By Frank J. Dinan
For me, summer begins this week, and its arrival is announced not by the calendar, but by the crack of a bat, by the sound of a ball hitting a glove, by an an umpire’s cry of “strike”, “ball”, or “yer out”. What the calendar says is irrelevant, when baseball season begins, summer begins for me.
A very long time ago, as a kid, I remember starting to play ball when the snow banks were still around and the ground rules had to limit how far a base runner could go while a frozen handed fielder frantically dug into a snow bank to retrieve the icy ball.
Way back then, when Offermann Stadium was the Buffalo Bison home field, I couldn’t wait to go there for Opening Day. In those pre-television days, minor league baseball was a much bigger deal than it is today. The players were larger than life heroes to me, and, unlike today, they were generally around for an entire season. I couldn’t believe how beautifully Offermann field’s grounds were kept. The outfield’s green grass and the smoothly groomed infield contrasted sharply with the with the rock strewn weedy, field that we played on as kids. Fielding a grounder on our infield was an act of courage since the ball was as likely to bounce off of a rock and hit the fielder’s nose as it was to bounce cleanly into his glove. Our playing field was dubbed “the cinder lot” and that aptly described it’s surface.
My first exposure to Major League baseball came when my Grandmother gave me several books of S&H Green Stamps that I was able to use to join a train excursion from Buffalo to Cleveland to see the Indians play the Yankees. That was when Joe DiMaggio was still playing, and, my idol, Phil Rizzuto was the Yankee’s shortstop. I was convinced then that he was just holding down the position for me until I could take over for him. That trip made me a life-long Yankee fan.
Amazingly, I remember that riding on the train taught me lessons in physics that I still remember today. While I was sitting in my window seat looking out the window and waiting for the train to start, , the train on the next track began to move, and I realized that I couldn’t tell which train was moving, mine or the one next to me. That was my introduction to relativity, and it was powerful lesson. I also remember that I wanted to see what would happen If I jumped into the air while the train was moving: would it move out from under me or would I stay with it? To answer this I positioned my self in the aisle at the center of the speeding car (so that if it moved out from under me I wouldn’t slam into the wall the end of the car) and made my leap. I was surprised when I landed in the same spot in the car at which I began my jump. More relativity, and that took me a while to understand.
That trip was monumental in many ways. It permanently cemented a love for baseball into my life, and, although I didn’t realize it at the time, it may have been the beginning of one of my other life-long obsessions: science.
I will never forget seeing my first major league stadium, its beauty and its vastness. I can’t remember which team won the games, but I have never forgotten the trip. For that, I thank you again Grandma, wherever you are.
Frank Dinan is grateful for his grandmother's gift.