By Tom Hendricks
Published in The Burg March 18, 2021
I can’t recall the poem but the writer talked about his first visit to a major league stadium and how life seemed all gray before that day. It was summertime 1968, my dad Dusty took me to a Cubs/Pirates game at Wrigley Field. No thoughts of the Vietnam War or protests invade my memories, but I was only 5 years old. What does come to mind is brilliant blue skies, emerald green grass, and lots of people all seemingly ten feet tall. The colors were so vivid it was almost shocking. It was perfect. Looking back it was not about the game, or the stadium, or the colors, it was about a father and son sharing America’s pastime.
The program from that game somehow survived—simple graphics, ticket prices (box seats $3.50), concessions prices (two hotdogs, Frosty Malt, Budweiser, two hats and a pack of Wrigley’s gum would set you back about $4.00), and all the great names from both teams: Kessinger, Beckert, Williams, Santo, Banks for the Cubs, managed by Leo Durocher. Pirates included Wills, Alou, Clemente, and Mota. Ernie Banks hit a grand slam in the first inning though I honestly don’t recall that momentous feat. I was likely adjusting the strap on my new plastic
batting helmet ($2.00).
That summer started a tradition of visiting both Wrigley and Busch Stadium once each summer. I either had two friends with us, or dad and I would both bring a friend. We had ball gloves with us but never got close enough to snag a foul ball. Certain smells of the ballpark take me back to those days and, as an adult, I wish they still poured beer into those waxy paper cups. The aluminum bottles these days don’t cut it, especially at $8.75 each.
Beside those MLB trips, our family typically took one annual road trip somewhere across the US. While most of those memories were good ones, I can relate to Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold from “Vacation” and the nonstop misfires he experienced—we had a few of our own. All of our trips were driving adventures, we never flew anywhere. We kept track of state license plates and navigated with a map.
The trip through Horseshoe Bend, Arkansas included a lost reservation at the resort where we were to stay, with an offer of a “substitution” in a local motel, complete with some sort of police activity. Mom made the call to move on. Our trip to Washington DC was mostly free of craziness. I do recall not feeling well as we toured the US Mint, our first stop. I had ridden the entire way facing backward in our Torino station wagon. I don’t recall seat belt use and when long trips were taken in our Oldsmobile sedan, we three kids traded places to lie down—the back window, the seat, or the floor board. That would probably get a parent arrested these days.
There was the beach in Virginia, visiting military friends in Kentucky (the dad was an Army officer home from Vietnam), Colorado sites like the Air Force Academy, Royal Gorge and Pike’s Peak. Come to think of it, the thin air made me queasy there too. We made it to New Mexico, through north Texas, and back through Arkansas. Howard Johnson’s were common stops, a hotel with a pool was exciting, and we had a picnic basket full of food, just like the Griswolds—though thankfully there was no dog, nor an Aunt Edna strapped to the roof.
We did have a dog named Prince so Grandma Ruth and her three sisters would dog-sit and spend the week quilting at our house. Ours parents handled it all in stride though I’m sure we were not the easiest kids with whom to travel. It was always a great feeling to get back home to Galesburg, home cooking, and our own beds.