My love affair with baseball is ebbing away.
The long and slow decline of my relationship with the “national past time” began in 1970 when the Columbus Jets flew off to West Virginia to become, of all things, the Charleston Charlies.
The Jets and I were both born in 1955 and I first discovered them on a visit to the “big city” of Columbus as a small boy in the early 1960s.
My mother’s oldest sister, my Aunt Dorothy, had left the family farm in Madison Township and married Nelson Carpenter, a successful pharmacist. Together they operated a drug store with a long soda fountain located near Fifth and High streets in Columbus. Once in a while my family would venture up to Columbus to visit the drug store where my brother, sister, and I would devour cheeseburgers and slurp malts at the soda fountain before plunging into the big racks of comic books in the back of the store.
On one of our visits, as I sat with copies of “The Haunted Tank” and “Batman” comics in the dingy half light in the back of the store, I overheard two men at the soda counter complaining to each other about how “they lost money on those lousy Jets last night.”
Sports are big to young boys. I knew about the Groveport Cruisers, the Browns, the Indians, the Reds, and the Ohio State Buckeyes, but who were these “Jets?”
I went to my Uncle Nelson who gave me the whole story about how the minor league baseball team used to be the Columbus Redbirds in the old American Association. But the Redbirds left and the Jets, who took their place, played in the International League at Jet Stadium (now Cooper Stadium). He showed me how I could read all about them in the newspaper. I was hooked.
Throughout my boyhood in the 1960s I was a devout Jets fan. I listened to Joe Hill broadcast their games on the radio and, when I didn’t hear the games, I’d rush to the morning Citizen-Journal to check the score and standings.
My first visit to Jet Stadium came in 1967. It was “Columbia Gas” night at the ball yard and the place was packed with gas company employees, including my dad who brought my brother and me to the game.
I remember it clearly. The green outfield wall extending from right to center field, the cemetery looming beyond left field, the trimmed grass glimmering more green than seemingly possible under the bright lights, the hand operated scoreboard, and most of all, my Columbus Jets – players like shortstop little Freddie Patek, infielder Big Bob Robertson, and hard throwing pitcher Bob Moose – who were taking on the hated Toledo Mud Hens that night.
How I loathed the Mud Hens back then, for no real reason other than the fact they were just the Mud Hens, or as Jets fans called them, the “Crud Hens.” In sports one has to have to have rivals who are irrationally despised.
The Jets won the game 5-1 with Moose dominating from the mound. The two plays that stick out for me though were Patek scampering safely down to first after laying down a perfect bunt and Robertson leaping high to snag a screaming liner that seemed destined to be a hit.
I saw a few more games at Jet Stadium after that and continued to follow the Jets, but by the end of the 1970 season the nearly 40-year-old stadium needed repairs and no one wanted to step up to fix the place. So the Jets landed in Charleston. They were gone. I couldn’t believe it. It felt like I lost some of my best friends.
The fall of 1970 also saw changes for me. I started high school and was soon distracted by other interests that replaced my fervor for the Jets.
I still followed baseball a bit, even went to a couple of Cleveland Indians games in the 1970s and a few Columbus Clippers games over the years. But my passion for the game wandered away on the road to Charleston 37 years ago, replaced by what would become, over time, a well developed sense of cynicism toward modern professional sports and all the odd things that accompany it.
Nowadays, like giving a wave across a street to a former girlfriend as you pass each other going different directions, I’ll give the baseball standings in the paper a glance, but I don’t delve into the box scores like I once did.
Rick Palsgrove is editor of the Southeast Messenger.