Today, March 29, 2018, major league baseball opens its season. For the first time since 1968, all teams will open on the same day.*
A hundred years ago tomorrow, March 30, 1918, Grandpa attended the first of two MLB exhibition games at Camp Funston. The St. Louis Cardinals met the 89th Division’s team.
March 30, 1918
There is a big ball game this afternoon and tomorrow afternoon. The 89th Division team plays the St. Louis Cardinals. I want to go, wish you were here to go with me.
March 31, 1918
We have to go on guard at 4:30 this afternoon. I wanted to go to the ball game but I guess I will have to call it off. The game was real good yesterday, won by the 89th but I look for the Cardinals to take the game today.
He was right. The 89th Division took the first game, beating St. Louis, 9-8, in ten innings. The Cards won the second game, 13-10.
I love baseball and I love the picture of MLB teams playing at army camps during World War 1. Why did the MLB get involved in the war effort? Well, that story will unfold in upcoming posts. First, I want to share why I was so thrilled to find these mentions of baseball in my grandfather’s letters.
Grandpa showed me how to love baseball. I can see him in his living room in Effingham, Kansas. He’d sit near the south window and turn on the big wooden radio, which stood on a nearby end table. Once the radio clicked on, the announcer of the Kansas City Athletics began calling the game. That’s when Grandpa reminded me of the house rule: don’t say a word. If I wanted to listen to the game with him, I had to sit quietly and listen. And so I sat on the floor and did just that. Well, what I really did was look at him and study the interest on his face as he transformed the words of the announcer into a picture of the game. The crack of the bat sent his mind’s eye traveling with the gaze of the cheering fans, as they followed the ball over a distant fence. I fell in love with baseball at my grandfather’s knee.
Loving baseball comes with a price. It comes bundled up with hopes and disappointments. A big one came for my grandfather in October of 1967. That’s when Charlie Finley, who owned the K.C. Athletics, received permission to move the team to Oakland, California. The move broke my grandfather’s heart. Literally. Grandpa died a month later of heart disease. I was 15 when he died, too young to understand what had happened. But I’ve long believed that Charlie Finley’s decision to move the A’s killed my grandfather. I know there’s no reason to believe my own account of his death. But today, on opening day, on a day to remember all things baseball, I’m sticking to my story.
And those Oakland A’s, that team torn away from Kansas City? There’s a rule in my house: no watching, no talking about, no cheering on that team. Out of respect to my grandfather. Out of respect to the game he loved.
*For more on the two times MLB teams have all opened on same day: https://www.mlb.com/news/opening-day-2018-shares-distinction-with-1968/c-269707548