The Time-Traveling Ticket (UCB January Project)

Recently, the Milwaukee Brewers introduced their “timeless ticket”.  For $1000, you got a ticket that you could use at any game in the future, whether it was Opening Day or the last game of the World Series.  You want to go?  You can go–at least once.  They don’t have “timeless passes”.

Trying to figure out when you would like to go to a future, fraught-with-meaning game is one thing.  But what if that was a TARDIS ticket?  It could take you any time in Cardinal history to a game and get you into the stadium.  (Because, hey, who here wants to go to BREWER games, unless we are talking the ’82 World Series?)  If you could hit any game in the past to watch the Redbirds play, when do you go?

Do you go to Opening Day after a World Series win, revelling in the glory that comes with combining a civic holiday with a championship glow?  Do you go back to a historic moment in time, wanting to see David Freese‘s triple or Bob Gibson‘s strikeouts?  Do you head back to the first time when the Denora Greyhound stepped onto the Busch Stadium turf, or watch as Stan the Man is lifted from his last game?

Cardinal history is rife with possibilities, both large and small.  So where do you go?

When I proposed this project (after Christine Coleman suggested it to me), I really didn’t know what I’d choose.  Watching Ozzie Smith‘s home run in the 1985 NLCS would be awesome, but would it mean as much without having Jack Buck’s “Go crazy, folks, go crazy” resounding in your ears?  (I guess you could sneak in a portable radio!)  I’m a sucker for first, so to be able to see The Wizard’s first backflip or Lou Brock‘s first steal as a Redbird were tempting as well.

I finally thought I had figured it out and, in my own typical fashion, found a loophole in the rules to make the most of my trip back in time. After all, back in the day, you only had to buy one ticket to see a doubleheader.

May 2, 1954 was probably Stan Musial‘s finest day at the ballpark, at least from a personal standpoint. Given how legendary Musial was, that’s saying something. However, in the first game of a double dip, Musial went deep three times against the New York Giants. In the second game, he crushed two more, becoming the only person at the time to hit five home runs in the same day.

Perhaps I could sit next to Nate Colbert. The St. Louis native was in the stands that day and years later would match the feat, something that boggles the mind. Maybe I could watch as Musial, laughing with joy, circled the bases again and again. Watch with anticipation as he came up again and again and again and again succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.

This seemed like a great and logical selection. It’s Musial, at perhaps the height of his powers. It’s a Cardinal win (well, they split the doubleheader, so it’s not perfect, but there is a win in there). It’s a moment of baseball history that’s extremely rare. What’s not to like?

But then I had a different thought. And I think, maybe, I’d select a different date on my TARDIS ticket. It’s not a significant moment in history. There are no amazing milestones. It’s basically a day like any other day.

September 2, 1963 was Labor Day that year. The Cardinals were in a pennant race, one that would not turn out well but would presage the strong showing the next year. The Pirates were playing out the string. Being a holiday, it was a doubleheader, meaning I get to use my loophole after all.

In game one, a young pitcher by the name of Bob Gibson handled the Pittsburgh nine, striking out seven in his complete game of work. The one run came on a home run by Roberto Clemente. Gibson matched that later on with a long ball of his own, giving me a chance to see both his pitching and hitting prowess, if I was there.  The Cardinals, with players like Curt Flood, Bill White and Tim McCarver on the field, took the opener 6-1.

Six was a serious number in game two as well, with the Cards completing the sweep by the score of 6-2. Clemente was much of the offense here as well for the Buccos, stroking a double and a triple. Also in the black and gold were Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski and Harvey Haddix, names that continue to resonate down through baseball history.

In that nightcap, Ken Boyer hit a home run and the legendary Musial, in the last month of his amazing career, hit a double to be part of the offense. There were so many wonderful folks on the field, people that you’d love to see playing this wonderful game.  There was even a steal of home by the not-normally fleet-footed McCarver, something you don’t see everyday, even in those days.

However, I imagine that my attention might wander to the folks in front of me. There’s a group of young men there, including a 21-year-old black-haired college student. He’s traveled a long way to get a chance to finally see his favorite player on the field. While the seats he has in old Sportsman’s Park, which had recently been renamed Busch Stadium, mean the players look more like midgets than full-grown players, he doesn’t care. He’s having a wonderful time, one that he’ll continue to recall fondly over 50 years later.

My father (because, of course, you’ve figured out by now that the black-haired college student also bears the Shoptaw name) was 33 when I was born, which meant he was into his 40s before I have any real memories of him from my childhood. What would it be like to see him at that age, to see him before he was even thinking of a wife, of a family? Would it be like Ray Kinsella seeing his father playing catch with the ghosts of baseball? Would it be a paradigm-shifting moment, reshaping our relationship for the rest of time?

Don’t get me wrong, my father and I aren’t estranged by any means. Before I left work today, I stepped across the hall to ask him about this game again, to get a few more details to make sure I could find it to write about it. We’re not much for deep conversation, which is why baseball works for us. He’ll often come into work talking about how the Cardinals need a starter or they are going to have to find someone to close games or how Randal Grichuk is going to be a ballplayer. Baseball is our common ground, mainly.

Still, to see him as a young man, enjoying the day…..that’d be worth spending a magical ticket on.

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