(Loosely based on a baseball game on November 8, 1905 between the Portland Beavers and the Oakland Oaks.)
Steve walked into the meeting room. He had a notepad and loose papers under his arm. He had 100 thoughts on his mind. It was the time of year he always dreaded. One season was over. It would be a couple of weeks before the next season started up. Sports editors hated this time of year. There was nothing to report on. The local youth leagues had wrapped up their tournaments. Fall sports hadn’t started yet. No games. Nothing noteworthy. Nothing to report. He couldn’t help it if there was nothing going on. His writers were doing what they could to find something, anything, to put up on the website. He walked into his department meeting, hoping someone would give him something he could take upstairs to the management team as they planned out the website for the upcoming week. His superiors would want to know what the sports department was going to run. Steve couldn’t tell them, “Nothing.”
He got to the room. The entire staff was there. It was a small staff. There were four people at the table waiting for him. The two full-timers were Jim and Joyce. Harry was a part-timer whom Steve had invited to the meeting that day in addition to Ernie, who was retired and freelanced for the department whenever Steve was short on people. Harry and Ernie wouldn’t normally be at this meeting, but Steve was desperate. He needed as many people in that room to generate whatever ideas to pursue.
Steve dropped his notepad and papers on the table and took his seat. “Alright,” he said. “Let’s get to it.” He looked over at Harry, who was looking at his phone.
“Harold,” Steve said, “Whenever you’re ready. I have another meeting after this, and I’d like to tell them I’ve tried everything before I get chewed out again.”
“Sorry,” Harry said, putting his phone away. Steve rolled his eyes. He never understood what it was with millennials and their phones. Steve seriously thought someone would be diagnosed with a terminal illness and they would be saying, “Hold on,” because there was something more interesting on the screen they were holding.
“Okay, listen,” Steve started again. “We have a problem. Our website is going to be updated soon and we need something up there. Anything. We’re going to look foolish if we’re the only department without new stories. I know our local teams got bounced out of the tournaments. We did the feel-good, ‘the kids gave their all’ wrap-ups and there’s still some time before the fall sports start. Does anyone have anything to tide us over until the pipeline fills up?
“Bill Nolan is still being looked at by some colleges to play football,” Joyce said. “We could do a little something on that.”
Steve shook his head. “I ran into his father the other day. He told me Bill was nowhere near making a decision and there was nothing else they were going to say on the matter.”
“You know,” Ernie said, “When I was special teams coach at Notre Dame…”
Harry and Jim started to chuckle. Joyce smiled. Ernie was always ready to tell a story that involved him having a part in a championship season or training a famous athlete. No one believed him because he never had any proof. There were no season programs or old newspaper clippings with his name on it, but that never stopped Ernie from telling the stories.
Steve put his hand up. “Ernie,” he said, “I can’t. Not today.”
“We can,” Jim said. Harry and Joyce were laughing. Steve didn’t laugh, but gave a stern look around the table.
After everyone calmed down, Jim looked at Harry and said, “Well, there might be something.”
Harry rolled his eyes. Steve was already irritated about the lack of material. “Well?!” he asked.
“Tell him,” Jim said.
“Fine,” Harry said. “Do you remember the game between the Beavers and the Oaks back in 1905?”
“Yeah?” answered an already agitated Steve.
“Well,” Harry said. “My great-grandfather was at the game with his father.”
“Wait a minute,” Steve said. “There was only one ticket sold to that game.
“You’re right,” Harry said. “There was. According to the story, my great-great-grandfather took his son to the game that day. He was the only one there to buy a ticket. The guy at the window let my great-grandfather, his son, in for free.”
Steve put his head down and thought about it. The Beavers-Oaks game was legendary in that town and people still talked about it. It was a game played near the end of the season. People in the sports department still talked about the game. Writers who had come and gone still talked about the game and how angry the editor was with the writers. No one bothered to get this person’s name. No one thought to interview this person or find out anything about him or her. Then again, it was 1905. The only thing sportswriters wrote about back then were the actual games.
“Is your great-grandfather alive?” Steve asked.
“No,” Harry answered. “But my grandfather is alive, and he still has the ticket from the game. He and an uncle of mine heard the story so many times they can tell you everything you’d want to know about it.”
Steve thought about it. It was a stretch as far as a story went but he had a meeting with his bosses soon and he needed to tell them something.
“Okay,” Steve said. “Call your grandfather and see what you can get. Jim, I want you to research the game and help out Harry. Harry, you’ll know where to find Jim when you get off the phone. I need to get ready for my daily ration of grief upstairs. The both of you keep me looped in.”
Ernie said, “This reminds me of the time Mickey Mantle and I-”
“Ernie!” Steve exclaimed. The rest of the staff laughed again. Steve hated it. He felt as if the laughing encouraged Ernie.
Jim left the office. Harry stayed behind and made a phone call and found Jim in a back room researching the lowest-attended game in the history of the town, maybe of the country.
“My grandfather said to come on by,” Harry said. “Want to take a ride?”
“Sure,” Jim said. Harry and Jim went to Harry’s grandfather’s house. Harry called his uncle and asked him to meet the two writers there. His uncle agreed.
Jim and Harry were in the car en route to Harry’s grandfather’s house. Jim looked over some notes while Harry drove.
“What did you find out?” Harry asked.
“The game was played in November…”
“November?” Harry asked.
“Yeah,” Jim said. “They played long seasons back then.”
“What else?” Harry pressed.
“Nothing you probably haven’t already heard from your family.”
Harry hadn’t heard much about that game. There was a rain check his great-great-grandfather had from the game. His great-great-grandmother had bought a small case for the ticket stub. That game was the stuff of local legend in town. Just one ticket was sold that day at Emereyville Park. Every time Harry went to a local game, the old-timers would remind him about the game with one fan.
Harry and Jim got to Harry’s grandfather’s house. Harry’s grandfather, Leo, showed them into the living room. The three sat down. Jim took out a notepad and paper. Harry took out his phone and got ready to record. Harry’s grandmother joined the men. She sat down in a chair next to Leo. The ticket stub was on a table between Dot and Leo.
Harry’s Uncle Fred arrived as Jim was getting acquainted with Leo and his wife, Dot. Fred sat down on the couch with Harry and Jim. Leo started his story.
“My grandfather, Joe, wasn’t one to miss work much,” Leo said. “But there was this one time he was mad at his boss. I don’t remember what it was, but it was enough to make him walk out one day. He said, ‘I’ll be back tomorrow,’ and walked to my father’s school. He walked into the school and got my father. He said, ‘Let’s go to a baseball game.’ My father was getting out of school, so he didn’t argue or object.”
“He was mad about his pay,” Fred added. “He had worked overtime and felt his boss was holding out on him. He didn’t say anything but, ‘I’ll be back tomorrow,’ and he didn’t look back.”
“What about his mother?” Dot asked him.
“Hoo, boy,” Leo said. “His mother couldn’t find out about that. Her husband missing work and her son missing school? On the same day? Joe made sure Mary never found out about that. They caught the bus and rode to the park. My father said he thought it was strange that there was nobody at the ticket window that day.
“Well, my father and his father walk up to the window and the man at the window only charged them one admission. He said, ‘You’re the first one we had today walk up for a ticket,’ and lets my father in free of charge.” Leo held up the case. “It was the only time he actually saved the ticket stub from a game.
“They got to the ballpark,” Leo continued, “and the park is empty. There is nobody in the seats. My dad and granddad look at each other and they walk up to the front row behind home plate. Best seats in the house. They could hear everything. They could hear the pitcher talking. They could hear the batter talking to the umpire. The bats sounded like they were going to break, they sounded so loud. My father was a boy. He was still clapping and cheering for his team, for his favorite players. My grandfather just sat there and watched his son have the time of his life.”
“What happened? Jim asked. “How was it that no one showed up to this game?”
Leo shrugged. “Who knows? Everyone’s favorite guesses were that it was close to Thanksgiving and they were too busy to go to a baseball game and that it was November. People were following football at the time and baseball kind of fell to the wayside that time of year. It’s too cold to go to a baseball game. That’s for the spring and summer.”
Harry took a picture of his grandfather with the stub and sent it to Steve. After Harry and Jim finished talking to Harry’s grandfather, they went back to the office. Steve looked up from his work and saw them.
“I got the picture,” Steve said. “How’d it go?”
“Okay,” Harry said. He and Jim sat down to write their story. Joyce came in and sat down at her desk.
“Were you guys able to talk to Harry’s grandfather?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Harry said.
“They remember Ernie was the manager for one of those franchises at one point,” Jim said. Harry laughed. Steve gave him a dirty look over his computer monitor.
Ernie joined the rest of the department and took a seat as Joyce took a sip from her water bottle.
“How did the interview go?” Ernie asked.
“Went good,” Harry said. “My uncle and grandfather told us what they could remember about the game. We got a picture of the ticket. My grandfather still has it.”
“Ernie,” Jim said as he gave Steve and Harry a quick look. “Weren’t you a coach for one of these teams.”
“I saw Roger Maris in the stands just after the Yankee’s season had ended…”
“Oh my God,” Steve said, rolling his eyes. Jim and Harry laughed. Joyce almost choked on her water.
“This was just after the 1960 season,” Ernie said. “Maris hit 39 home runs that year. I forget why he was at the game but there he was.” Steve shook his head. Joyce was still laughing as she wiped water from her mouth. “We get to talking baseball and he’s talking about his swing and mechanics that some players and the manager were talking about. I lend whatever pointers I could to him, but wouldn’t you know? He takes what we discuss to spring training and hits 61 home runs that year?”
“You helped with just hitting?” Jim asked.
“Well, a lot of people don’t know this, but Whitey Ford…”
Everyone but Steve started to laugh.