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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dad and the Texas Rangers

I hope you don’t mind a break from politics, at least for today. I just read something in the newspaper that brought back those halcyon days of my childhood in the little town of Wheeler up in the Texas Panhandle.

Our community was one of those ubiquitous small villages all over the USA where a dirty-faced boy or freshly washed girl, after a day of hard play, would drop dead in their bed without a care in the world.

We never questioned our security, our safety, or world.

So, what was so mind-grabbing in the paper?
Splashed across the headlines in Sunday’s paper were the bold words “Texas Rangers Return to World Series.”

If Dad were alive, I wouldn’t have had to wait until morning to hear the news. My phone would have been ringing off the wall as the game was over.
Dad was a big Ranger fan. He listened to every game after the team came to town in 1972. The move came after spinning seventy less than memorable seasons as the Washington Senators.

I promised myself when I started this column, I’d stay away from politics, but golly, the fact as Washington Senators, they accomplished nothing worthwhile in seventy years seems awfully familiar. Don’t you think?
But back to Dad and the Rangers.

When a Ranger game was on, you’d find Dad out on the patio with the radio and his flyswatter. Under the shade of a latticed roof covered with vines, he’d sit at an old table covered with a red and white checkered tablecloth with his cigarettes and ashtray, killing flies and sipping beer.

I was a big baseball fan also, starting as far back as the mid-forties. Dad had just come back from the war.

During those summers, almost every day, my best friend, Jerry Lewis, and I would lie on the grass in the shade of a giant cottonwood by the small creek just below our homes, listening to the afternoon ball games and spooking old fawn-colored jersey milk cows that grazed too close.

Usually, Jerry and I agreed on everything except he was a Yankee fan, and I always pulled for the Dodgers. Fortunately, they were in different leagues.
I can still hear the announcers’ voices and remember their names, (I think) Mel Allen, Jim Britt, Red Barber.

Looking back, I try to call up the magic of those days, Jerry and me sprawled out, leaning up against the rugged bark of a tree, cooled by the breeze sweeping across the hayfield and under the shade of the cottonwood. The sky overhead was blue as a robin’s egg. Puffy clouds that looked like elephants and goats and people tumbled past.

We probably had a RC Cola or Nehi Orange at our side.

The announcers’ voices were clear and crisp as they called each play. To this day, I can hear the crack of the bat striking the ball, the sharp sound cutting through the roar of the crowd. Even before the crack of the bat died away, Jim Britt or Red Barber would shout, “A homerun, ladies and gentlemen. A home run, and the Cubs lead it one nothing in the bottom of the seventh.”

We’d clap and shout with excitement.

That afternoon, when Dad came in from work, I’d run up to him and my words tumbled all over each other as I related the details of the game.

I’ll never forget how crushed I was when a bunch of us boys were talking baseball at recess one day. One of our friends sniffed and said. “Those guys who call the game ain’t really there. They just use sound effects.”

“What? How can that be? They got to be there.”

He calmly informed us his brother was in radio, and each station had a announcer who sat in a room listening to the game on headphones, then relating the plays to his own audience. “Why,’ he exclaimed, “he even has the sound of crowds on a record, and he taps his pencil against the microphone to make it sound like a bat hitting the ball.”

That night, Dad studied me a moment after I told him what I’d heard. He gave me that funny grin of his and tousled my hair. “Don’t listen to him. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

That was good enough for me. In my mind, I could see those announcers high in the booths looking down on the field.

Years passed. I grew older. Major changes came about. We sort of relegated baseball to a lesser priority although we attended several Fort Worth Cat’s games after moving to that city.

Dad never got real interested in baseball until the Rangers came to town. They were pretty bad, but he hung in there. He always assured me that they were just rebuilding. Wait until next year, he would say. For the twenty odd years until he passed away, he faithfully followed the Rangers with all their warts and moles.
Well today, he’d sure be crowing. “See. Just what I said. They’ve been building up to this.”

I can see him now, flyswatter in hand, sitting at a table with maybe St. Peter, and the two of them looking down as the Rangers take the field in this years World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. He’d give St. Peter that funny grin of his and announce. “I always knew they’d make to the series. And this year they’ll win it.”

When I think about him and baseball, those carefree days so long ago come sweeping back, carrying me back to those misty days in my memory. I hold so precious and dear.

Enjoy the series, Dad. You deserve it.

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