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My Almost Unbelievable Story
As the baseball season swings into action, just the thought of all the excitement brings back so many of my fondest memories of Griffith Stadium. My almost unbelievable baseball story should commence by saying that as a kid, I was a baseball nut. I loved watching the Washington Senators play and every chance that I got to see them play at home, I would hop on the streetcar; make a transfer at Seventh and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, and head uptown from our small apartment in Southeast to Griffith Stadium.
Gayle Devers once said, “Remember all things are possible for those who believe.” As a kid, I believed and was able to turn my dream into the greatest job in the world! You see, I was the visiting teams’ batboy for the Washington Senators during the 1953 and 1954 seasons.
My almost unbelievable luck in becoming a batboy had its incubus while I was home alone one day in 1952 watching a game on television. It was game seven of the 1952 World Series between the Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. As I watched, I saw a Yankee batboy retrieve Mickey Mantle’s bat after he hit a home run in the sixth inning. I would like to be a batboy for the Washington Senators, I thought.
I knew that Clark C. Griffith owned the Senators, so I picked up the telephone book and began my search for Mr. Griffith. Sure enough, there it was as plain as day – Clark C. Griffith.
I dialed the number and none other than Mr. Griffith answered. I told him my name and said that I would like to become a batboy for the Washington Senators. Mr. Griffith, in a most polite voice, told me that he did not hire batboys, but that Mr. Fred Baxter did. He then gave me Mr. Baxter’s home telephone number.
I immediately called and spoke with Mr. Baxter, telling him that Mr. Griffith gave me his name and phone number, and went on to explain that I would like to become a batboy for the Senators. The events that took place after that phone conversation were enough to excite any baseball fan; imagine walking into an empty, yet amazingly beautiful Griffith Stadium in January 1953; passing row after row of pay telephones, isolated concession stands, and sniffing the aroma of fresh baking bread as I made my way to the Senators’ clubhouse. Well after one real bummer and heartbreak trip—along with a couple of positive interviews, my luck returned and I was hired as the visiting team’s batboy.
While at the stadium and after receiving word that the scheduled Opening Day ceremonies and game were cancelled due to rain, I left the visiting team clubhouse for home; however, I did not head directly to the gate and out of the stadium. I made an immediate detour to the left, up the steps into the stands, past the grandstand and box seats, and walked onto the ball field.
The infield was covered with tarps to protect it from the inclement weather. Nevertheless, the view of the entire stadium was spectacular! I marveled at the brilliant green grass in the outfield, the huge poles with lights for night baseball, the manually operated scoreboard in right center field, distances from home plate boldly inscribed on outfield walls, the grandstands, bleachers, premium box seats, the announcers’ radio and TV boxes, pitchers’ bull pen and, of course, two dugouts. There in left field, hovering high above the bleachers, was “Mr. Boh” (the National Bohemian Beer sign). Later I learned that it was fifty-six feet tall. It was destined to become a part of baseball history as photos with it in the background took their place in all sorts of record books.
I had seen all of these sights before. However, that day they projected for me a different feeling and meaning. As a batboy, I had grown much closer to the sport I loved and of which I very much wanted to be part.
Perhaps, my greatest thrill ever took place on Thursday, April 16, 1953, when I trotted onto the field wearing the uniform of the New York Yankees and in company of such greats as Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Hank Bauer, Billy Martin, Gene Woodling, Ed Lopat, Vic Raschi, and manager Casey Stengel. Yes, Opening Day had finally arrived and seated in the stands was President Eisenhower and a number of other dignitaries.
What a great and exciting day for me! As I polished the players’ spikes and dreamed about that day, I remember thinking nothing could top the thrill of my very first Opening Day as a batboy. Boy was I about to be proven wrong!