Tim Barto: Dad and I, and memories of the World Series

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By TIM BARTO

In October 1953, my Dad was hanging out with his Army buddies in New York City. They had just returned from their turn occupying Germany. Truth be told, their occupation consisted mostly of playing fastpitch softball, eating schnitzel, and learning to like German beer. Nonetheless, they were happy to be back in the United States, and the Big Apple was a first adventure for most of them, Dad included. So there they were at a bar in the city, when some guys were talking about the World Series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees. 

“Man, I’d love to be able to see that,” Dad said to his buddy. “Yankee Stadium, Jackie Robinson, Yogi Berra. Man, that would be something.” His friend nodded in agreement, knowing full well it was a wish that was beyond their reach.

“You guys part of that crew that just pulled in?” It was a well-dressed man with a slight New York drawl.

“Yeah, that’s us. Just returned from Germany,” my Dad’s rather inebriated fellow soldier answered, “you know, keeping the world safe from Nazis and stuff.” 

“Well, I appreciate your service, boys, and I overheard you talking about the World Series tomorrow.”

“Yeah, that would be something else to see in person,” Dad said before his friend could continue on about Nazis and stuff.

“Well, I tell you what. Here are two tickets for tomorrow’s game at Yankee Stadium. They are in the bleachers, but pretty good seats, nonetheless. Enjoy the game.” And the man in the suit handed over the tickets and walked away.

When I was growing up we had family movie nights, which meant we watched home movies shot on Dad’s 8 millimeter camera. One of my favorites was footage from that World Series game from the Yankee Stadium bleachers. Baseball was the bond between my Dad and me. He taught me how to play, love, and respect the game. 

Dad passed away 10 months ago, just a few weeks shy of his 94th birthday. It’s been tough allowing myself to think deeply about it; certainly too tough to write about it. But it’s November and during the World Series (and often the playoff games leading up to it), Dad and I would talk on the phone after each game to replay it, give our expert and unsolicited advice on the key plays, clutch hit, bad calls, and genius moves by the managers. It was such a tradition that often times when I initiated the postgame call, Dad would pick up the horn himself – a responsibility he usually left for Mom.

“He shoulda’ kept the pitcher in that eighth inning,” Dad would blurt. No “Hello,” no salutations or pleasantries. He got right to the point.

“Yeah, but I think he reached his pitch limit, and he doesn’t fare well against right-handed hitters,” I would reply.

“Pitch limit, schmich limit. He’s making fifteen million dollars to throw the baseball, and he’s got all winter to rest. Bob Feller would pitch nine innings every game and throw it a hundred miles an hour. If they had the technology back then that they have today, I bet he would still hold the record for the fastest pitch.”

“Well, the manager’s the one that makes the call, and he went with the reliever.” My retorts were meted out as much to get the Ol’ Man going as they were to make a point. More so, actually. I loved to hear Dad analyze the game and tear into the field skippers for their decisions. His beloved Cleveland Indians (now called the Guardians for reasons of political correctness) won an astounding 111 games in 1954 but were swept in four straight by the New York Giants in the World Series. The Series is best known for Willie Mays catching Vic Wertz’ long drive over his shoulder in deep center field, his back turned towards home plate, but Dad blamed Al Lopez for the debacle, convinced the Cleveland manager mismanaged the best pitching staff in the game. “That damned Al Lopez,” Dad would mutter dejectedly, still shaking his head over five decades later. 

My baseball buddy Curtis used to love when my parents came to Alaska for a visit because we would take him to Pete’s Tobacco Shop on 5th Avenue in Anchorage (now known as 5th Avenue Cigars), have a sandwich and some cigars and talk baseball. Curtis is a kind man, a true gentleman, but he was also a Navy SEAL, so he had a tweak streak in him. After a while, my friend would inevitably bring up the ’54 World Series just so he could hear my Dad go off on “that damned Al Lopez.” I couldn’t help laughing. Heck, I’m laughing as I’m writing about it.

Cigars and baseball. Two of the Ol’ Man’s favorite things. When we lived in the Bay Area and we had season tickets to the Oakland A’s in the late 1980s, we were fortunate to see some great baseball while sitting in our regular seats 20 rows up from first base. The A’s fielded some phenomenal teams in those days, representing the American League in the Fall Classic in 1988, 1989, and 1990. Dad and I watched a ton of games back in those days and, seeing as how smoking was still allowed in the ballpark back then, we would take turns bringing cigars to the game. 

I believe it was in 1989, the year a big earthquake interrupted the World Series for ten days after the earth shook just before the start of Game Two in San Francisco, that set the stage for one of the greatest moments of my life. 

Dad and I would be going to Game One, and he would be taking Mom to Game Two, so I called him during the day to ask where he wanted to meet. It was a good 45 minute to an hour drive from San Jose up to Oakland. I also wanted to remind him that it was my turn to bring the cigars and I had the situation well in hand. 

“No, I got ‘em tonight,” Dad said with a tinge of glee in his voice.

“But, Dad, it’s my turn,” I argued.

“No, I got ‘em tonight. You bring them the next time.”

“Okay,” I said, knowing when Dad was determined to win an argument. We made arrangements to meet and make the drive up the bay to the Oakland Coliseum. It was a beautiful night. The game was getting ready to start, dusk was approaching, the air was electric with the first all Bay Area World Series. 

“Here ya’ go, son,” Dad said to me as he handed over a hand rolled Cuban cigar. He saw my questioned look and said, “I was in Canada last week. You can buy Cuban cigars there.” 

Never mind that Dad broke a few laws by importing banned substances from a foreign country. This was my first Cuban cigar. So, there I was, sitting at the World Series with my Dad, smoking one of the best cigars in the world while the sun descended, and millions of people wished they could be in our places. It remains one of the most cherished memories of my life. Time with my Dad. How blessed I was to have that man as my father.

Tim Barto is vice president of Alaska Policy Forum, past president of the Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks baseball booster club, and proud to be his father’s son.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Tim, Thank you for a well written and timely memory. Was just yesterday I was talking with a buddy while fishing in Mexico, smoking a cigar and talking about our dads then later watching baseball.

    Thank You

  2. Delightful story! Thank you for sharing. How blessed you are to have such a good relationship, and found memories of your dad.

  3. Speaking of cigars, friend of mine lived half a year in Victoria, BC and the other half in Anchorage. Just prior to my daughter’s birth, I asked him to bring me a couple boxes of Cuban cigars so I could pass them out on the special day.

    A day after her birth, I offered the doctor a cigar. He quickly said I don’t smoke cigars, but then looked at it and said, but I WILL smoke THIS cigar. I gave him a couple extra ones and he happily strolled away.

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