When I think of October on the farm, I often remember listening to World Series baseball games on the dashboard radio in the pickup as I drove from one field to another or traveled into Reliance for parts or some other errand.
Those days, of course, were long ago. Burst of static sometimes interrupted the play-by-play, because reception of the AM station carrying the games was pretty spotty. Once in a while, usually at the most critical moment in a late inning of a game, I lost the signal completely for a few seconds. When that happened, I relied on the announcer to recap the action, which they did on a regular basis, either for those just joining the broadcast or for those of us who were listening intently to every pitch but who had gaps in the action through no fault of our own.
Series games were played in the afternoon in those days, so even when we got our first black-and-white television set and had access to the signal from the KPLO tower on Medicine Butte, we couldn’t watch after work. And out in our country, work during the afternoon took precedence over baseball, even the world championship series. So, like other kids in my day, I caught parts of the broadcast whenever I found myself near the pickup radio. I remember a number of times when I’d leave the pickup door open, crank the volume as high as it would go and catch half an inning or so as I greased machinery or put gasoline in a tractor. Normally, I’d polish off such chores as quickly as possible. In October, with the Series in full cry, I stretched out my chores when the game was on the radio.
In my memory, the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers usually were playing in the World Series being broadcast over the pickup radio. I do recall listening to a couple of games in 1957 when Milwaukee beat the Yankees in seven games, but mostly it was Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle against Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges and Roy Campanella. Those guys were legends, even while they still played the game.
Whitey Ford died earlier this month, one of several baseball stars to pass on this year. St. Louis pitching ace Bob Gibson died recently, too. The year I attended Creighton University, Gibson came home to Omaha for a visit. He had been a baseball and basketball star for the Bluejays, and the ovation he got in the city auditorium was huge. He even smiled just a bit.
Funny thing about Gibson. Early in his career, he pitched one summer for the Chamberlain team in the old Basin League. I saw him pitch one night, I guess, although all I recall of the evening is how a couple of old fellas in the stands behind home plate said he’d never make it to the big leagues because he had no control. Even the experts in the stands can be wrong now and then.
I think I’ve seen three major league baseball games in person in my life. Two were in Dodger Stadium. My brother-in-law had season tickets along the first base line, so we were close to the action. Orel Hershiser pitched for the Dodgers in the game I remember. Pete Rose and Dave Parker played for Cincinnati. I saw Rose, late in his career, leg out an infield hit and dive head-long into first, and I saw Parker absolutely crush a baseball to the deepest part of centerfield.
Minnesota played someone in the other game I saw in person. That was in the Dome, the year after the Twins won the World Series, so it was way back. We had seats behind home plate. I remember thinking the rows of seats went almost straight up. I thought if I stumbled, I might fall all the way down and hit the umpire. Dan Gladden, I think it was, hit a grand slam in the second inning. I thought I’d lose my hearing the way the crowd noise reverberated around in that building. Things didn’t return to normal for about two innings.
In spite of that, I enjoyed the game. Dodger Stadium was a better place to watch baseball, though. I think my favorite baseball memories will always be the ones I made while listening to a scratchy radio play-by-play over the pickup radio as I drove down a dusty country road. That was tough to beat.
Terry is a well-known regional columnist who lives in Fort Pierre, S.D.