Baseball fever

October 16, 2012

Rick Kogan

 

It is 1959 and we are going nuts. The Sox have won the pennant and the night is alive with noise. Baseball holds a special place for many of us—and long has.

When baseball was relatively new, poet Walt Whitman observed, “I see great things in baseball. It's our game—the American game.”

I recently drove around for a long time looking for what was once a familiar city sight: A school wall with a “strike zone” painted or chalked onto it. There was a time when no self-respecting school wall would be without one. You just don’t see that much anymore.

My school was LaSalle, a public school; and our “strike zone” was chalked on the north wall, facing a playground in Old Town.

Standing there against the school’s unmarked brick wall, as I always do when fall is about to begin and the World Series about to start, it is impossible for me not to be touched by memories.

One rushes back. There are four of us, early teens, playing fast-pitch against the wall. A man and a little girl walk across the asphalt playground, hand in hand.

It is 1964, maybe 1965. The man is Billy Williams, who plays for the Cubs, and the bravest among us shouts, “Hey, hey, Billy, want to throw us a few?” And he nods and catches the rubber ball and starts throwing.

He tosses gently, letting us hit, and when we do, he says, “Thataway” or “good one.” In a while, the little girl tugs at his pants and he says to her, “OK, honey,” and to us, “thanks, boys,” and we say, “Thanks a million, Billy,” and watch him gracefully walk away.

I don’t go to as many games as I did as a kid, but I still believe that many of us “Go to a baseball game to remove ourselves from the struggles of our own lives.”

We also go in an attempt to catch that buzz no longer available, it appears, by the sight of a rectangular box etched on the wall of the neighborhood school.

But it is 1959 and we are going nuts, the White Sox have won the pennant and Fire Commissioner Robert J. Quinn ordered a celebratory five-minute sounding of the city's air-raid sirens. And night was alive with noise.