Thursday, March 24, 2016

When I Was A Child

I was reaching through the future slowly floating in the blue. When I was a boy I dreamed a dream of you. I danced upon the tree top, I drifted in the stream. When I was a child I held you in my dreams... I was walking with a stranger, he left without a trace. When I was a boy I slept at Heaven's gate. Once I was a soldier in my castle strong. Oh I stood so tall then I could do no wrong, innocence and slumber when I was a boy.~ Robert Plant and Jimmy Page's When I Was A Child



A number of years ago I was shooting the breeze with a group of men from church, when the discussion turned from some subject (I forget what) to childhood dreams. Each of us, almost to a man, had said that at one point during our childhood we had dreamed of being a professional ballplayer. One of the guys then said something along the lines of, "well at least one of us saw that dream realized."

We had just begun attending the church a short time before that and I didn't know many of the guys, so I later asked Bill what he meant by that statement. He told me that Cliff was a retired MLB pitcher. Not knowing who "Cliff" was, I inquired further and he told me the tall, older gentleman was Cliff Chambers.



The name didn't ring a bell with me, so I looked him up on the internet once we got home that afternoon. Come to find out, not only did Cliff pitch in the Majors- he actually No-Hit the Boston Braves on May 6, 1951 while a member of the Pirates!!

I took this newly discovered information with me the next week and decided to approach Cliff, who was then around 80 years old, not to ask for an autograph (it just didn't seem right asking that in the house of the Lord) but to just have the joy of hearing this man reminisce about a piece of baseball history.

I do regret never asking Cliff to sign a ball-or this card (I picked it up at a shop the day before speaking to him for the first time)- for me. I would see him off and on for a couple of years- his wife's health and them being away at their cabin would often cause them to miss worship service. They would then begin attending service elsewhere (closer to their home) and I didn't hear anything else about him until about a year ago when I read he had passed away in January of 2012 at the age of ninety.



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I was one of those dreamers who had wanted to be a professional ballplayers as a young boy. Most of my spare time was spent at the ballpark or back behind our house, working on fielding grounders or pop-ups as I threw the ball against our shop's concrete wall. When I wasn't doing those things, you could bet I was inside with my baseball cards or reading my Street and Smiths, Sports Illustrated, Baseball Digest or Sporting News.

One other thing I enjoyed, that fueled my dreams and helped satiate my hunger for the game, was watching the NBC Major League Game of the Week on Saturdays. This was before we had cable, so that game of the week was a big thing. While the game itself was enough to hold my interest, the broadcast was enhanced by the presence of Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek. Garagiola's analysis, wit and self-deprecating humor made him a fan favorite as a broadcaster.





By now you've heard of Garagiola's death yesterday. I first heard about it from the above tweet and it got me thinking of not only my youth, but of Cliff again. Why's that, you ask? Well, about 5 weeks after no-hitting the Braves, Cliff was sent from Pittsburgh to St. Louis as part of a 7-player deal. One of the players the Pirates acquired was catcher (and St. Louis native) Joe Garagiola.

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RIP, Joe. Thank you for being, as Joel Sherman tweeted, a part of the soundtrack of my youth. You fueled my dreams of being a ballplayer, and fed that hunger of wanting to know more about the game I loved.






2 comments:

  1. I remember Joe's Wacky World from childhood. Those are my first memories of him. His is a sad passing. He is gone, and has taken a little bit of my own youth with him.

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  2. Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola were a part of my childhood as well and one heck of a team.

    ReplyDelete