Sports have changed over the 60-plus years that I have played, coached, watched, listened to, read about and wrote about various sporting events. It has been my pleasure to see and even participate in some memorable ones. There are some moments that stand out that are rated as important by the experts, others that had only a fleeting importance and that to only a handful of people.
At the top of the list of important remembrances was the 2001 World Series won by the Arizona Diamondbacks over the New York Yankees. Words aren’t adequate to describe the feeling of being there, on the field after the Diamondbacks scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to win the championship.
It was a moment shared by good friends who worked with the Diamondbacks and had good reason to celebrate. Some are gone now. The great Joe Black, 1953 Rookie of the Year and one of the best baseball people ever, Jerome Blanton, reporter for The Arizona Informant and a great friend.
Some are still working with the Diamondbacks and still great friends: Susan Webner, David Pope and former Phoenix Suns center Alvin Adams. Two are former students: Tom Harris, Vice President of Finance with the team, and Marcia Graff (that’s her maiden name). It was a time for hugs and laughter and celebration that would leave an indelible memory.
The players were out of this world with their joy. Some really stand out in my memory, mostly because they were the ones with whom I had some relationship with from locker room conversations. Curt Schilling was a graduate of Shadow Mountain High School and always called me “coach.” He probably thought I was my brother, who had been his coach there.
Tony Womack is a real Christian gentleman and one of the game’s real nice guys. Robert Ellis was a journey man pitcher who played a key role early in the season. Miguel Batista is a writer and poet who really heard a different drummer.
That is the most exciting and most meaningful event, but it was just one event in a lifetime of sports memories. My days as a Darmstadt Comet while in the USAF in Germany provided some exciting memories. So did my years as a Casa Grande Cougar in the early ‘50s.
Some of those memorable experiences are no longer possible and almost impossible to believe ever really happened. I spent my teenage summers playing American Legion baseball in Casa Grande, but also played for a semi-pro team that competed in some very unlikely venues.
The manager and mound ace of that team made his living contracting for cotton pickers in the Casa Grande valley. He claimed to have pitched a year in the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox at the end of World War II. He was old enough to have done so, which meant that he also had to be beyond normal military age during the war. More important, he had a variety of pitches that would probably have been enough to get him there at a time when the talent pool was severely diluted.
We played virtually all of our games on the road at places like Geronimo, Casa Blanca, Sacaton, Black Water, Randolph and Queen Creek. Many of these places had a backstop and smoothed over flat desert fields near a church, a store or a school.
There might be irrigation ditches that came into play (Casa Blanca) or railroad tracks (Randolph) or rattle snakes (too many places).
Fans and opposing players might arrive in wagons, on foot or on horse back. It was a far different era than what was experienced at Bank One Ballpark some 50 years later. I cherish both memories and count myself lucky to have been in both places.