Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sharpie Scribbles – chapter VII, Dad

-- by Josh Suchon

On this Father’s Day, I wanted to tell the story of the ultimate father-son baseball vacation, and the impact it had on my future occupation.

By the end of summer in 1990, my obsession with getting Sharpie Scribbles was fading. I was busy working 4-5 days a week as a busboy at Chili’s. It was the summer before my last year of high school. It was harder to get autographs because new restrictions and barricades were in place.

College was getting closer. I knew that I’d major in journalism or broadcasting. My focus was shifting toward my own writing, rather than getting the scribbles of my future subjects.

Whether my obsession was playing sports, taking photos at sporting events, getting autographs and batting practice home runs, using every penny to buy baseball cards and other memorabilia, or reading every piece of sports journalism out there, my dad was there to support me.  

I’m sure my Dad thought it was a little ridiculous, or a lot ridiculous, that I spent so much time and money and energy collecting baseball cards and other items to get autographed. He showed remarkable patience. He provided so many rides to card shops and card shows, and on wild goose chases to find convenience stores that sold the specific type of baseball card packages that I was seeking.

My dad was a huge sports fan. It’s where I developed my love for sports. He didn’t care about autographs or memorabilia. He just wanted to watch a game, be entertained, and cheer on his teams.

As a result, I’m sure the trip we took in 1990 was just as thrilling for him as it was for me. We'd talked about it, then decided to go for it. He told me to look at all the schedules in baseball to find the ideal week. That was the easy part. Dad made it happen financially.

The trip: two games at Wrigley Field, two games at the old Comiskey Park (in the final season), one game at Tiger Stadium, a day at the baseball Hall of Fame, two nights at Yankee Stadium, and a day game at Fenway Park, before a red-eye flight home.

A lot of the photos and memorabilia from that trip were either ruined due to a leak in the closet of my bedroom a few years ago, or because I stupidly threw them away. 

What follows are my memories:

Wrigley Field, Sept. 1 and 2, 1990

We left extremely early on a Saturday morning, probably a 6 a.m. flight out San Francisco, and after landing at O’Hare and getting a rental car, we arrived at Wrigley Field very close to game time. We might have even missed first pitch.

We had standing-room only tickets for the first game, and just assumed we’d easily find two empty seats. Nope. We truly stood the entire game. I didn’t remember any of the details from the game, and even viewing the boxscore, an 8-1 Reds win, doesn’t bring back any memories.   The same goes for the second game.  What I remember most was thinking if the Reds reach the World Series, my A’s would have their hands full.

The atmosphere around Wrigley was more memorable than the games. I bought one of those “Top 10 Lies Told at Wrigley Field ” t-shirts. 

One of the lies: “Harry’s not drunk.” 

Another: “Dunston just needs a few years to develop.” 

I held onto that shirt for years and years, before finally throwing it away.

I’d always liked Shawon Dunston. A few years earlier in spring training, Dunston came onto the field singing, “I’m going back to Cali, Cali, Cali, I’m going back to Cali … ” and I yelled out “I don’t think so” from the stands. Dunston giggled that giggle that I’d grow to love.

Dunston remains my all-time favorite athlete I ever covered as a newspaper reporter. Whenever I see him now at the ballpark, I call him “my favorite celebrity coach” because I always see him in uniform, but I’m still not sure what his job is, other than being himself.

One of my favorite stories that I wrote at The Trib was an off-day feature about Dunston and his son. It was a look back on the day in 1998 when Dunston hit a home run at Candlestick, and his son leaped into his arms at home plate. The photo was on the front page of every Bay Area newspaper.

That father-son photo seemed to resonate with everybody. It was four years later, but many of my friends still had that photo on their refrigerators. I thought it would make a good story, and Dunston lit-up when discussing it. 

Old Comiskey, with new Comiskey in back.
Old Comiskey Park, Sept. 3 and 4, 1990

The White Sox were the surprising top challenger for the A’s that year. They were 6 ½ games back when I wore my A’s clothing to the old Comiskey Park, which was in its final season.

What I remember most about those two games is that Bobby Thigpen broke the single-season record for saves when we were there. A check of the boxscores showed it happened the first night, and then Thigpen got another save the second night.

Since they were night games, we had more time to explore Chicago. Dad and I ate lunch at some random places on the South Side. We noticed how quickly the neighborhoods seemed to change, street to street, in their ethnicity and style.

Getting autographs was a challenge. I didn’t know the tricks or the ideal location in other cities. My heart wasn’t totally into it. This trip was more about viewing ballparks, taking photos, enjoying the games, and bonding with my dad.

One of the autographs I did get was Steve Lyons. Two decades later, he’s the ex-athlete I’ve worked with professionally more than any other. We’ve done pre-game shows before playoff series, post-game call-in shows, and called a few Dodgers spring training games together on radio and TV.

In my four years co-hosting Dodger Talk and traveling with the team, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Lyons say no to an autograph request. Lyons signs at the ballparks, at the hotel, before getting on the team bus, and he often uses the flights to catch up on his autograph requests in the mail.

The White Sox won both games my Dad and I saw. That wasn’t good for the A’s, but they still held on and won the division easily. I was excited that Ivan Calderon hit a home run because we got to see the famed exploding scoreboard. 

It was the last year of the old Comiskey, and it was very cool that Dad and I got to see it.

Tiger Stadium, Sept. 5, 1990

After four days in Chicago, Dad and I flew to Detroit and caught a game at Tiger Stadium. I vividly recall Cecil Fielder hit a ball over the roof. The boxscore shows it was his 44th that season, en route to 51, back when 50 was a huge deal.

We got there when the gates opened and walked around everywhere. We stood in the front row of the right-field upper deck (which actually hung over the playing field), and marveled at the flag pole that was in the playing field.

Another memory from Detroit is that was the first time we saw hustling ushers. They’d ask for your ticket, walk you to the seat, spray and wipe it down, then just stand there. I had no idea why they stood there. Dad realized they were waiting for a tip and forked over a few dollars. That’s common back east. It was a foreign concept to us Californians.

Another thing I remember from that week was buying newspapers in every city, reading the different styles, and imagining what it would be like to fly from city to city for a living and write about baseball. 

The National, an all-sports daily newspaper that was the greatest thing ever, was in its peak. We bought it wherever we saw it, and exchanged reading all the newspapers we could find, on the flights from city to city.

I was about to start my senior year in high school, and was the editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper. 

That week on the road was like a sports journalism education, watching games each day, keeping score, discussing strategy with dad, reading the stories filed for the next day’s papers, getting on a plane to another city, and doing it all over again the next day.

Baseball Hall of Fame, Sept. 6, 1990

The trip to Detroit was our shortest. We were there less than 24 hours. We flew out the next morning for Albany, N.Y., got another rental car and drove to Cooperstown to see the baseball Hall of Fame.

It was mid-week, so it wasn’t too packed. It was a little over a month since the induction ceremonies, so there was still quite a bit of pageantry around town. We spent hours and hours walking around, reading the exhibits, and studying those Hall of Fame plaques.

The first autograph that I ever obtained was from Johnny Bench. I don't remember it. I don't know what I got signed, or what I did with it. My memory is based on what other people told me, that my Dad was practically holding me over the railing trying to get Bench's attention. It worked. Bench signed. We don't have the autograph, but we have the photo of the autograph.

Bench became one of my first heroes, a combination of that story and because he was the host of The Baseball Bunch. One of my first gloves was a Johnny Bench catcher’s glove. It was too big for me and I never played catcher. But my dad used that sucker all the time, as he crouched into a squat and caught my pitching sessions. 

On our trip to Cooperstown, I studied the Bench plaque longer than any other, and took a photo of it.

We ate dinner in Cooperstown, walked into the numerous stores that sell autographs and memorabilia. Even the restaurants were filled with photos and signatures.

Afterward, we drove to our hotel in Tarrytown. This is a bizarre memory, but I recall we watched the U.S. Open tennis tournament from the hotel, and did much-needed rounds of laundry.

Yankee Stadium, Sept. 7 and 8, 1990

This was a year the Yankees finished in last place, the A’s won the division, and the A’s went 12-0 against them head-to-head.  The major reason we picked the week we did was to watch the A’s at Yankee Stadium.

The A’s didn’t disappoint.  Jose Canseco (who I thought was always showing off for me) and Mark McGwire went deep in the Friday night game. Rickey Henderson hit two home runs, and newly acquired Harold Baines went 4-for-4 in the Saturday night game. In a week full of unbelievable memories, this had to be the best part of the trip.

One of the afternoons, we did that tour where you take a bus around Manhattan, and can get off as many times as you like. We went to the Statue of Liberty, the top of the Empire State Building, and plenty of other famed tourist stops.

We rode a taxi. It was my first time ever in a taxi. I’d heard the reputation of crazy New York taxi drivers. Ours didn’t drive on sidewalks, but lived up to the hype. Dad said afterward the most important part of a taxi cab is the horn because they honked at everything. The ride was terrifying and exhilarating.

Before one of the games, I remember we went from store to store, looking for souvenirs and soaking up the energy of the crowd. That was the year Jimmy Connors made a surprising run to the semifinals of the U.S. Open in nearby Queens. It seemed every store had tennis on a small TV, and everybody was talking about Connors.

I wore my A’s “Just Do It” t-shirt to Yankee Stadium. It was part of Nike’s campaign around Bo Jackson. Not sure the wisdom of wearing A’s colors to the Bronx, but teen-age kids usually get a break from the rowdies. I received a few comments here and there. Overall, no problems at all.

The stadium was only half full, but I remember the energy and the craziness. When the Beach Boys song, “Surfin’ Safari” came on, some guy stood up on a couple seats and pretended he was surfing. I remember we listened to “Post Game Yankee Talk,” or whatever they called it, and all these crazy guys in accents talked about how, “we gotta get Higuera next year.”

Teddy Higuera wasn’t a bad pitcher and a free agent in the winter. But he was injury-prone, and I remember thinking that’s not the answer to the Yankees problems. I also remember thinking, “who in their right mind would ever want to host a call-in show immediately after a baseball game and deal with callers like this?”

Fenway Park, Sept. 9, 1990

We woke up early on a Sunday for our last day. We made the four-hour drive from New York to Boston, and drove straight to Fenway Park. I remember that driving and parking in that city was ridiculous. I was so glad my dad was driving.

My memory said Ken Griffey, Jr and his dad started that game, and they both got back-to-back hits in the game. My memory failed me, after viewing the box score. Senior had a pinch-hit single, and Junior went 0-for-4 in the game.

The view from our seats at Fenway.
Honestly, we weren’t that impressed with Fenway.

Maybe it was because we were tired after a long trip. Maybe it was because the fan energy on the rooftop seats wasn’t that intense. Maybe it was because there was some annoying obnoxious kid near us. Maybe it was because the game was fairly dull. Maybe it was because we didn’t have much pre-game time to soak it up, and hustled to the airport immediately after the game.

This was before Fenway Park became such a cultural event. I returned a few years later, during a weekend when I was interning at ESPN, sat just above the dugout and fell in love with the place. But my first trip was dull.

When we got to the airport, Dad got a message on his beeper (yep, his beeper) from the office. He needed to fly directly to some other place for work. I flew home from Boston solo. For a couple moments, I looked around the Boston airport nervously about this proposition. Then I realized it was no big deal. We’d been doing this all week.

My friend James Elliott and his father picked me up at the San Francisco airport around midnight. The next day was my first day as a senior in high school. I knew what the future held. I knew this would be my line of work. This trip sealed it.

For that, I have my Dad to thank.

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