In the beginning was baseball . . . or so it seemed to me when I was growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the 1950s -- home of the then Cincinnati Red Legs and legendary crosley Field.
Opening day at Crosley Field was a much anticipated occasion, not only because it was the beginning of the baseball season, but, for me, it also meant the joyous decline of the school calendar. The beginning of the baseball season also menat that soon, Mr. Baseball himself, Grandpa Frank Ellis, would arrive by train from Springfield, Missouri.
My grandfather was a retired carpenter from the Frisco railroad in Kansas City, and next to a claw hammer and clinking nails, Grandpa was devoted to the swinging bat and the curv ed fast ball. "Let me tell ya somethin'," Gramps would say in his Ozark drawl, rattling his ill-fitting dentures (which he would remove during a baseball game --"Less distractions," he'd profess). "Knowin' all 'bout baseball is just as 'portant to me as bein' a dandy whittler o' wood.
So, when Grandpa Ellis spent his summers in cincinnati, his granddaughter became thoroughly versed to every possible scoop about baseball.
On Wednesday afternoons, we'd stroll down to the corner drugstore for two very good reasons. One, Nelson's Sundries made the largest double-dip ice cream cones for miles around, and two, Mr. Nelson, the bespectacled and balheded proprietor, was prompt in displaying the latest of the Sporting News . . . the bible for loyal baseball fans.
By suppertime, Grandpa rattle off (even in my sleep) the heights, weights, and batting averages of the top major leaguers. I even prided myself on knowing the players' favorite foods and the names of their wives and children.
Yet, although Grandpa said I knew more about baseball than our hometown sports editor, Williard (the Ace) Johnson, and even though I could powder the baseball over Mrs. Hipkin's stockade fence, I was not really a genuine tomboy.
During the "off-season," I was a normanl young freckle-faced girl who wore party dresses and patent leather Mary Janes, had crushes on Boys, and sold Girl Scout cookies door to door. But, with the arrival of spring's first daffodils, I did an about-face.
My cravings for peanut butter sandwhiches and alphabet soup gave way to ballpark hot dogs with spicy mustard, and bags of salted shell peanuts. All I needed to make my transition official was to hear Red Leg announcer and raconteur, Waite Hoyt, below, "Let's play ball!"
I don't know how many games Grandpa and I attended from the mid-50s to the early '60s but it was always divine sitting lemonade and marking the score cards for Ted Kluszewski, hank Aaron, willie Mays, ernie Banks, and Stan Musial. And even when we didn't go to the games, Gramps and I would sit on the front porch, with our ears to the radio, and our hands turning the wooden crank on the homemade ice cream maker.
It was our last basebal game together that Grandpa met the thrill of his baseball fan days. He caught a foul ball off of Maury Wills's powerful bat. "Why ain't this a dandy!" grandfather exclaimed as he kept twirling the hard ball between his fingers throughout the rest of the game.
gramps used his carpentry skills and made a fancy pine plaque that displayed the ball, kept it perched on top of his television set on East Kearney Street, where it re maiball's next opening day.
Shortly after grandfather's death, Crosley Field was demolished and replace by a much larger ballpark, Riverfront Stadium. The Red Legs, in time, became unknown simply as the reds.
That much-handled baseball of Grandpa's now sits proudly on top management rolltop desk in our NEw England just a glimpse of it and 2 am able to vpaper vividly my extra special baseball days with my extra special baseball days with Grandpa "Champ" ellis . I can still feel his large callused hands gripping mine as we made our way for general admission seats in exhilarating Crosley Field.
"And Gus Bell steps into the batter's box. Drysdale winds, he pitces . . . swing and a miss. strike 1. Yes, folks, it's a good day for baseball. . . ."