Weather permitting, my once-beloved Milwaukee Brewers will open the baseball season against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Monday afternoon.
Baseball — at least the major leagues — used to be a big deal for me. I wrote about that last year. It’s much less so these days.
I still like to play it. I’ve played slow-pitch softball for almost 30 years. But this will be the first season without The Skip, with whom I played for eight seasons. We lost him last summer.
And I still like to watch it. Our local team is the Green Bay Bullfrogs, a bunch of college kids trying to get the pros’ attention. They play in an ancient yet charming ballpark, where I spent a few nights last summer.
This summer also will be the first one without one of the men who took me — a baseball-crazy 11-year-old — to my first major-league game some 40 summers ago. We lost Uncle Wally a couple of months ago.
In the summer of 1968, Uncle Wally helped my dad arrange a trip to Milwaukee County Stadium to see the Chicago White Sox play the Minnesota Twins. We lived an hour north of Milwaukee. The trip came a couple of days after my birthday.
That summer, the folks in Milwaukee were trying to lure major-league baseball back to town. The White Sox agreed to play a few games there to help show Milwaukee would support baseball.
White Sox? Twins? Fine with me. I still have the ticket stub, the program and a bunch of vivid memories of a game that lasted five innings. The Twins won 1-0 that night, a rainy Monday night, June 24, 1968. There were no home runs, just three singles for each team.
According to the fabulous Retrosheet, the game lasted 1 hour, 38 minutes — just about right for my dad, who was not and is not a baseball fan. We were part of a crowd of 25,263.
Yet we almost certainly would not have been in that crowd were it not for Uncle Wally’s involvement. He played ball back in the day — future NFL star Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch was one of his pals at Wausau High School in the early 1940s — and he remained a big fan.
So, for Uncle Wally, and for The Skip, we start this baseball season as we started last season. With the best baseball song ever.
“Do they still play the blues in Chicago/when baseball season rolls around?”
“The Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” Steve Goodman, from “Affordable Art,” 1980.
Extra innings: “The Ball Game,” a little bit of gospel from Sister Wynona Carr, 1952, from “Baseball Hits,” a 2001 compilation of baseball tunes on Flashback Records, the budget label of Rhino Records.