In the beginning, there was a story my mother told me time and again about her having babysat the kids of the minor league manager of Nellie Fox when she lived in Jamestown, New York, in her younger days. Nellie, of course, would have been just starting out then, and it’s that connection that stands as the spark of our interest in the White Sox, the team with which Nellie made his mark. I first remember hearing about Nellie along about 1956 when I was six and the game of baseball was beginning to hold my interest more and more.
And some time in that time frame, my grandfather and uncle (Mom’s dad and brother) took my cousin, Dave, and me to our very first big league game at Comiskey Park. In those days, most of our “long distant” trips were by the Erie Railroad, primarily because both my grandfather and father worked for the Erie. Thus, passes were free for family members, and the train ran from our town in Indiana to Dearborn Station in Chicago. I recall eating at a downtown restaurant named Toffenetti’s, and then we took the subway/elevated train out to Comiskey Park for the night game.
I don’t remember much about the game itself, but I can tell you to this day, fifty-some years later, that we sat in the upper deck behind first base, and that my cousin and I seemed to be more intrigued with throwing peanut shells on the floor and generally goofing off instead of paying too much attention to the action on the field. I remember it was a warm summer’s night, and the place was packed. I don’t think I’d ever been in that big of a crowd before. I remember the crowd noise: Cheering loudly when something good happened; moaning when things weren’t going so well. The aroma of ballpark hot dogs (nothing better!) and spilled beer and popcorn is forever etched in my memory of that first time at the ballpark.
Down on the field, the grass was greener than green under the massive lights up on the roof of Comiskey, and the perfectly manicured dirt part of the infield was impressive to a young kid. Way out in centerfield, the giant scoreboard, with the Bowman Dairy sign smack in the center of it, was monstrous, with hundreds of lights and numbers and names all over it.
I can’t tell you who won that game (I think it was the Sox), but I can tell you that the Sox were playing the Tigers, and Billy Pierce was the Sox pitcher. After watching him pitch, I wanted to be a pitcher just like him! He was a lefty—like me—with a smooth motion and delivery, and I would forever after pretend that I was Billy Pierce. And as I found out years later, he was as nice a guy as he was a good pitcher. He and Nellie Fox were my heroes and favorite players, and I don’t think I could have done any better than that.
There was something special about being at Comiskey Park that night with my grandfather, uncle, and cousin. I don’t remember the train ride back home to Indiana after the game, but I knew from that experience that I wanted to go back again and again and again. Years later, I’d do just that and always remember that first night with special people I loved in a special place I grew to love, again and again and again…and not just for throwing peanut shells on the ground, either! See you at the ballpark!