Tasting Life Twice

Archive for the category “Sports”

Southern Choice Music Video

The official video for “Southern Choice (Missouri Football Song) by Las Vegas recording artist, Adam Tucker. A special thanks to Chimaeric for providing the excellent video footage and The Blue Note in Columbia, Missouri. (Released 10/17/2013)

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The ‘Mad Dash Home’ of a Childhood Dream: a St. Louis Cardinals Story

In 1951, a twelve-year-old boy from a small town in north central Kansas wrote a letter to Enos Slaughter asking the Cardinal great for some advice on playing the game of baseball and also asking Mr. Slaughter if he had some suggestions on becoming a Cardinal bat boy. Slaughter took the time to send the young boy a hand-written letter, signing it “your friend.” In the letter, which was published on the front page of the Belleville Telescope (Belleville, Kansas), January 24, 1952, Slaughter offered advice on how to play the great American game and also expressed his wish that he could help his new pen pal become a bat boy for the Cardinals.

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That boy was my father. In the letter, Slaughter tells my dad, Eddie Tamerius, to “play ball, hard and honest” and “don’t swing at balls, too far over your head.” He also says, “Don’t be afraid to take that 1,000 to one chance for a base! The other fellow with the ball may hesitate just long enough, wondering what you’re going to do!” In 1951, that advice from Slaughter – to take a chance for the extra base – would have conjured up the cherished memory of Slaughter’s late game heroics only five years earlier in a play still recognized as one of the top ones in World Series history. In the eighth inning of the seventh game of the 1946 World Series against the Boston Red Sox, with the score tied at 3-3, “Country” Slaughter (as he was nicknamed) took off on a called hit-and-run with two outs. Slaughter scored from first base on a double to left-center, as Boston shortstop Johnny Pesky hesitated in throwing the relay to the catcher. In what is remembered as the “Mad Dash Home”, Slaughter scored the decisive run as the Cardinals claimed their sixth league title.

My father grew up on the great plains of Kansas in a family that, in and of itself, resembled a baseball team. There were nine children (one girl and eight boys) in the lineup and Dad was at the bottom of the birth order as the light-hitting rookie on the team. His father worked the Rock Island Railroad line and was a devoted Chicago Cubs fan. Dad’s loyalties, however, were clearly with the Cubs’ bitter rival, the St. Louis Cardinals. While Grandpa was away on the railroad, somewhere between Belleville and Topeka, Kansas, Dad would sit in the dining room listening through a Motorola tabletop radio as Harry Caray gave the play-by-play of the Cardinals games. The station signal came out of St. Joseph, Missouri and was strong enough for day games but would weaken considerably at night. Dad would listen through the AM static and on a piece of notebook paper, he would make a scorecard of the action he was hearing on the radio broadcast. (The family wouldn’t get their first television until 1953.)

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A few months ago, while preparing for my Uncle Dean’s funeral, I was searching the internet for obituaries. My objective was rather simple. I was trying to figure out the birth order of dad’s siblings. Nine children in one family is a lot to keep organized in your head. As I tried to sort through the “players” in the family lineup, my mental cogitations started to sound like an old Abbott & Costello routine. Let’s see. Who was first? Uncle Ernie? Or wait, was it Aunt Mildred? Ok, well if Aunt Mildred was on first, who was on second? And what’s on third?

While trying to answer these riddles I discovered that a lot of historic, small town newspapers have been archived in recent years and they can now be accessed online. In the course of my online browsing for obituaries, I came across a front page article about my dad’s correspondence with baseball Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter. The headline said “Want It Hard, You’ll Get It, Local Youth Told.” I was shocked. Dad had never told us about the letter. We had been following the Cardinals for a lifetime. While growing up in Hannibal, Missouri, my father had taken the three of us boys to numerous games at Busch Stadium. We had heard countless other baseball stories as Dad shared his remembrances of Al Kaline’s defensive prowess in the Detroit Tigers outfield and his cannon of an arm, of Bob Gibson’s intimidating demeanor on the mound, of Curt Flood’s career with the Cardinals and legacy in baseball and of watching the New York Yankees while stationed at Staten Island with the United States Coast Guard.

But this one was new: a hand-written letter from a Hall of Fame player for for the St. Louis Cardinals! A lot of questions came to mind. Did Dad still have the letter among his personal keepsakes? Given that it was so long ago, did Dad even remember writing the letter? How exactly did Dad become a Cardinals fan, given that his dad was a Chicago Cubs fan? What led him to write Slaughter in the first place? And how did the story originally come to the attention of the Belleville Telescope back in 1952?

As curious as I was to ask Dad these questions, I also started to think about another set of questions. What if Dad’s childhood wish finally came true? What if he could be an honorary batboy with the Cardinals for one day? While not as cat-quick as he once was when he was a spry, energetic twelve-year-old boy playing junior league baseball in a small town on Highway 36, perhaps Dad could symbolically fulfill his childhood wish in some small way. For now, I’d leave some of the original questions unanswered to see if the Cardinals would help us make a memory.

http://retrosimba.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/charlie_james.jpg?w=500I first enlisted the help of Charlie James, a former Cardinals player who roamed the outfield for the Redbirds from 1959 – 1964 and played on the World Series championship team of 1964. Charlie is a board member at William Woods University (Fulton, Missouri) where I work and is as gracious a guy as you’ll ever meet. Whenever I have opportunity, I like to ask Charlie about the past. Charlie has a locker room full of stories from his playing days with the Missouri Tigers and later, with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was a teammate of Stan Musial and batted against Sandy Koufax (hitting two home runs off of the great Dodger lefty, including a grand slam in 1962). Charlie shared the outfield with Curt Flood before getting traded to the Cincinnati Reds to make room for some guy named Lou Brock.

Charlie made an outfield assist by directing me to Martin Coco, the Director of Ticket Sales and Marketing for the St. Louis Cardinals. Martin read the original article with interest and appreciation and agreed it was a great story. He then offered to help us connect some of the dots in Dad’s lifetime of following the Cardinals by surprising our father with a memorable evening.

On Monday, August 5, twenty-four of us went to Busch Stadium to watch the Cardinals face the Dodgers. Dad thought it was just another Cardinals game, like so many others we have enjoyed before. Six of us left the family picnic at the Gateway Arch, under the pretense of needing to get a few more tickets at the stadium. Dad accompanied the group, ready to open his wallet for any extra tickets we might need. We walked around the stadium until we arrived at the VIP/Press entrance.

Dad wondered why we going in this particular door, after having passed numerous ticket windows along the way. To Dad’s question about what we were up to, Troy only said, “Dad, you haven’t seen anything yet.” Upon the hospitable welcome by Martin, we finally shared the news with Dad. He’d have to change his shirt. We had a different one for him to wear, an authentic 1946 Enos Slaughter replica home jersey made by Mitchell and Ness as part of their Cooperstown Collection. Dad put on the No.9 jersey that Slaughter made famous so many years ago.

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Then we showed him a framed copy of the front page of the Belleville Telescope from January 24, 1952.

“Where in the world did you get this?” he asked.

“Dad, do you remember writing Enos Slaughter 62 years ago?”

Dad replied, “I certainly do. I had told my dad that I wanted to be a bat boy for the Cardinals and he encouraged me to write them. I don’t know if he thought they’d actually write me back. But they did.”

“Do you still have the letter?” we asked.

“I wish I could say that I did but Mom and Dad had a flood in the basement when I was away from home and we lost most of my personal keepsakes.”

“Well, I told Martin that you were still pretty nimble and quick and that you could probably shag some fly balls still. But we have some other things planned tonight.”

Then, Martin did his maestro magic and kindly rolled out the Red(bird) carpet for our group. He took us on the field where we watched the Cardinals and Dodgers take batting practice. We saw Mark McGwire’s return to Busch Stadium as the new batting instructor for the Dodgers. We also saw the Busch Stadium debut of Dodger rookie sensation Yasiel Puig who put on a power show in batting practice.

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The highlight, however, was Dad’s opportunity to meet Cardinal legend Red Schoendienst. A young 90 years of age, Red played for the Cardinals alongside of Slaughter. Red still comes to most of the home games, donning his own Cardinal uniform, with the striped socks pulled up high just as they were in his former playing days. No. 2 came over and visited with our group. We shared with him the story of Dad’s childhood dream 62 years ago.

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Dad mentioned how he grew up as a big fan of “Stan the Man, Enos Slaughter and Red”. Red shared with us some stories of playing with Enos Slaughter. “He was a great teammate and always played hard. He never took a play off.”

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I asked Red if the 100 percent wool authentic jersey that dad was wearing was authentic. He reached over to touch dad’s jersey, rubbed it between his fingers and said, “We did wear wool. But our jerseys were even heavier than that.” image

“We read this morning that your signing bonus back in 1942 was a ham sandwich and a glass of milk. That was a great story.”

“Well, yes, it’s a little bit different today”, Red told us.

“I guess the good news, though, is that the signing bonus of milk and ham probably explains why you are in still in such good shape today.”

“Well, I don’t know about that.” Red said while chuckling.

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After our conversation was over, we made a visit to the broadcast booth where Dad met longtime broadcaster Mike Shannon just before the start of the game. Both of them had graduated from high school in 1957. And both had gone on to the University of Missouri in Columbia. After talking a bit about Shannon’s playing days with the Tigers under legendary coach Frank Broyles, we left the radio booth for our seats, but not before Dad had a chance to study the day’s lineups in the KMOX booth.

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When the game finally started, dad did what he’s done for so many years now. In pencil, he marked the boxes of the scorecard in the endangered language of passionate baseball enthusiasts: K, BB, 1B, E4, HBP.

On this night, the Dodgers got the best of the Cardinals, winning the game 3-2 and extending their winning streak on the road to fifteen games. As nice as it would have been to drive back home to Columbia and Hannibal and Lexington` with a Redbird victory, this particular night was about something else. Our family was together and we were relishing a story sixty-two years in the making. On an unseasonably pleasant evening, we were in a sea of summer red among the best fans in baseball, celebrating the dreams of childhood, the glory of America’s national pastime and the proud tradition of the St. Louis Cardinals.

In 1951, Enos Slaughter concluded his letter to my dad with a bit of advice: “no matter what you want in life, want it HARD and you’ll get it!” If Mr. Slaughter were still around, he’d be pleased to know that our dad has followed his advice. Since that letter, Dad has played out his years with honesty and hard work and a lot of smart decisions on the base path of life. “Country” Slaughter would be proud of Dad’s “mad dash home”.

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Mizzou at the Zou 2012 Season

The season in review: pictures from Mizzou’s home games against Alabama, Kentucky and Syracuse. 

Mizzou Homecoming Game

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Southern Choice Song

Missouri Tigers Football Schedule

Is it too early to marinade the meat and stock up the cooler?  This morning the SEC gave us our first coordinates for planning our fall football road trip.

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Sept. 8: GEORGIA
Sept. 22: at South Carolina
Oct. 6: VANDERBILT
Oct. 13: ALABAMA
Oct. 27: KENTUCKY
Nov. 3: at Florida
Nov. 10: at Tennessee
Nov. 24: at Texas A&M

Memories of a Son and our National Pastime

JET Baseball

Jonathan would have been fourteen today.

The start of baseball season and the discussion of Albert Pujols’ future with the Cardinals, got me thinking about my son’s first trip to a professional baseball game. I had four tickets four rows behind home plate for a Sunday night nationally televised contest between our beloved St. Louis Cardinals and the powerhouse Atlanta Braves.  My father, brother, niece and I were seated in the “big dog” seats at the old Busch Stadium and Jonathan was watching the game from my lap.  In the green seats, you get pampered with goodies. Instead of going to the concession stands, the ushers come to you.  You fill out a menu request and they serve you food and drinks until you’re ready to explode like a home run fireworks display.

When I was given these tickets, they came with very specific instructions from the generous donors: “don’t be like those people that are on their phone the whole game, because you’ll be on television every single pitch.”  I happily accepted the terms with special permission to make one or two phone calls during the game.

I called Jonathan’s grandfather and told him to find the game on ESPN.  I had Jonathan take his shirt off.  I said, “Jonathan, look out there at the pitcher and flex your muscles for papa.”  Little Hercules complied and did his part with astonishing aplomb.  And I heard his papa’s loud voice on the other end of the phone: “Oh, looky there! There’s my grandson!  Slim, come in here and look at your grandson on t.v.!”  image

Jonathan’s first professional baseball game was one to remember.  Rafael Furcal completed an unassisted triple play against the Cardinals, an unusual feat in the history of baseball. And one future Hall of Famer, a young Albert Pujols, hit an 8th innning home run off of another future Hall of Famer, the veteran John Smoltz.  That key hit extended Albert’s hitting streak and produced the go-ahead run.  The Cardinals won the game 3-2.

The Greatest Game I Ever Saw – Steroids or Not

Yesterday, Mark McGwire finally came clean and confessed to using steroids during the 90s.  The return of McGwire to the news, after years of being out of the spotlight, has reminded me of the greatest game I ever saw.

In the summer of 1998, I was fortunate enough to watch McGwire hit home run #62, the line-drive shot that broke Roger Maris’ previous record for home runs in a season.  As Tom Verducci wrote for Sports Illustrated that summer:

The home run is America—appealing to its roots of rugged individualism and its fascination with grand scale. Americans gape at McGwire’s blasts the same way they do at Mount Rushmore, Hoover Dam and the Empire State Building. "We have," Cubs manager Jim Riggelman said before Tuesday’s game, "a fascination with power."

That summer was magical.  McGwire was on a torrid pace to break one of sports’ most coveted records and one of the longest standing ones.  In the second half of the baseball season, we spent every summer night rushing to the television when McGwire came up to bat.  If we were barbequing, we went inside.  If out to dinner, we joined the rest of the patrons to catch what was going on.  Regular scheduled programs were interrupted for a live look-in on the individual at-bats of McGwire and Sammy Sosa.image

Tickets became increasingly harder to come by as fans were flocking to the stadium in the hopes of catching a piece of history. 

My wife at the time, Kris, knew how much I wanted to see a game at Busch Stadium and one day she called me and said, “Hey, I want to do something for your birthday.  Can you be free Sunday night or Tuesday night?” 

I told her I wouldn’t likely be free on Sunday evening and then she said, “Well, I might as well just tell you, I’m here at Schnucks and I’m trying to get two tickets for us to see a Cardinals game.”

“Kris, that would be awesome but I’m pretty sure they’re all sold out.”

“Well, the lady here says she can get us two seats but the only catch is that she doesn’t have two seats side-by-side.  She has individual seats but the seats are one row in front of the other.”

Through the phone, I could hear the Schnucks’ customer service representative say, “Now honey, I can’t promise you these tickets will be here in the next few minutes.  They’re going fast.”

I told Kris, “By all means, grab them.”  And so she did.  We had tickets for a game the following week, on Tuesday, September 8, 1998 against the Chicago Cubs.  Friends of ours had tickets the day before, a game in which Big Mac hit the record-tying home run in the first inning.  I nervously watched the rest of the game hoping that he wouldn’t hit it number 62.  Fortunately, he only got one that afternoon.

The following day Kris and I made our way to St. Louis.  When we were on the Metro Rail, the conductor said, “Mark my word, folks, today Big Mac will hit #62”.  The atmosphere outside the stadium was electric.  We found out that tickets were selling for $400.  Kris was tempted to sell hers and I told her if she did, I’d meet her after the game! 

We got to our seats and we were near the left-field foul pole.  There were nine-seats in our rows, and Kris and I had the middle seat in both.  The guy next to me said, “Now, I don’t normally do this but if Big Mac breaks the record tonight don’t be surprised if I give you a hug.  We’re all family tonight.”

There was a buzz in the air when the game started.  The Cardinals were playing their hated rivals, the Cubbies from Chicago, with people all over the world watching the game. Roger Maris’ family was at the game, seated near the Cardinals dugout.  Flash bulbs were going off every time McGwire came up to bat. 

In the bottom of the 4th inning, McGwire turned on a first-pitch fastball from Steve Traschel and sent it just over the left field wall, right below where we were seated.  The record home run was his shortest shot of the year, traveling 341 feet.  Pandemonium ensued.  While McGwire circled the bases, people were jumping up and down.  Strangers hugged and high-fived each other.  They stopped play for around ten minutes or so and I ran out to the concourse to snatch up a few souvenirs from the vendors.  Baseballs marked, “I Was There” were selling for $20.   After the game, Commissioner Bud Selig was on hand to honor the historic achievement.  When we left the stadium, commemorative editions of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch were already for sale. (That night also happened to be the first major league game of J.D. Drew, who now plays for the Boston Red Sox.  He came into left field and had his first two at-bats that evening.) We stayed in St. Louis late into the night to take in the celebration before eventually returning to Columbia.

I couldn’t imagine a better birthday present for a sports fan, especially one who had cheered for the Cardinals since childhood.  I told Kris it would be equivalent to getting her much coveted tickets to see Mikhail Baryshnikov perform live in some fantastic venue. 

It was an unforgettable night in the history of sports.

Nebraska at Missouri

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Caleb, Lance, Noah and I watched the Missouri game last night.  Despite the outcome, it was great fun.  It was reminiscent of the last year’s game against Kansas at Arrowhead.  We lost that riveting game while snow flurries were coming down; this one took place in a hard, driving rain.  Decked out in our ponchos, we stood up all four quarters.  Because of a power outage, the game was ‘old school.’ The new scoreboard remained off and they didn’t have a public announcer talking between plays.  There wasn’t the constant barrage of pre-recorded music and advertisements.  Sara Evans sang the National Anthem but because the stadium speakers were off you couldn’t really hear the song.

The evening started promising enough.  I cooked some chili in the morning and came home from work with the smell of dinner in the crock pot.  We then watched the first half of the Cardinals and Dodgers playoff game before heading out to the Missouri game.  Halfway through the first quarter I received a text message that said:

Cardinals lost 3-2.  Holliday dropped the third out.  Hit him right in the nuts.  He looked like Duncan out there.  Can’t believe it.

Then the Tigers had a second half collapse and the Huskers scored four touchdowns in the final quarter to win the game 27-12.  It was a rough day for Missouri sports fans. 

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