The owner named it The Stage because it had a small performing area with enough folding chairs for a small audience, but it was no more than a large, dusty bar with pool tables. It was located in a dispiriting part of downtown Louisville, Ky., the city where I was living at the time.
It wasn’t the kind of place you normally take a date, but I did. That night was the first time my future wife – a member of a small Southern Baptist church – had ever been in a place that could be described as a dive.
But it was a dive where the Chicago blues singer Muddy Waters was performing that evening. Denise didn’t fully appreciate the kind of music I liked, but she liked me, so she indulged me. She ordered a Coke. And although she was in a new and somewhat unsettling environment, she had a good time.
Since she braved that experience – even after having dental work in the afternoon – I felt compelled to hide my reluctance some time later when she asked me to return the favor. She and a friend had season tickets to the ballet, and her friend couldn’t go one night.
Worse, the cursed event was Friday, Oct. 17, 1980.
I tried not to think about what my South Jersey friends would say if they knew I didn’t watch Game 3 of the Phillies’ first-ever World Series because my girlfriend wanted us to watch men in leotards dance with women in tutus.
When I was a kid, my bedroom wall was covered with photos of Johnny Callison, Wes Covington, Tony Taylor, Cookie Rojas and other favorite players. As the years passed, I became a casual rather than a truly devoted fan. But for any Philadelphia baseball fan, the 1980 World Series was a world historical event. As John Sexton succinctly put it, the Phillies at that time held “the distinction of playing their first 97 years without a championship – a span lasting just shy of 20 presidential elections.”
Sexton, a Catholic who served as both president of New York University and dean of its law school, is the author of “Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game.”
“I have come to appreciate the jarring proposition that baseball can show us more about our world and ourselves than we might have thought,” he writes. “At the very least, it can demonstrate the benefits of living a little slower, of noticing a little more and of embracing life’s ineffable beauties.”
In a chapter titled “Community,” he argues that much of baseball’s attraction comes from its ability to bring people together, “to foster bonds of lasting power based on shared memories and experiences.”
He begins his book with a childhood memory from Oct. 4, 1955, when he hoped and even prayed with his friend “Dougie” that the Brooklyn Dodgers would defeat the Yankees and win their first World Series. The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin shares her own memory of that same day in the book’s foreword.
Every baseball fan has memories. I remember visiting relatives and watching the Dodgers’ Koufax and Drysdale dominate the Yankees in the 1963 World Series. I remember watching with my friend Jeff as Jim Bunning pitched his perfect game in 1964. I remember sitting in the hard seats of Connie Mack Stadium with my father as the Giants’ Juan Marichal, with his impressive wind up, pitched an outstanding game against the Phillies in 1965.
I don’t remember anything about that ballet I grudgingly attended, except asking men in the restroom at intermission if they knew how the Phillies game ended (as if they had any way of knowing).
On the other hand, I still remember how, a few nights later, I twitched and fidgeted as I focused on Philly relief pitcher Tug McGraw in the ninth inning of Game 6 of that World Series. I was sitting on the floor only inches away from the television. Denise, who had little interest in baseball but had come to understand the gravity of the game I was watching so intently, was patiently sitting nearby on the sofa.
To the delight of every Philadelphia fan, when McGraw struck out the Royals’ Willie Wilson, the Phillies became world champions. I jumped up – and I remember Denise giving me a long, heartfelt congratulatory hug.
Like music, baseball is best enjoyed with others. I was 700 miles away from Philadelphia that evening, but I felt like I was home.
Carl Peters is former managing editor of the Catholic Star Herald.