Baseball memories with dad on Father's Day
Cleveland Indians President, Mark Shapiro often talks about his love for the game of baseball and how it all stems from his relationship with his dad. He could have been talking about me and my dad.
As we celebrate Father’s Day, I wanted to share the story of how my dad, Sam Sebastian, and I shared a love for the game of baseball.
My two younger brothers and I learned great life lessons from our dad: a strong work ethic; the importance of honesty and integrity; and how a game played with a white stitched ball, a wooden bat, a leather glove, on a diamond-shaped field could provide a lifetime of family memories.
Taking us out to the ball game
Dad took me to my first Cleveland Indians game in 1959. The Indians immediately became my favorite team and will always be.
For my brothers and me, it was always a treat to attend a Cleveland Indians game. From our home in Struthers, Ohio, it was a ninety minute ride to Municipal stadium, but our anticipation was so great, that it seemed like the trip took four hours.
Whenever dad drove the old Chevy up to Cleveland for a ballgame, we always tried to arrive early so we could watch batting practice. Dad usually parked in one of the surface lots that was far enough away from the stadium gates that we walked what seemed like miles through the downtown streets. It was wonderful to see the skyscrapers, the street vendors, and the high energy that the downtown area exhibited. You see, for us, Cleveland was the Big City.
Occasionally, my dad brought along a guest. His dad, my grandpa, Pasquale, would join us on Sundays, when the Indians played a doubleheader. Invariably, grandpa would direct us to Little Italy for a spaghetti dinner prior to the ballgame. We would eventually arrive at the stadium by the fourth inning of the first game, so we still got to see plenty of baseball. And grandpa had spaghetti sauce on his shirt, a sure sign that it was indeed, a Sunday.
The Old Stadium
At the end of that long walk, with heightened excitement, we spotted the giant Chief Wahoo sign that majestically rose above the stadium roof at Gate D. That sign, that moment signaled that we had arrived, the game would soon begin, and all was good.
Back in those days, fans actually dressed up to attend ballgames. We were no exception, as my brothers and I had to wear dress shirts and itchy, uncomfortable wool trousers that were custom-tailored by our mom, who was a talented seamstress.
Dad bought an 8mm movie camera primarily to film our backyard baseball exploits, but he also brought it to Indians games.
One game his film subject was Rocky Colavito. Dad filmed Rocky’s powerful swing, his walk up to home plate, and even his famous “Colavito stretch”, where Rocky held the bat at both ends, lifted it over his head, then behind his neck to the back of his shoulders. For years afterward, I mimicked that Colavito stretch prior to every at bat.
Dad had the movie camera running during every Colavito plate appearance. We were especially excited when Rocky hammered a home run into the upper deck in left field and looked forward to seeing the “replay” over and over. Two weeks later after the film was developed, we watch Colavito strikeout twice, but instead of seeing him launch that home run into orbit, all we saw was a black screen. It was either operator error, or bad film. In any case, it provided laughs every time the story was told.
Another game, when we sat down the first base line and watched the players throwing on the sidelines before the game, dad filmed Indians pitcher Wynn Hawkins. This pitching sequence came out in slow motion. Not sure whether dad intentionally used the slow-motion mode, or hit the wrong button. Regardless, this film served as a tutorial on the pitching motion. Wynn Hawkins, a lanky right-hander, used a full windup, initiated by raising both arms above his head, hand with ball in glove, then a high leg kick, and finally a classic finish with his pitching hand nearly touching the dirt on the follow through.
Dad put down the movie camera when Sam McDowell was on the mound. McDowell threw so hard that from the seats behind the third base dugout, a McDowell fastball looked like a stream of white. It was nearly impossible to pick up his fastball in flight. I could not imagine standing in the batter’s box to face Sudden Sam.
It seemed that all the grown men smoked cigars at ballgames. To this day, when I catch a whiff of cigar smoke outdoors, it brings me right back to those times siting in those rickety wooden seats in Municipal Stadium.
Back then, few games were televised. So we listened to ballgames on the radio, sitting on the front porch in the evening, waiting for the house to cool off before going to bed. One really had to concentrate on the radio broadcast, and I loved the way the radio announcer painted vivid pictures of the action on the field along with the banter during breaks in the action as they were talking baseball. Today, even with HDTV and instant replay, I still enjoy listening to the radio broadcast of a Tribe game on a summer night.
When your dad is a Yankee fan
When Dad returned from Europe after serving our country in World War II, he spent some time in New York City. While there, he attended several Major League Baseball games. He quickly noticed that Yankee players sported last names like DiMaggio, Crosetti, Rizzuto, Berra, and like dad, they were proud Italian-Americans. The Yankees immediately became his favorite team and would remain that way for his entire life.
So whenever the Yankees were in Cleveland that was when we ventured to Municipal Stadium. Invariably, the Yankees would win, and I would sulk on the ride home, while noticing dad wearing a slight smirk on his face.
I did get to see some great Yankee ballplayers, many of whom could be recognized by their first name – Mickey, Yogi, Whitey, Moose, Elston, Clete, and Roger.
“Roger” was Roger Maris, who hit 61 home runs in 1961, which at the time broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record. While I hated the Yankees, I loved watching Roger Maris. I always wore his number 9 on my baseball uniforms. I folded up my uniform sleeves to mimic the very short sleeves that Roger wore to remind a pitcher of his powerful arms. I copied his stance, and made attempts to duplicate his sweet left-handed swing, a compact, yet powerful stroke that always accelerated through the ball.
For several years it seemed that the Indians were essentially a Yankee farm club. Cleveland traded some good players to the Yankees, like Chris Chambliss, Craig Nettles, and Dick Tidrow. And those traded players would invariably become All-Stars while wearing the pinstripes. During those All-Star games, Dad would quip something like:
“Hey DJ. Tell the Indians thanks for sending [FILL IN PLAYER NAME HERE] to the Yanks.”
Of course, Roger Maris was a Cleveland Indian for a short time before being traded and then later achieving stardom with the Yankees. When I found this out, I would dream about how great an Indians outfield would have been with Rocky Colavito, Tito Francona, and the home run king, Roger Maris.
As a hard-working, middle-class steel worker, Dad thought it was insane that major league players were paid exorbitant salaries to play a game that we played all day, every day during the summer… for free. Especially when the high-salaried player appeared spoiled rotten, exhibited no team loyalty, and didn’t play with a complete respect for the game.
Every time I watch the Yankees playing the Tribe, I can almost hear dad saying :
“Hey DJ. Tell the Indians ‘Thanks for sending Sabathia to the Yanks’ ”.
I can now look up to the heavens and say:
“Hey Dad. Tell the Yankees ‘Thanks for sending Zach McAllister to the Indians’ ”.
The Next Generation
The magic of baseball is in how it links generations within a family. So it was my fatherly duty to pass on my love of the game to my two daughters. My girls and I shared the good fortune of following some really outstanding Tribe teams. Right before our eyes, we witnessed together the opening of a new state-of-the-art ballpark, and more importantly, the transformation of a perennial cellar-dwelling team into one of the best teams in baseball… even better than those dastardly Yanks.
I hope that in years to come, my girls will have fond memories of the days they walked through the gates at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario with their mom and dad, wearing their Chief Wahoo hats, and cheering on the likes of Kenny, Carlos, Omar, Jimmy, Sandy, Grady and the others from those amazing Cleveland Indians teams.
Happy Father's Day!
Great article. Thanks for the memories. We must be about the same age, because I remember going to my first KC A's game in 1959. I have only been to one game in Cleveland. It was in September of 1975. I was in Cleveland to attend a welding design seminar at Lincoln Electric. Several of us went to a game one night. The Indians (Boog Powell, Duane Kuiper, Frank Duffy, Buddy Bell, etc.) were dressed in those all red, double knit, polyester uniforms. They looked awesome. The attendance was about 7,000. The stadium was huge. One guy beat the drum all night. The Indians won. I still have the program (it is probably worth a lot money).
It was An outstanding season cut short. I always hated the short, best-of-five division series. Should play best of seven, like the rest of the playoffs.