Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nostalgia, Early Wynn and 55 Years of Baseball Memories

Last night I travel the 23 miles, taking the back roads, to the town of my birth, Van Wert, Ohio, to do another baseball game. I was the voice of the Van Wert Cougars for some 15 years back in the 1980s through the mid 90s. For that reason I avoided doing sports officiating for the Cougars for many years, especially Varsity High School Sports...much the same reason I stayed away from doing Celina Varsity Sports. I never wanted to get into a situation that I could be accused of being a "homer" for either of those schools....not that I ever did or would as an official or umpire, but I just didn't need anybody thinking I could or would, so I avoided working sports in Van Wert.

The VW Athletic Director finally approached me last year about doing some work, and I figured...15 years away from the cable broadcast booth doing Cougar games was long enough, and I could officiate at the school without any lingering memories. Anyway, I took a girls basketball game this past season, and contracted 5 dates for baseball this spring, 4 Varsity and the JV 3 team triple header that I umpired this past Saturday...things have went about "normal", catching my share of grief, while sticking with my "If I make a mistake, tough luck, I'm sticking with the call" attitude...

Last night I worked a Varsity game between Van Wert and Sherwood Fairview, with another Veteran umpire, Chuck Etzler. Chuck is originally from Convoy, and has lived in Fort Recovery for many years...at 63 he is still one of the best around, and one of the good guys. Between the 2 of us, that's 124 years old, and probably one of the oldest "tandems" you will see doing a Varsity Baseball Game. Like me, Chuck got back into umpire work later in life...I think he was probably 48 or so, and I was 50...both of us had been coaches inbetween umpire stints.

Last night started off more like a football score...Fairview put a 10 spot up in the first inning, Van Wert countered with 6...and we had 16 runs in 1 inning that lasted 40 minutes...it looked like a long night. Fortunately things settled down, pitching wise, and the game was done in a semi long 2 hours 20 minutes, with The Apaches holding off the Cougars by a final of 17-12. Chuck was pretty much flawless behind the plate, while I got myself out of position at 3rd base in the first inning, he had my back however, and we got the call right. Later on I made a early "out" call on a steal, only to see the ball kicked out of the 2nd baseman's glove as the runner slide in...I overruled myself quickly, and the rest of the evening was pretty much mistake free...sometimes you have good games, bad games, and half assed games, as an umpire. Chuck had a good game in my opinion, I had a half assed game....Chuck and I will work again in a Northwest Conference Game between Crestview at Spencerville, with me behind the plate, meanwhile I work with one of my basketball partners, Dan Minnich, tonight at St. Marys in a WBL contest with Elida...tomorrow I'm at Lima Central Catholic for a game with Sidney Lehman Catholic...the weather looks excellent for those games, in the 70s with plenty of sunshine.

55 years of Baseball_____

Driving home, after that not so great, on my part, game....I got to thinking about just how long I have been involved in baseball and what a large part of my life it has been. Sure, I like Hockey, Football, Basketball, and even Soccer, Tennis, and on occasion Golf, but those sports have never been the stuff of my life, like baseball has.

Perhaps it was growing up in the 1950s in South Florida, following the Yankees? Perhaps it was surrounded by friends like Mike Graff, Jackie Dye, Mickey Lawrence, Barry Young, Terry Haskins, my brother Mike, cousin Gary, and others in Venice, Florida, playing sandlot baseball on the dusty playgrounds fields of the Edgewood Section of town, when we weren't over by the Venice Airport learning the game for the Little League coaches, on the main diamonds...it was something else. Baseball was, and always will be my favorite sport, and despite a bad or so-so game now and then, I still enjoy umpiring the contests, even when confronted verbally by clueless fans and coaches on occasion.

Baseball Nostalgia____

In the days of my youth in Venice, then later as a broadcaster, I have had a chance to meet many Hall of Fame ballplayers, some with egos bigger than their batting averages or ERA, some just down to earth guys. Joe Nuxhall and Tom "Perferct Game" Browning come to mind as the later.

While growing up in Venice, Dad had a gas station in South Venice, just down the road from the City of Venice. Across the street, there was a Bowling Alley owned by furture 300 game winner and future Hall of Famer, Early Wynn. He toiled in the Major Leagues from 1939 through 1963, with the Senators, Indiana, White Sox, and back with the Indians in Cleveland, where he won his 300th and last game in 1963, just after we had moved back to Ohio.

I learned to bowl at Early Wynn Lanes...and got to meet Early on several occasions.....Early was always free with an autograph and a "Hello" during the off season when he was home. After his Hall of Fame career, Early went on to the White Sox broadcast booth, before he passed away about a decade ago. In the meantime I still have an autograph baseball and about a dozen post cards with Early's Autograph...the ball is well worn, but the card autographs are in excellent shape. The prize Early Wynn gift to us however, was brother Mike's baseball, which is autographed by the entire 1959 American League Champion Chicago White Sox...it is locked away in a safe deposit box, but the last I saw it, it was still in pristine condition.

Al Lopez, Nellie Fox, Louis Aparicio, Minnie Minoso, Jungle Jim Rivera, Pete Ward, are among the famous names, along with Early Wynn, on that baseball from over a half century ago....Where has the time went? Blink and it and the people are gone....
We moved to South Venice from Ohio in 1954....and I fell in love with baseball soon thereafter, playing softball in the shaded acres of Alston's Cottages and Court those first 3 years....I still remember watching my first baseball game on the tube...the 1955 All Star Game from Milwaukee.

Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Stan "The Man" Musial, and even Early Wynn(who tossed 3 shutout innings) were in the line up....I don't remember much of the game, although the NL came from behind, I read, to win in the 12th inning. But that game, nearly 56 years ago, started my love for baseball...and I have spent most of those years, playing(even though not great), coaching(same), and umpiring(maybe the best of the 3, maybe) the game....and all of those years being a fan.

back later, time for some more baseball>>>>
Photos-Mike Houseworth/Pat Houseworth with the Venice Elks LL Team in 1958...the well worn Early Wynn baseball from 1959, and an autograph Early Wynn postcard from the same time, with Early standing at the Bar of his Bowling Alley in South Venice, Florida.

1 comment:

Jerry said...

Are you the mike looking for info on Mike Graff of Venice Fl? If so, I am too he and sister Luana are my cousins. Can yo help with where and Launa's married name? I posted on your 2005 note. His dad Ozzie is my mothers brother. he has one surviving Uncle, the youngest , Fred on his dads side but many cousins etc. Patrica Riser Boesel