Since this is the dead of summer, and Mennonite history feels a little distant, and even though the Toronto Blue Jays have fallen on harder times, it has caused me to reflect on how I became such an avid baseball fan. In October 2015 I wrote a blog about Mennonites and Major League Baseball, but didn’t talk about why it mattered to me.
When I was growing up in eastern Ohio on a small 80-acre farm, two of my siblings, my oldest brother and my second-oldest sister, were baseball falls, following the Cleveland Indians. In the 1950s the Indians were a competitive team, unlike the Pittsburgh Pirates, who were about an equal distance away. (In 1954 the Indians won 111 of 154 games in the regular season, but lost the World Series in four straight games to the New York Giants; in contrast Pittsburgh won 53 of 154 games and finished in last place.)
In the third grade, 1954-55, I really liked my pretty, young teacher, whose name was Melva Mantle. My clear memory is that this positive association with Miss Mantle turned me into a New York Yankees fan, with their (also) young (age 22) star center fielder, Mickey Mantle.
My love for baseball means I cannot even count the number of times I read Duane Decker’s series of baseball books for boys about the “Blue Sox,” and I had my mother make a T-shirt with “Blue Sox” imprinted on the front.
On radio I was restricted to listening to Cleveland games (with play-by-play announcer Jimmy Dudley). My married oldest brother had a TV, and occasionally I’d get to see a New York game on a Saturday afternoon. On a few occasions, I saw a game in Cleveland, and saw Mantle hit one of his majestic home runs.
My interest in Major League Baseball continued at a lessened pace in my college years, but my year of poverty in Chicago in 1967-68 found me still going to several Chicago Cubs games, since seats in the bleachers were quite cheap. Leo Durocher was the manager, and Ernie Banks still played every day. Ron Santo and Billy Williams were the team stars, and Canadian Fergie Jenkins led the pitching staff, winning 20 games that year (and pitching 20 complete games) in 308 innings.
My move to Canada in late 1968 coincided with Mickey Mantle’s retirement from baseball. I remained a nominal Yankees fan, but never liked George Steinbrenner when he took over ownership of the Yankees in 1972. I was more than ready to switch my allegiances when the Blue Jays launched in 1977.Although it was an odd ball park, old Exhibition Stadium had a kind of intimacy that the Skydome/Rogers Centre will never match. I still go to two games a year, and watch all or part of Blue Jays games when at home. I use my IPad to keep linked to statistical information at Gameday on mlb.com while watching the game.
I well remember the small group from our church meeting in our home on October 23, 1993. After our usual sharing, we watched game 6 of the World Series. My wife, Sue, who was not yet an avid baseball fan, went to bed because she was preaching the next morning at St. Jacobs Mennonite Church. Needless to say, the small group erupted when Joe Carter “touched ’em all” to win the series. (Sue has reminded me, that she has “mended her ways” and is now an avid Blue Jays fan.)
I was also inordinately pleased when Mennonite Erik Kratz briefly played for the Jays in 2014.
If you are a baseball fan, how did it come about? What keeps you attracted? What caused you to lose interest?