Their Last Game, Conclusion

At five, on the day of the Senators’ final game, September 30, as JP instructed him, Bobby waited for him at the corner of 49th and Mass near the Esso. Right on time, Bobby saw the van slow, and JP said loudly out the open window, “Come on, buddy, let’s hit it. This may be the only pro team you get to see, and I couldn’t let you miss this.”

Bobby noted JP was dressed in his chinos and a yellow button down, but he wore Tretorn sneakers. The Senators’ departure disillusioned Bobby unlike anything he had known. But being with JP may take some of the sting away.

The van chugged down Massachusetts Avenue and through Rock Creek Park. They came out of the park and on to Independence Avenue, and Bobby saw the Washington Monument and The Smithsonian and The Capitol, part of everyone’s Washington. When they passed The Capitol, the city seemed alien to Bobby.

“That’s the Library of Congress,” JP said, as they waited for the light at 1st and Independence. “Our great-grandfather supervised a work crew who built it.” “And dad,” JP said, as they waited for a light at East Capitol and 3rd St., “grew up in the next block.”

They were stopped at a light near a large park when JP said, “That’s Lincoln Park. Dad told me there was a great movie theater there – The Carolina – were you could go on a Saturday, and take in a double or triple feature. All for a quarter or something.”

They continued up East Capitol, and JP said, “Holy Comforter is on the right; dad was baptized, received his first communion, confirmed and graduated from eighth grade there.”

They turned left before RFK, and JP said, “That’s Eastern High. When dad was a senior at Jesuit he hit a homer in the top of the ninth to beat Eastern in the city title game.”

As Bobby learned about his family history and their connections to the city in which he was born and raised but didn’t know, Bobby realized how limited his world had been until that summer.

JP parked the van, and they walked to the stadium, and heard the crowd chant, “We want Short; we want Short; we want Short.” The brothers reached their seats in the right field corner.

RFK

RFK Stadium.

Voices buzzed, and people moved through the aisles carrying signs that said things like, “Good riddance, Bob Short,” and “Thanks for the memories,” and “Frank Howard, will you marry me?”

Bobby marveled as JP rested his feet on the seat in front of him and sipped his beer and ate peanuts, tossing the shells aside and watched the game. It surprised Bobby when JP spoke in the sixth inning.”Holy s***,” he said, “Morganna, the Kissing Bandit. Get a load of those tits.”

Bobby started to smile and look up, but he suddenly felt he shouldn’t be in on the joke. He knew Morganna was a stripper, who snuck up on and kissed celebrities. Big as volleyballs, her breasts bounced in her tight, short dress as she ran on to the field to kiss the Senators’ best player Frank Howard, standing at the plate.

Frank Howard

Frank Howard.

But Bobby believed Hondo, as he was known, didn’t want anything to do with Morganna, but Bobby watched him bend his massive body reluctantly, awkwardly to receive her kiss. After Morganna left, Bobby saw Hondo hit a majestic homer to left center that gave the Senators the lead.

At the end of the eighth inning, fans surged to the stadium’s railings. As it did during Redskins’ games, the stands bounced and swayed and pitched like they might collapse, and the people again chanted, “We want Short; we want Short; we want Short.

As if someone had given them a signal, when ninth inning began, people went over the railings, and JP said to Bobby, “Let’s go.”

Bobby saw others run in all directions, and he wanted to run around like them, but he followed JP, who headed down the fist base line. Converging from all sides, it felt as if people were swallowing Bobby. He felt clammy, and his heart was running all of the sudden, and he panicked he could lose JP.

The crowd’s momentum carried and jostled Bobby from side to side along the first base line, and two guys ran through and knocked him down. More people bumped and kicked against Bobby as if they were stubbing their toes.

When he didn’t feel anyone else hitting him, Bobby stood and turned and saw JP, trying to elbow past four other men, as they race walked down the first base line, but the men grabbed JP from behind, and holding him from all sides, the men stretched out JP above the ground as if he were a human battering ram.

Bobby ran and knocked the man who held JP’s right leg off his brother, but the man Bobby knocked down got up and pushed Bobby back into one of the other men holding JP, and that man said, “What the f***, buddy.”

Bobby stepped back and away, and the men, who had been holding JP dropped him and punched and pushed and elbowed each other.

Bobby saw JP wanted the first base bag. Bobby sensed JP’s experience lining the fields at Friendship served him well, as he loosed the base from the ground, and Bobby saw JP stand and come toward him with the base under his arm. “We’ve gotta run,” JP said.

Bobby struggled to keep up with JP, who held the bag close to his chest, and took two or three steps at a time, and he didn’t stop until he reached his van. Back in the parking lot, Bobby’s stance mirrored his brother’s: bent over, hands on knees, sucking air.

The base lay at JP’s feet, and Bobby looked at JP and felt they felt the same thing: that they couldn’t believe they had gotten away with it. Bobby watched JP stretch and shake out his bad knee, and he rose to his full height. And his brother smiled and raised the base high over his head.

With a depth of wonder and affection and gratitude he hadn’t experienced, Bobby beheld his big brother, who, like his hero Muhammad Ali, shuffled his feet, his prize held aloft.

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My Uncle, Blue Moon Odom, and The ’69 All- Star Game

unclebillandhisgals

Uncle Bill stands with my Aunt Peg and his daughters at a photo taken at my cousin John’s wedding. A wonderful woman, Aunt Peg was often a baseball widow.

News Washington will host the 2018 Major League Baseball All- Star game recalls July 1969, the last time the game was played here. My Uncle Bill, cousin Chris and I had box seats at RFK for that game, still one of my life’s great thrills.

I was 9 then and devoted to the Washington Senators. Ted Williams managed the ’69 Senators, which largely explains why they went 86-76 that season, enjoying their best record in their all-too-brief- 11 year run here.

Roughly coinciding with my first 11 years, the Senators’ run here ended September 30, 1971. When the Senators left to become the Texas Rangers, it was one of the toughest blows I endured during my childhood.

I listened to each Senators game on a transistor radio, typically nodding off somewhere around the 6th inning. The next morning I retrieved THE WASHINGTON POST from our porch and, and kneeling in our hallway, I read the recap of the previous night’s game.

Going to any Senators’ game was thrilling, but going to an All- Star game elevated my enthusiasm to another level. It was the first and so far the last time I sat in box seats. They were by far the coolest things that 9 year old ever experienced.

The game was scheduled for a Tuesday night, but it rained buckets, and all we could do was watch it rain. The game postponed, we were back Wednesday for the last All- Star game played during the day.

Sitting in those seats and watching players in the blindingly full sunshine, it felt almost as if we were in a balcony watching a movie. There was something surreal and dreamlike about the experience because watching a game from box seats was novel to me.

I recall some things: my hero from the Senators Frank Howard hit a homer and so did Johnny Bench. I remember the National League won, but I went on line to learn the final score: 9-3. One moment from watching the game stands out, however.

Uncle Bill nudged and directed me to look at the right field bullpen where Blue Moon Odom warmed. He pitched on three ‘70’s A’s championship teams, and going into the break that season, Blue Moon was 14 -3 with a 2.41 era.

You don’t want to miss him, my Uncle’s gesture said. He knew any kid wanted to be able tell their friends they saw a guy named Blue Moon, and the A’s garish green shirts, yellow pants, and white shoes would make a lasting impression. But Uncle Bill also wanted me to know about the numbers behind the colorful nickname and uniform.

I had forgotten how Blue Moon fared that day, and discovered on line he gave up 5 runs in 1/3 of an inning. Recalling that doesn’t diminish the connection I felt to my Uncle at that moment or the warm memory of it that abides.

Although I was grateful to my Uncle for taking me to the game then, I appreciate more now how special and rare and appropriate it was Uncle Bill took me to the game. He was my dad’s older brother, and spent his career with the state department. We only saw him and his family sporadically in between postings overseas.

It was especially fortuitous Uncle Bill was here that summer because he was perfect guide and companion with whom to go to any baseball game, but especially an All- Star game. In the 30’s and 40’s, Uncle Bill was an outstanding middle infielder, who was the Captain of the Georgetown Prep Varsity and played Varsity baseball at Georgetown and semi-professionally.

As a fan, he appreciated good players, teams, and plays across generations. What he saw on the ball field he recalled 30, 40, 50 years later as if in the moment. No one loved going to a ball game more than Uncle Bill.

He remained astonished at a great throw, amazing catch, disputed call and a blown chance, and grateful to be among the crowds that witnessed them. I have happily inherited these capacities from Uncle Bill.

If I’m lucky enough to be a Nats Park for the 2018 All- Star game, I’ll recall a man, who once got me the best seats in town for a once in a Blue Moon game.

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