I spent many happy innings at ballgames at Milwaukee County Stadium when I lived in that great city, but one of my biggest thrills from that long-gone park came this morning in a Strat-O-Matic baseball game.
At my dining room table, I played the 1953 Dodgers against the 1957 Braves in Milwaukee, derided in the 50s as “Bushville” by detractors who thought the city didn’t deserve a major-league team.
When the Braves defeated the mighty Yankees in the ’57 World Series, jubilant fans hoisted a sign saying “BUSHVILLE WINS.” The iconic Milwaukee Journal photo of that scene has been burned into my baseball brain for as long as I can recall.
This morning, I set up the Strat game and figured it might be a good one, with Carl Erskine starting at pitcher for Brooklyn and Warren Spahn for Milwaukee. The lead changed hands a couple of times and got knotted at 4-4 in the top of the ninth when the Dodgers’ Carl Furillo tripled and PeeWee Reese singled him home.
The Braves went 0-3 in the ninth, and the extra innings began. Neither team did much through the next seven frames. In the top of the 17th, the Dodgers went down 1-2-3 at the plate, with relief pitcher Clem Labine forced to bat because by that point I’d used every pinch hitter from each team.
Eddie Mathews, hitting cleanup, led off for the Braves and — on 1-10 roll of the dice — smacked a solo home run to win it 5-4 for Milwaukee. I raised both arms and let out a whoop.
A silly, childish reaction?
No. It was a genuine moment of joy, and in these days of COVID-19 quarantine we can use all the joy we can get.
Beyond the sudden drama, my exultation was rooted in a number of factors, primarily my love for the city of Milwaukee. I lived there in the late 1970s and early 80s. While in graduate school at Marquette University, my apartment was within walking distance of County Stadium. The Brewers, the American League successors to the Braves, were good in those years.
As our family has moved about the country, I’ve declared each new residence “home” by ceremoniously putting my Brewers batting helmet in a place of prominence.
There’s no baseball at all these days, and no one really can say if there will be a 2020 season. Like millions of fans, I have to get my baseball fix. The other day I watched the last few innings of a San Francisco Giants’ replay of Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter in 2009. A couple of weeks back I read “Ten Innings at Wrigley” about the Phillies crazy 23-22 victory over the Cubs one day in 1979.
But I’ve mainly filled the baseball gap with Strat-O-Matic. I usually play a handful of games each winter. This year, heading into my eighth week of working from home, I’ve entertained myself by playing a couple of dozen games, and I reveled in today’s 17-inning marathon.
You might say that Spahn has kept me sane.