I obsess about baseball. My dad didn’t. But for some reason, my virgin baseball memory is watching the Oakland A’s in the World Series with my dad back in the 1970s. Don’t ask me which World Series it was, ’72, ’73 or ’74. I haven’t a clue.
I remember it was at night. In our living room (adorned with wood paneling and trendy brown, shag carpet.) Flashes of green and gold on the TV screen. Not much of a memory, but it’s all I have.
My parents, God love ’em, tagged along on my fanaticisms. As a child, I worshiped the Dallas Cowboys — yeah, I know, hate me — so we took family trips to Texas Stadium or Busch Stadium, which was closer to our Memphis home, to see the Cowboys play the Big Red. But we spent several vacations in St. Louis with my beloved baseball Cardinals. My parents weren’t sports aficionados, but they were troopers.
In the mid-1990s, after graduating from college and moving away, I wanted to reward my parents with a quick St. Louis trip for a game. Old time’s sake, I thought. Dad was in declining health; I was insistent and bought three tickets to a Cards-Dodgers weekday game — yes, a day game in summertime St. Louis. Off we went. Mom, dad and adult son.
It wasn’t the best experience, truth be told. Dad didn’t feel swell, the St. Louis sauna was predictably godawful, and I was so worried about him that I probably didn’t watch a complete inning.
So in 1998, when Memphis’ new minor-league team — the Triple-A Redbirds — prepared for its first home game, a new plan hatched. Dad and I would go to the Redbirds’ opener at the hardly revered Tim McCarver Stadium.
A couple of things.
It was April, damp and cold.
My dad hated damp and cold.
I drove in from Alabama, picked him up and headed to the Fairgrounds. (McCarver was a creaky American Legion park gussied up for minor-league ball. I was young and dumb enough for a long time to think it was baseball heaven.) The place was packed. The rain stayed mostly away, the dampness never left and the temperature never rose. But dad didn’t complain. Not to me, a least.
We ate bad ballpark food and talked about my job. I was frustrated. He offered advice.
We watched the Redbirds play the Colorado Sky Sox. (Disclaimer: I had long forgotten the Redbirds’ opponent that night and had to look it up.)
We watched a young pitcher, Larry Luebbers, give up just one hit and beat the Sox, 1-0. (Disclaimer: I’ve always remembered his name and the score. Baseball’s weird that way.)
And then we went home.
Thomas Harding, who covered the Redbirds that year for The Commercial Appeal, wrote this in the next day’s paper:
“The 8,637 in the stands Thursday night made the home opener — the first Class AAA game in Memphis since 1976 — an uplifting one.”
My wife and I took dad to at least one other Redbirds game after they moved into AutoZone Park in downtown Memphis, where he spent time with my son, Nicholas, who wasn’t yet in first grade, that day. That was cool. But I’d give anything — anything — to relive that dank night at McCarver, sitting next to my shivering father and watching the game whose hold I can’t shake.