The words “Fall Classic” meant nothing to me on the dairy farm of my youth until 1964.
That year, after 18 years of futility, the St. Louis Cardinals won the National League pennant on the final Sunday of the season.
The world stopped. Like all life-changing events, I know exactly where I was when beer-cheered Cardinal announcer Harry Caray began his mad “Cardinals win the pennant!” chant.
I was dancing in the dairy barn with my oldest brother Rich as he and a hired man were about to begin the evening milking.
I also recall where Dad was; he was doing what he did every day every October, November and most of December: eating corn dust atop a tiny, two-row IH 303 combine.
And Uncle Honey, the only one in the family who could match my Cardinal zeal, was plowing near the dairy barn.
I ran to report the greatest news of my life to Honey. From 100 yards, however, my very wonderful, very reserved great uncle read it in my wide smile and he and that Case 930 never broke stride.
He just nodded, tossed me an acknowledging grin, then continued to turn black slabs of southern Illinois toward the sun.
Pennant fever. Like Honey, my third grade teacher, the wide and widely-feared Mrs. Myers, was a rabid Redbird fan.
The only other real passion she possessed, in fact, was beating schoolboys with a paddle cut from a bed slat. (Classmate Ricky Wetzel was the first to discover Mrs. Myers was a power-hitter. I was the second.)
But Mrs. Myers’ turned into a quivering lump of Cardinal red Jell-O for one glorious week in 1964. She snuck a radio into our classroom during the all-day-games series so we could listen.
She even drew a baseball field on the chalkboard to track who was playing where, which player was at bat, what the batter’s count was and who was on deck.
Not fair. My other indelible memory of the ’64 Series came during Game Four, a Sunday match-up at Yankee Stadium.
For some forgotten reason, we didn’t pick corn that day but stayed in town after church for dinner at Dad’s grandparents. I loved visiting my great grandparents because Grandpa’s backyard barn held a fabulous playroom, his old blacksmith shop.
Yet I wanted to go home that day because I knew I’d have to watch the game on a television whose picture was snowier than a Canadian winter. But we stayed and I saw a shadowy Ken Boyer hit a grand slam home run to win the game 4-to-3 and tie the Series.
I was flying so high afterward that another grandpa, Dad’s dad, ordered me outside so the grown-ups could play pinochle.
The injustice of it still stings: They could get rowdy with their cards but I couldn’t get rowdy with my Cards?
Best prize. Three years later, Grandpa Guebert, a stockbroker, made amends. While attending some big shot meeting in late 1967, he asked Boston Red Sox star Carl Yastrzemski, a guest speaker, to personalize and autograph a baseball for me.
The great prize was made all the greater because my Cardinals had beaten the Red Sox in a seven-game World Series a couple of months before.
That ball – to “Allan Guebert” and, alas, not “Alan Guebert” – rests on a shelf just 8 feet from me in my office. The autograph is fading but the warm hug Grandpa gave me with the ball will never fade.
Like 40 years ago, this October finds the Cardinals reaching for another World Series.
It also finds America again in the middle of a brutal, ugly war, a scorching, nation-dividing presidential campaign and another bountiful harvest.
Today’s reality. But it’s not 1964. My youth is long spent and Uncle Honey has long passed. Hardly anyone plows anymore and no one picks corn with an IH 303.
Gone too are the giants, the heroes, of a farm boy 100,000 cows and a half-million corn rows from the big leagues of anything.
I loved them all and I miss them all.
Mostly, though, I miss what October used to bring, a season of hope.
(Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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