Yes, friends, this is gonna be pretty boring, not to mention loooong. The vast majority of you will wanna skip directly to the Today in Baseball History stuff below. But, someone asked, so I’ve taken up the challenge of relating my life story, in installments, beginning with what was really an extremely awesome, quintessential small town childhood experience. But you know me. I’ll find a way to include details so minute and uninteresting as to induce catatonia.
It all started way out west (see?), in San Francisco, CA. Born there in 1961, spent a few years there, in Oakland, and then finally in Stockton. My father was a college professor, specializing in electronic media, my mom a professional student, eventually getting degrees in art and teaching I guess. In truth, I’m not real sure what they have degrees in. We’re not the most close-knit of families. Anyway, we ended up leaving all extended family and friends behind when we moved east in 1967, to Geneseo, NY, where my dad had gotten a job teaching and running the radio station. My folks were pretty heavily involved in the counterculture movement that had by then become a bit of a circus in the bay area, with busloads of gawkers canvassing Haight-Ashbury to point and laugh. I’ve been told that this kind of thing influenced the decision to get the hell out of there, and I can’t say that I blame ‘em. I do have some memories of CA, all pleasant, but at the time the move east was simply a grand adventure, one that we were all fully on board with and excited about.
So, we make the cross country journey, using our green Rambler and a U-Haul truck, stopping along the way at motels and nudist camps and some places that, to this day, I have no idea what they were. A few truck and car breakdowns later, and we’re there! The house that dad had bought, sight unseen, was amazing! On the corner of Second and North streets, within walking distance of everything, this was a 200+ year old, two story, white, huge-ass monstrosity of a thing, with the biggest oak tree in the county taking up most of the tiny back yard. I loved it the second I set eyes on it! I was set to begin first grade, which was nice timing, and loved school right away.
Real early on, like by the end of second grade, they identified me as being “special”. I remember singing the national anthem in front of classes of older kids and not being nervous or anything. I just liked singing, and even went to the trouble of learning the extra verses, just in case they wanted more. I was forever being pulled out of class and sent over to the college (SUNY Geneseo - at the time all the schools in town were on the campus) for these little tests or exercises or whatever. I didn’t think much of it, but it started dawning on me that I was, like, smart or something. There was talk of skipping grades, but I wasn’t too keen on that and chose to stay where I was. These early grade school years were damn near perfect. Lots of friends, both in school and in the neighborhood, teachers that not only liked me, but seemed to freakin’ LOVE me, and a home life that I was still too young to realize wasn’t quite the same as most people in town. It was great!
Not that it wasn’t without some challenges. I was a really small, scrawny, short, sorta effeminate looking kid, and on one of the streets I used to use to walk to school there was this bully kid that used to torment me and a very few others. It never became physical, but led to learning to use some shortcuts through folks’ back yards to avoid trouble. Also on that same street was a gigantic Great Dane that every kid I knew was afraid of, myself included. Never did confront either challenge, just sorta avoided ‘em and got on with my business. Within a few years, neither were concerns any longer.
By the time I was in maybe 3rd or 4th grade, I was aware that my folks were different. They smoked things that they sometimes had to hide when people rang the doorbell. They listened to music that was nothing like what my friends’ parents would listen to. There were always other people in the house, often staying in a spare bedroom for months, even a year at a time. I was curious, and at some point realized that my folks were real live hippies! Just like on TV, but not really! I came to know that, yes, mom and dad both enjoyed the weed, along with the acid, and lord knows what else. These college age kids weren’t all student friends of the folks, a few of ‘em were also draft dodgers, being hidden in our home. That corner of the living room with all the cut out posters and album covers and original artwork? Nope, other families in town sure didn’t have that. We were different. Really different.
Geneseo was and still is a unique little town. The picture postcard version of small town America, with the indignity of having a big state college dropped right into the thick of things. The townsfolk were, in retrospect, pretty conservative and working class. The folks that attended and worked at the college were a whole other story. My folks were at the extreme far edge of the liberal/hippie contingent that inhabited this once less divided village. I became aware of a certain dynamic amongst my friends’ parents especially. I was a curiosity, that kid whose folks were the talk of the town. I was doted on by these normals. Probably did more sleepovers than most kids at the time. The parents loved having me over. I was polite, they knew I was smart, therefore a good person for their kid to be around, and I think there was an element of “awww, lets try to give this poor kid a normal day or two, away from those evil parents” going on.
As time went on, I was more and more aware of all this, and I embraced it. As a kid at the time, it was very very cool to have parents that liked the Beatles and Stones and let you do things some other kids weren’t allowed to do. So I reveled in it, started actively doing things to show my solidarity with it even if I was too young to understand some aspects of what was going on. I started listening to music beyond just the radio, growing my hair long, became more aware of what drugs were (though I never even thought about trying ‘em, yet), and payed attention to politics, more than I do today in fact. As all this was happening, it was just normal, happy, kid life. Bliss.
This bliss? Imagine a small town with a Main street, with a soda fountain owned by the mayor, anything a kid could ever want available in the stores on said Main street, and everything within walking, or better yet, biking distance. A typical summer day would find a big gaggle of us riding up and down Main street, checking every parking meter for pennies, the phone booth (one) for bigger denominations, and then taking our booty and plunking it down on candy, chips, soda, comic books, model cars, whatever. Usually candy. We had a choice of stores to spend it in too, from the good ol’ Ben Franklin, to the Red & White (the one in which there was a decapitation as a result of a car accident - big excitement!), to an A & P, to later arrivals like a more modern convenience store. Spend those pennies, then retire to the park right at the end of Main street, with swings, a slide, and even a merry go round you could have one kid get underneath and push to lightning speed with his legs. Also in this park was local historical figure Mary Jemison’s log cabin, which got used for summer camp type activities once in a blue moon, but was usually secured. Down the hill from that? Baseball diamonds, football fields, tennis courts, and even the “college pool”, where I spent a LOT of time, especially in the winter months. Bliss, I’m tellin’ ya.
We’d also do some weird shit, like hitch hiking to just outside town where there was this little mini-Niagara Falls sorta place. We’d slide on the mossy rocks and just have a blast there. Our secret place! One of the neighbor families had a big overgrown field behind their house, with paths worn, a treehouse, a creek, even an old abandoned well into which my brother fell one time and had to be rescued. Tree swings, sleepovers in giant 300 year old barns, playing pick up baseball or football on real regulation fields, or trying to anyway. I recall this one big football game, the only really organized one we played, we used the field sideways. 100 yards is LONG when you’re 9-10 years old! Buses would appear out of nowhere to pick up kids to go to Rochester Red Wings games around 30 miles away. Sometimes we’d have to ask our parents, sometimes I think we just went. It was all a blur of summer fun, easy scholastic achievement, hippie home life, and these little trips we’d take every few years.
Like the time we all went to NYC, Long Island as it turned out. But as we were preparing to leave, the big question was “Will uncle Dave be there?”. “Uncle” Dave was a family friend, and we all just loved this guy. Known for wearing furry masks and riding motorcycles, he wasn’t a college student like most of my folks’ friends, but a California friend. One of the few that my parents kept after moving, along with the people we were gonna be staying with on Long Island. Dave’s remained a lifelong “friend”, really more like a family member, eventually going into the Hollywood special effects trade somehow. It’s his Russian motorbike that’s seen in that Indiana Jones flick with Sean Connery. The third one I think it was. Anyway, us kids are bugging the folks with “Will Dave be there?” incessantly, always being told “no!” But as soon as we walked into wherever we went (not LI yet, somewhere amidst all the shockingly tall buildings), there he was! In the furry mask! Like it was a big setup all along! Man was I happy!
The watershed event of that NYC trip though was our attending the premier of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” the next day. Family legend has us all consuming hash brownies before leaving, and I don’t doubt that. I very specifically recall NOT being stoned however. I can still see the interior of that giant theater, still remember how awestruck I was by the film itself. My brothers’ memories are just of being wasted. I dunno what happened really. My guess is that us kids weren’t supposed to get to these brownies, but things happen… Maybe I didn’t eat ‘em, was immune from the effect at that tender age, who knows? What I took from that trip was how cool NYC was (tall buildings! that theater! Dave!) compared to Long Island. What a letdown it was to be bustled off to suburbia for the remainder of our time in the area. No memories of anything we did on the trip after that.
Then there was the trip west to visit grandparents, a couple of those trips actually, always driving (yes, VW Bus - no decals). The memorable one was when we went from the grandparents’ house in San Pablo all the way up to Vancouver Island in Canada, stopping along the way to enjoy Oregon beaches and probably other things that left less of an impression. The grandparents thing was always tricky. My mom’s parents were very easygoing and didn’t give her too much shit about having become a “free spirit” or for moving so far away. It was always fun visiting their house, with the tiny little immaculately manicured lawn that felt like moist, cool plastic-y velvet every time you got tackled or found another reason to get close to it. My dad’s parents were another story. I could tell there was some tension, especially with his dad. I later learned that this grandpa was a stern taskmaster, disappointed in all his children to varying degrees. An accountant that had weathered the depression, he had zero interest in any of this hippie shit and that was apparent even to a 10 year old. My dad’s brother (whom I’ve never met) joined the Merchant Marine and basically disappeared. His sister married and divorced a few times, military men, and stayed near home, so was presumably the favorite.
But anyway, the Vancouver Island trip. We’re going there to visit a couple we’d known in Geneseo. I still don’t know if they were students or what, but it was interesting to say the least. Had to take a small motor boat, after having already taken a ferry to a larger island, to get to this smaller island, owned (apparently traded for) by this couple. That alone was quite an adventure. First thing we did upon arriving was send a few people right back out to catch dinner, a gigantic salmon which was then cooked over an open fire on the beach. Even then I wasn’t a seafood person, but I didn’t care. It was pretty rustic. No electricity or running water, no toilets. That last one became an issue for me, as I tried to hold it for a few days. Unsuccessfully. Got to see a real live cougar though, and soon we were on our way home.
But why the fuck are we driving back through Canada? I’ve never figured that one out. It’s not like we were stopping to see the scenic wonder or anything. Piecing it together years later, it’s not impossible that a large quantity of something was procured, perhaps part of the reason for the trip. I know that we used some pretty scary mountain roads and seemed to be driving late at night, staying under the radar. It’s a blur to me, this return trip. We may have gotten to Ontario in like two days of solid driving. Entered the US near Detroit for some reason. Ah, but at that age, who cares? We made it home, school started back up, and things were as they always were. Bliss.
It’s hard to find fault with anything in my world during these years. Yes, we were different, and yes, that did make things weird occasionally, but it was fantastic overall. And my parents did a pretty good job of straddling the line of “do we admit to all this?” or “we better hide all this”. It’s not like they sat us down and told us what was up, at least not yet, but they didn’t hide smoking weed or talking about it or other sensitive things in our presence. I wonder now if they knew how much I knew at the time about what they were doing. Not that it bothered me. It was cool to have parents that did things like march on Washington and go to Woodstock or the Lennon/Ono Bed-In things. I was reading their Rolling Stone magazines and underground comics by 4th or 5th grade. I wanted to be part of that world. I was just too busy having fun being a kid in the greatest little town ever to be a kid in! Bliss, goddammit!
I’ve often thought back on my six years in Geneseo with glowing nostalgia. It was pretty much perfect, and most importantly, completely separate from lots of less fun stuff that happened immediately after and at points interspersed throughout later years. Leaving Geneseo, where I was well liked, part of a social group that included the coolest of the cool, and where I knew everyone and everything, was awful. Worse than awful. I’ve gone on far too long already, and this will be the next chapter (if and when I get around to it), but when my parents divorced at the end of my 6th grade year, that was when life, for the first time, became really really difficult. It led me in directions positive and negative, but it was mostly just a lot of stress and getting used to an alien world (suburban Rochester) I wanted no part of at first.
But, that’s where we’re gonna leave it for now. Geneseo in many ways was the best time of my life, or at least a close second. Even now, every time I travel north to Rochester, I can’t help stopping briefly in this still idyllic small town. It’s changed a little over the years. They have fast food joints and big shopping centers and all that, and Main street is now populated by more bohemian sorts of businesses, but it still looks and feels the same if you keep to certain streets and areas. All the houses on my old street now have these little historical markers on ‘em because they’re so old. The big oak tree behind our house was cut down decades ago. George’s soda shop isn’t there anymore, nor is the Ben Franklin or the Red & White. But there are still huge chestnut trees lining all the older residential streets, still fields behind houses, still a baseball diamond within easy distance. I truly truly loved that little town, and I still do. Bliss.
Today in baseball history:
1908 - Addie Joss of the Cleveland Naps tosses a perfect game against the Chicago White Sox. The future Hall of Famer wins a 1-0 decision over Ed Walsh in one of the greatest pitching duels in major league history. Joss strikes out only three batters, while Walsh fans 15.
1920 - In the only tripleheader ever played in the 20th century, the Reds win the first two games, 13-4 and 7-3, with the Pirates avoiding the sweep in the finale, 6-0. Peter Harrison is the home plate umpire for all three games.
1966 - Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers wins his 27th game of the season and the final game of his career.
1968 - In one of the most memorable World Series performances ever, Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals strikes out 17 Detroit Tigers. Gibson sets the World Series record for most strikeouts in a single game, set on this day in 1963 by Sandy Koufax, and leads the Cardinals to a 4-0 victory over Tigers ace and Cy Young Award winner Denny McLain.
2012 - On the penultimate day of the regular season, the Yankees maintain their one-game lead over the Orioles in the AL East when Raul Ibanez homers off Boston’s Andrew Miller in the bottom of the 12th inning to give New York a 4-3 win. Earlier, the Orioles had defeated the Rays, 1-0, when Chris Davis homered for the sixth straight game, tying a club record, with a solo shot off James Shields in the 4th inning. Shields sets a Tampa Bay franchise record by striking out 15 opponents in the loss.
2013 - The Rays shut out the Indians, 4-0, in the AL Wild Card Game, behind the pitching of Alex Cobb, a solo homer by Delmon Young and a two-run double by Desmond Jennings.
Pretty light day for wacky or historically interesting items, in my opinion at least. Looks like that may be a trend moving forward, into a time of year when only postseason baseball has been played, and oddball publicity stunts, rule, or equipment changes are a rarity. I started compiling these during the offseason, and was able to find things, so we’ll see.
Thanks for reading, hopefully just this part! Leave a comment, won’t you? It shows you care. No topic off limits. It’s gotten pretty deep in here lately. Pretty sure you could get some kinda degree by fully understanding some of the best comments lately. Keep ‘em comin’!
Oooh, I just remembered, this will be posting on the day of the first O’s playoff game. No-the-fuck-body is gonna be readin’ this shit! Even more reason for you, yes YOU, to leave a comment.