... the dos and don'ts from Ted and Jim
The baseball spring training season here in Arizona, called the Cactus League, lasts only about six weeks but is really a big business. There are 12 teams which train here in the greater Phoenix area and two in Tucson. They play in eleven ballparks from the end of February until they head north for the major league season’s opening games around the first of April. The tickets are not cheap, going for $5 or $6 for grass seats out beyond the outfield to $25 to $35 for real, reserved seats in the stadium. And these are big stadiums, seating from 7,000 to 15,000 fans each. The parking nearby goes for $5 to $15. But it wasn’t always this way.
When I moved here to the Phoenix area in 1973, there were eight teams in the Cactus League. The most convenient ballpark for me was the Sun City Stadium up the road about 12 miles from my house in, you guessed it, Sun City, Arizona. It was the year-around home of the famous (?) girl’s softball team, the Sun City Saints and, during the spring training weeks, the home of the Milwaukee Brewers. Admission was $1 for any seat you wanted (front row if you got there early) and the parking was free. That was 35 years ago and big business had not yet moved in. I took a lot of vacation days from work in those March months during the 1970s and early 1980s to watch the Brewers, up close and personal.
It really was up close and personal. Before and after the games, you could visit with the players and coaches out on the field, get autographs (free) and just generally roam around and see what major league baseball was all about. It’s not like that today.
After one of the Brewer games in the mid-70s, I walked out onto the field to speak with their first-baseman, Mike Hegan. Mike was with the Brewers in 1970 and 1971 and again from 1974 through 1977. He became, in 1978, one of their radio announcers along with the famous Bob Uecker. I wanted to speak with him because, years ago in the 1940s, at the Melrose, Massachusetts Elks Club Lodge, I met his father, Jim Hegan, then the catcher for the Cleveland Indians. Jim Hegan was born in Lynn and had ties to the Boston area. I met Jim during a Father-Son night at the Elks which featured Jim Hegan and Ted Williams doing a baseball teaching session for young up and coming Little Leaguers. I met Ted Williams there also, but that’s not part of this story.
When I told this story to Mike Hegan, he laughed and said, “If they were giving hitting instructions to you guys, Ted should be showing the “dos” and my father should be demonstrating the “don’ts”.” Jim Hegan was a great defensive catcher, but not well known for his hitting. Bob Uecker would have enjoyed this conversation; he could relate to that.
Another time, at a Brewers game, well into the second inning, their free-spirited but hard hitting outfielder, Gorman Thomas, showed up late and walked across the field toward the dugout carrying his equipment and looking as if he had a hard last-night out on the town. A boisterous fan nearby yelled out to him, “Hey Gorman, you’re late again!” Gorman replied, as he disappeared into the dugout, “I was with your mother!” And who knows, perhaps he was. It was Gorman being Gorman, as they say.
One of the dumbest things I have ever done in my life occurred after a Brewers' game in Sun City, Arizona in the spring of 1976. Hank Aaron played his final game on October 3, 1976. That year he was the designated hitter for the Brewers and, having broken Babe Ruth’s home run record on April 8, 1974, he was now a major celebrity, and was doing a lot of publicity activities to showcase the world of Major League Baseball. Following one of the spring training games, Hank took a case of baseballs out into the outfield over near the left-field line. A large group of fans congregated up against the fence there and Hank started autographing the balls and handing them out to anyone who wanted one. The crowd was mostly youngsters, but I was there along with a few other adults. Hank and I made eye-contact and he asked me if I wanted one of the balls. I replied “No thanks, save them for the kids.” He nodded and went on signing and handing them out. I passed up a chance to have a Hank Aaron autographed baseball. Now that was really dumb!
The Sun City Stadium was demolished in 1995 and in its place there is now a condominium complex. The Milwaukee Brewers now conduct their spring training activities in Phoenix at Maryvale Park which is one of the smaller spring training facilities in Arizona. Tickets there range from $5 to $15 and parking is $6. Jim Hegan died on July 17, 1984 in Swampscott Massachusetts. Ted Williams died in Florida on July 5, 2002. Stormin’ Gorman Thomas played his final major league game on October 5, 1986 and is still out there somewhere. Mike Hegan, today, is one of the radio broadcasters for the Cleveland Indians. And I have no idea what-so-ever as to what happened to the famous (?) girl’s softball team, The Sun City Saints.
March 6, 2009