves world series. I was hooked! My dad grew up in the Bronx and the Yankees were his team. We rooted hard and I fell in love with Mickey Mantle. It was unusual for a girl to be a sports fanatic in thoses days but when I went away to camp I had the newspaper delivered so I could follow the stats.
— Esta Carelli


I grew up in a terribly abusive home in Pennsylvania, a home closer to Baltimore than it was to Philly or to Pittsburgh. On October 18, 1977, I sat down to watch a World Series game with my mother. We had never watched a game together before.
Earlier that evening, my father had gotten drunk, again, and beaten up my mother, again. As we sat and watched the game, she was still sniffling from the go-round with my father. But when Reggie Jackson hit a home run, then another, and then another, and the crowd in New York was going crazy, my mother started to scream and shout and jump off the sofa. I was sitting on the floor next to her. I asked her why she was going crazy for a New York team.
“When I was a little girl, all the girls loved Mickey Mantle. I guess I always liked the Yankees because of him.”
The Yankees won, and for that night at least, my mother was a happy little girl again.
I was nine years old then and baseball was not on my radar screen. But I became a Yankee fan that evening, and although my father wouldn’t leave us alone altogether for another six years, my mother and I always had baseball season. We still do.
Go, Yankees. Win another for my mother…..
— Wolf


I am a 14 year old freshman in highschool. Ever since I was born, I would sit on my dad’s lap and watch the Yankees play. My daddy taught me to love the Yanks, and that the Red Sox were the “bad guys.” I love the Yankees as much as any adult can, and I always will.
— Lauren Knouse


In 1993, I was nine years old and in the third grade when the intercom system came on asking me to come to the principal’s office. Thinking I was in trouble, my initial fear turned to the greatest excitement of a child who just found out that his dad would be taking him to Veterans Stadium that day to watch the Phillies take on the Blue Jays. We had upper deck seats behind right field, which I thought was amazing as we had such a great view of the packed stadium. Now, when I call my dad after every Philles playoff win, I think of that moment we shared when I became a diehard phillies fan and believed I had the coolest dad in the universe.
— Will Johnson


My first coat was a little blue Yankees warmup jacket that I got when I was four months old. My father was a Yankees fan, as was my grandfather, who died long before I was born. Some of my earliest memories are of quiet late-night car rides home from my grandmother’s house in New Jersey, listening to 880 on the car radio as the static grew steadily louder and longer; my sister and mother asleep, my dad and I would strain to hear the snippets that drifted through: “it’s three and two with a man on second…” For the first fourteen years of my life, being a Yankees fan was simply part of family identity. Thirteen years later, the love hasn’t faded. My dad and I watch the Yankees together over the phone now, calling up when someone scores or strikes out, or even just sitting through whole innings, phone to ear, hundreds of miles apart but still together. Last Sunday, we hung up the phone long past both our bedtimes, happy, tired and, most of all, ready.
— Lucy


We lived in the Bronx, and my father had his priorities straight. He called up St. Mary’s and told them that I wouldn’t be attending that day. He never said that his 8-year old son was sick or had some important family event to attend. He just said that I wouldn’t be there. Maybe they knew we were going to Yankee Stadium that fateful day, October 8, 1956. Don Larson was pitching, and I vividly recall my dad turning to me mid game and saying, “This is history. You’re watching history.” It was my first game that the ball playing became more important than the hot dogs and soda. I was hooked, and I’m still watching.
— Fran DeRespinis


I lived my childhood years just blocks from the Stadium and both my parents were Yankee fans, so I was a fan by birthright. We’d go as a family, or the dads on the block took a bunch of the kids; that’s how we went to the first Bat Day, and the first Ball Day. But a turning point came on the first Cap Day; it fell on my Confirmation Day. The morning ceremony in church was beautiful and as we left my mom thought we’d go to a nice restaurant for a lovely lunch. But I insisted on going to Yankee Stadium, determined to get my cap. I was ten years old and this was probably the first independent decision I made about choosing to go to a game. My father and brother were all for it, so it was three against one. My dad bought the better grandstand seats, and there I sat, in my powder-blue dress, Sunday shoes, and Confirmation corsage, beaming under the midnight blue woolen Yankee cap proudly atop my head.
— Midtowner


The experience that sealed the deal for me occurred a few months after we had moved to Queens. It was 1955, and my uncle was at a party with Casey Stengel, who was still the Yankee manager. My uncle called our house and asked if we’d like to speak with him, and I spent a few minutes on the phone talking knowledgeably about Yankee players with the legendary Yankee manager. I was 12, and this was, until the birth of my first child, absolutely the most exciting moment in my life.
— M. Sherman


Love of dads and love of baseball go hand in hand. An unlikely Phan, my diehard Phillies father lives three hours southeast his team’s city, yet almost every Sunday, he battles Turnpike and Expressway to attend a game in person. As a girl, I was soothed to sleep by the sounds of Harry and Whitey on dad’s radio. In his den, a framed 1980 Inquirer front page — “Phils Win Series; City Goes Wild” — is one of my mind’s most memorized images. Now that I live in Philly, I don’t see Dad as often as I’d like to. But last April, we met at the ballpark to pay tribute to the great HK. I don’t think we spoke ten words that day. It wasn’t necessary.
That the Phillies are a dynasty in the making isn’t the reason why I love the team—that just makes it easier. To love the Phillies is to love my dad—in my eyes, they are one and the same. Like all great dads, he selflessly gives and expects nothing back from his three Phillies-loving (he did his job well) daughters. A few years ago, I made two wishes for him. First, I wished that his team would win the World Series. Check. Second, I wished that he’d catch a foul ball. On fan appreciation day last year, the Phils delivered him the ball that I wished for—but not in the way that I expected. Between innings, my father’s seat number was called. His prize? To throw the first pitch at a game of his choice in ‘09.
The Phils have always been in my life, but on a Sunday afternoon this July, when I watched my father throw a strike over the home plate of our beloved WORLD CHAMPION team, I knew that this love was Phorever.
— Jill Purdy


There are hundreds more such stories just like this. To see them all, go to:

http://bats.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/27/fan-for-life-tell-us-your-story/

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Responses

  1. Fantastic!!! So enjoyable. Thank you.

  2. I loved this Phillies reminiscence. I, too, am a Phillies fan. I remember listening to the games on the small radio we had in the kitchen at home. Listening and hoping that my favorite player — Robin Roberts — would get a hit. And hoping that the Phils would win.

    I remember going to a game in 1966 with my husband-to-be and his dad. It was such a fun time, and we sat in almost the last row, and could barely make out what was going on.

    When we moved to Cincinnati, we became Cincy fans, except when the Phils were in town. Still love the Phillies!

  3. Turkey Tyson,Putsy Cabalerro,Granny Hamner,Deacon Donahue,Schoolboy Rowe,Babe Dalgreen,Dee Moore, Benny Culp,BoomBoom Beck,PinkyMay,Heinis Mueller,,,,,,,With names like these guys had how could I not become a Phills fan???? To a 10 year old this was too much to overcome. LightHouse boys club gave us KnotHoleClub tickets free. All we had to do was get to the ballpark. And that as they say Is a whole nother story.


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