During the Selfie Hotdog Quest I read a wonderful book entitled “The Faith of 50 Million” edited by Christopher H. Evans and William R. Herzog II. The subtitle of the book is “Baseball, Religion, and American Culture”. Well, I had a great time reading this tome and since I am currently unsure of the next goal in our continuing quest allow me to share some of my own “Religion of Baseball” experiences.
Before some of you get the wrong idea, please be clear that we are discussing civil religion in this series. “Civil religion describes how Americans throughout the nations’ history have created a collective national identity through bestowing sacred meaning on a variety of secular symbols, rituals and institutions.” (The Faith of 50 Million) Baseball includes all of the elements of a civil religion. So, let’s get to the experience.
Lets begin by talking about baptism. One definition of baptism is; a person’s initiation into a particular activity or role, typically one perceived as difficult. Synonyms for baptism include, initiation, debut, introduction, inauguration, launch and rite of passage.
While reading “The Faith of 50 Million” I began to reflect on my own baptism into the religion of baseball. When was it? What happened? Where was I? I was probably four years old (maybe a year older than in the photo.) when I was baptized listening to a Pirate game on the radio.
Now, I know those of you born since 1957 or so might not appreciate this fact but television was a very minor player in my per-grade school years because a television just wasn’t something most of us owned. If there was a television in the house it was in a huge box with two big dials on the front. The picture on the television was a grainy black and white presentation and the three companies in business (ABC, NBC, and CBS) only broadcast about fourteen-sixteen hours a day. I remember waking up on Saturday mornings and turning on the test pattern while I waited for my Saturday morning shows to come on. Yes, I sat there watching the test pattern until the station began to broadcast.
The radio on the other hand was a constant in my growing up years. I think the radio must have been playing as long as someone was awake in the house. In those years our family moved often but always to communities close enough to Pittsburgh to receive KDKA (1020 AM) radio and of course, Pittsburgh Pirate baseball games.
During my pre-grade school years my Mother, Father and baby sister sat on the porch of our house listening to the games in the evening with the lights of Pittsburgh glowing off in the distance. (My sister and I standing on the porch.)
(My Dad on the porch doing his impersonation of an alien.) I have to tell you about this porch where my baptism occurred. One day my Father decided the porch needed some repair so he tore off a couple of loose boards. Then he pulled off a couple more boards. Next he pulled out some joists and pretty soon he had torn off the entire porch with his bare hands. The porch was completely rebuilt after that. Now, I’m not saying that my Dad was Superman. (I think he might have been Clark Kent though!) The focus of this story is on the house we lived in. On another day my Mom was pulling on a stuck closet door in my room and she pulled the entire frame out of the wall. I don’t want to make any snide remarks about the house but I remember watching the snow come through the walls around the windows into the living room during winter snow storms. Let me just say, “We did not live in the wealthy part of town.” But, this has nothing to do with my baptism into the religion of baseball.
One night, I remember the time as if it happened last week, we were sitting on that rebuilt porch and Dad pointed over to the Tower of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh Campus several miles away and stated, “That is where the radio is coming from.” Beginning at that moment I hoped someday to see that place in person and meet some of the Pittsburgh Pirates who were playing in that tower. Maybe I was thinking I would get to see the great Pirate home run hitter and future hall of fame inductee Ralph Kiner or the Pirate catcher and future broadcaster Joe Garagiola. I’m certain I had no idea that pitcher Bob Friend and shortstop Dick Groat would be important contributors on the 1960 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates. Hey, I was only about four years old! When you are four it is possible for a baseball field to be inside a skyscraper! It might even be possible for a baseball game to be played inside of the radio! That radio was almost big enough for a baseball field to be inside!
Listening to Rosey Rowswell and Bob Prince (with Hall of Fame member Honus Wagner) bring the baseball game through the radio and on to our porch that summer night in Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania was my baptism into the religion of baseball. It would be a few years until I became a faithful follower but my religious baseball journey began that evening sitting with my parents and baby sister on our new porch.
See you next time.