My dad was barely eight years old when the ball cleared the fence, but Bobby Thomson’s ‘Shot Heard ‘Round The World’ in 1951 was a moment that stayed with him his entire life, one that ended earlier this year.
For Thomson, he too died this past Monday, ironically in Savannah, Georgia where HE lived and I was married.
That fact really has no relevance other than, growing up and hearing about this home run over and over, I felt a connection to Thomson and his home run even though it predated my existence by ten years.
Looking at the photo, I wonder if it was the highlight moment of his challenging life, a moment filled with elation, devoid of worry.
Barely 18 years old, he and his teammates are celebrating an undefeated Iowa state baseball championship, a 1-0 victory over West Waterloo on June 8, 1961.
Sporting his #7 uniform number, he batted third and played centerfield, both characteristics that emulated Mickey Mantle, his childhood idol.
In the photo, he’s kneeling in the front row, far right, his arm draped around his teammate and best friend. That same friend would serve as the best man in his wedding a mere two days later.
(Solon, Iowa) – A chain link fence sits just beyond second base. There was a time years ago when that barrier was a temporary snow fence, erected in the fall to keep football fans from entering the stadium anywhere other than the main gate.
Just beyond that fence is a set of bleachers for the visiting team’s fans, most eventually witnessing defeat as the home team has won three consecutive state football championships.
This is the view I see from the catcher’s perch, looking out on the old baseball field.
A forgotten stepchild of a facility, this field was nothing but a seasonal accommodation for a sport that was sparsely attended in the summertime, when school was out and the lake waters were warm and inviting. The infield was exclusive to baseball, but once you ran beyond the dirt you were on the football field, a shared patch of grass that gave the baseball field odd dimensions, yet still lit up the June and July nights with the sound of optimistic cheers and batted balls.
Illinois Wesleyan baseball coach Dennis Martel repeated over and over how unbelievable the Titans’ post season run was. I’m sure he must have housed a butterfly garden in his stomach, but you’d never know it on championship day.
Before the final game even started, he encouraged his players to appreciate the environment in which they were playing.
“Get out of the dugout, enjoy the moment, take a look around,” he told them.
“Look in the stands, create a memory.”
A short walk and survey of the crowd brought an observation by one of the Titan players that should have been clear much earlier.
“This must be a big game, our president is here boys,” he noted after seeing Illinois Wesleyan president Dr. Richard Wilson in the stands.
Must be a big game?
The biggest obstacle was the weather. The frequent storms that postponed the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national softball tournament held locally seemed strong and frequent enough to consider cancelling the trip. But the enticement of seeing the first ever game played by the new local minor league baseball franchise set the journey in motion.
We drove through storms as we headed east towards Danville and the Indiana state line.
We drove through storms as we headed south towards Evansville and the home of Evansville Otters.
And about fifty miles from our destination, the sky cleared and we continued onward towards a perfect night for baseball.