Don Drewniak was born and raised in Fall River, Massachusetts. In addition to having taught public school science and math for thirty years, he served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He co-authored The Junk Picker (a Great Depression memoir) with his father, Jan F. Drewniak, and has since authored two additional books, Desert Assassin (science fiction) and When Baseball Was Baseball (history).
It was the summer of 1948. Maybe I saw Johnny Sain win one of the 24 games he won that year. Maybe I saw Warren Spahn win one of his 15 victories, and one of his 363 lifetime wins. And most likely I saw the five Braves' players who batted over .300 in '48 – Tommy Holmes, Alvin Dark, Eddie Stanky, Jeff Heath and Mike McCormick.
I was five-years old when my parents brought me to see the Boston Braves play a home game at storied Braves Field. I was too young to realize I was watching a baseball game. Surrounding me were more people than I had ever seen in one place. They alternately cheered and booed, while seemingly eating and drinking most of the time. When my father cheered, I cheered. When he booed, I booed. Best of all, I ate two hot dogs which seemed to me to be the best tasting food I had ever eaten.
Lost on me at the time was that the Braves went on to play the Cleveland Indians that year in the World Series. It was the first World Series for the Braves since 1914 and the first for the Indians since 1920. Cleveland won in six games. The Indians had defeated the Red Sox in a one-game playoff for the American League championship, thus preventing an all-Boston World Series.
Three years later, baseball became the primary focus of my life. And, I was a fan of the Cleveland Indians. This despite the fact that I was born and raised in Fall River, Massachusetts. Located approximately fifty-miles south of Boston, the city with a population of approximately 100,000 at the time was, as to be expected, Boston Braves and Boston Red Sox territory.
I entered third grade in September 1951. Except for the memory of the hot dogs I consumed three years earlier at Braves Field, I doubt that I had given much thought to baseball during the intervening time. By the start of the 1952 MLB season, I had become a rabid fan of the Indians. Al Rosen, the team's third baseman, was my favorite player. How did an eight-year old in that environment come to be an Indians' fanatic?
Today's professional baseball in the United States is business – big business, with even major league bench warmers making more than a half-million dollars per year. In 1950, most players had to work in the “real world” during the off season, as their predecessors did going back to the beginnings of professional baseball. There were also those who were fortunate enough to barnstorm.
My parents took me to see a barnstorming game played in Fall River Stadium on October 14th, 1951. One of the teams was that organized by Birdie Tebbetts, Birdie Tebbetts All-Stars. I'm guessing that the opposition was comprised of some of the local area's better players. Tebbetts had just finished his first season with the Indians after having played with the Red Sox during the previous four years. Other Indians on the team were Al Rosen, Jim Hegan and Mike Garcia. The main attraction was Bobby Thompson who just four days earlier had hit the "Shot Heard 'Round the World."
If memory serves me correctly, my parents and I were seated several rows in back of, and to the right of, the dugout used by Tebbetts' team. At some point in the game, a foul grounder was hit toward the area in which we were sitting. I raced toward the railing separating the playing field from the seats. My momentum carried me over the railing resulting in my dropping a short distance onto the field.
The baseball gods must have been watching. I was unhurt and before I could move, Al Rosen came out of the dugout, picked me up by the back of my shirt, grabbed the ball and brought me into the dugout. He proceeded to sign the ball and had several other players do so as well. After escorting me back to the “scene of the crime,” he lifted me over the railing and I scurried back to my seat.
As soon as I was told that Rosen played for the Cleveland Indians, I was forever “doomed” to be a fan of the team.