I’m a T-Shirt man. From long sleeves cotton-poly blends, to V-neck undershirts, to every kind of tank-top, to the regular everyday throw it on and head to the watering hole old reliable T-shirt, I love them all. The only T-Shirts I can’t stand at times are ones with a Cubs logo on them. But even those, when designed properly, I can find appreciation for the pure craftsmanship.
Long story longer, I didn’t become a T-Shirt Man, I was born a T-Shirt Man. My father was one of the first. Back in 60’s he was tossing Musial and Shannon jerseys into the cheap seats at Sportsman’s Park on North Grand. He would take the trolley from South City up past the glorious churches and theaters that lined Mid-Town to what he called his dream job. There was no such thing as a pitch count back then. He would always say, “If Gibson and Carlton can throw all day, I can throw frozen ropes to the cheap seats innings one thru nine!”
And he did. The newspapers said he had the third best arm in the city. Lobs, lasers, bullets, soft tosses. He had every pitch in the books.
October 15th 1964. One of the greatest dates in the history of St. Louis. Gibson went all 9, and our Redbirds defeated the New York Yankees 7-5 in game 7 of the World Series! The streets flowed with Budweiser! Brock, White, and Boyer led the offense while Gibby was just good enough. Though Mickey Mantle hit a three-run shot off Gibson in the 6th, it wasn’t enough. Another flag would fly as the Cardinals won their first title in 18 years.
My pops had a basket full of t-shirts and he was firing them like a Thompson submachine gun. He pulled the last one from the basket, took a crow hop and let it fly. The trajectory was insane. And he heard it. That pop. The pop. And he knew he was done. Tears of joy and sadness mixed together on his cheeks like the waters at the confluence.
He was just 25 and his career was over. Or was it….
A Meeting of the Minds
In his sadness my pops did what he did when he was a little boy. He went to his father. He told his dad what happened. He told him he now had no vision of what his future was to be. This was his calling. Sure, he could get a job on the line at the carburetor factory across the street, but it would be a life of no fulfillment.
My Grandfather looked down, set his Evan Williams on the table and slowly looked up. “I think I have a solution son.”
My grandfather was in the Army and then the Navy and served in the South Pacific during WWII. When my grandfather came back from the South Pacific he, like many of his generation, tucked the past away and went back to work. Truly the greatest generation. He never spoke to his son about what went on over there, but today, looking at a destitute son, bereft of hope, he opened up.
“My job was to man the M7 grenade launcher. I had a good arm, better than yours, but still not good enough.” He walked to the book shelf. Pulled off a leather-bound book and blew the dust off of it.
“Where is it? Ahh, here it is. Take a look at that.”
My father grabbed the book and saw the tube-shaped contraption, plugged into the barrel and where the bayonet would be.
“With that thing, I could send a grenade over 200 yards. I could keep myself and my brothers out of danger and still advance our mission.”
“This is amazing. This could change everything!”
“Slow down, son. You’ll need a Springfield .30.06, some special cartridges, and clearance from the boys upstairs. It’s a stretch, but it may just work.”
And that’s where it all was born. Johnny Keane, Bob Howsam, and owner Gussie Busch had a bit of cowboy in them and loved the idea. My dad ordered the Springfield, headed to the Army Surplus and got the M-7. The world of sports was never the same.
Pops stayed in the game until I came along in ’81. The next season we watched Sutter put an end to the drought from our little 2 family on Compton and Cherokee. The world was right, and my apprentice work began.
From soft toss in the back yard to long toss in Gravois Park. Pops taught me everything he knew. The organization welcomed me with open arms in May of the 2004 season. And what a run I’ve had.
Then it Stopped
I was in Florida. I was peppering the stands with giveaways. My father’s son. Carrying on the legacy he built. Waino tossed 5 scoreless and the world seemed right. Then the folks in NYC said to shut it down. Season on hold.
Now, the stands are empty. The seats are flipped up. The only echoes are of the traffic passing beyond the gates. The pidgeons are undisturbed, and the grass is free to grow without the threat of cleats.
And here I stand. Alone. T-Shirt cannon upon my left shoulder. Remembering the kids yelling from the 300 section. The standing room only crowds chanting for me. Us all in it together. Us all pulling in one direction on every pitch.
Yeah, sports aren’t the biggest part of the world, but they’re a big part of my world. And the worlds of a bunch of folks I know and care about. They were something we gathered together around.
Sports are and always have been real. Especially here in our town. They’ve always been a true community. Huddled together in the October cold, holding our collective breathes as Haines, Gibson, Forsch, Benes, Morris, Carpenter, Wainwright, or Martinez took the sign and entered the windup.
We all screamed as Boyer, Reitz, Pendleton, and Rolen robbed a sure double down the line. We gave all those strangers who became brothers and sisters high-fives and hugs when Medwick, Musial, Brock, Maris, Hernandez, McGee, Lankford, McGwire, Edmonds, Pujols, and Molina got THE hit to send us to certain victory.
And that is what I guess I miss the most. My friends that just hours before were strangers. Being together in that stadium. Being together with our birds. Being together…in baseball heaven.
So, until the Clydesdales march again, I’ll be here. In my lonesome with my t-shirt cannon strapped across my back. Waiting. Wishing. Dreaming of baseball.