Even before my year-and-a-half trek in the Army in Germany, I seemed to like going places. Undoubtedly, living in different locations and always coming back to Ohio for vacation was part of that, and my father lived in three different states before he settled down in New York, where I was born.
I recently sent one of my travel articles to a close friend from grade and high school, and he suggested that I include a story about our trip from Bloomington, Indiana to Cincinnati to see the Reds play the Pirates. (My family often invited my friends on trips.)
My friend’s response was: “A good subject for a story would be our trip to Cincinnati with your dad to see a Reds-Pirates game. I think it was in August of ‘49. I know it was August because I skipped a pre-season football practice and got a good chewing-out by the coach the next day. (He was the quarterback of our high school team!)
He continued, “We launched in your dad’s Buick after breakfast. He was as excited about seeing the games as we were. As we approached Crosley Field, we saw a warmup ball come flying out of the stadium onto the road. Between games Ted Kluszewski and Ralph Kiner had a batting contest. Ewell Blackwell (“The Whip”) threw his sidearm pitches for the Reds. All in all, a memorable day for me. The Buick got us home about bedtime.”
My father had come to know Ralph Kiner, as my mother had babysat the Pittsburgh trainer’s family when she lived in Columbus, Ohio.
Just how these things fit together is difficult to know, but as a senior in high school I thought I had to see the Kentucky Derby. I filled my 1949 convertible Mercury with fellow seniors and arrived at Churchill Downs. The only tickets we could purchase were in the infield, which did not enable us to see the conclusion of the race – all we could see above the hedges were horse’s ears. It was later that we found out that the winner of the 77th running of the Kentucky Derby (1951) was Count Turf.
In college, just 35 miles from Indianapolis, I felt the urge to see the Indianapolis 500 race. This time I took my girlfriend and it was a beautiful day. I would guess that the year would have been 1960. I think this might have whetted my appetite for viewing more sport.
While in Germany in the military I had the opportunity to visit the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina de’ Ampezzo, Italy with two army friends. It was only a day’s excursion, but it was an absolutely beautiful sunny day in a fairy-land village in the pink Dolomite Mountains in northeast Italy.
Also, while in Europe I spent some time in Spain and had the opportunity to visit a bull fight, probably in Barcelona. Bull fights are full of cultural meaning that outsiders rarely recognize — and I am part of that crowd! Bull fights in Spain are the real thing and if you don’t believe so just read some Ernest Hemingway, especially “Death in the Afternoon.” Some years later I attended another bull fight in Acapulco, Mexico, and that was not the real thing!
My Albanian father-in-law became an avid hockey fan in Toronto and I was taken to what was one of the prime competitions at the time – the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. the Montreal Canadiens at the Leafs’ arena. It is a fast-moving game and I think it would take a life-time as a viewer to master – which I have not! However, the Canadians are true believers and especially love to see their teams best those from the U.S.
When I was a child and spending a week on a farm during the summer, there was always the challenge of riding the young calves, which was great fun. I don’t know if that had any future influence, but I have seen a variety of rodeos over the years. Once near Denver there was a National Little Breeches Rodeo Association gathering (for youth) which our family attended and on our way home from a six-week vacation, we visited a local rodeo in Nebraska. More recently while visiting Navajo friends in New Mexico, I attended an all-Indian rodeo.
I find professional sports too expensive, but a friend with season tickets enabled my family to see a couple of Bengals’ games including the “Freezer Bowl.” On one occasion with part of my family we saw the Indiana Pacers professional basketball team in Indianapolis and with free tickets I watched a professional tennis match near Cincinnati.
One of the most unusual games I have viewed is a Jai Alai contest in Mexico. “Jai Alai is a sport involving a hall that is bounced off a walled space by accelerating it to high speeds with a hand-held wicker cesta.” It is considered the fastest game in the world and was founded by Basque people whose region is between Spain and France.
When I taught sociology at Wilmington College, several times I taught a course titled Sociology of Sports and the students seemed to find it very interesting. Sports are ubiquitous in human cultures and my personal interest is not uncommon. It provides so many services to the human enterprise and will undoubtedly continue to do so.
Like other human enterprises, however, it is also susceptible to serious change (paying college football players) as well as the breaking of rules to advantage one’s performance (the current drug issue among Olympian participants).
I don’t really think my interest in sports is unusual, but possibly I’ve just had some unique opportunities to view them.
Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus at Wilmington College.