Oh, I was already a fan. The first major league baseball games I attended were at Braves Field off Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. That was in 1949 and I lived in Roxbury. I was 5 years old and my father took me to a pair of Sunday doubleheaders, one against Robin Roberts, Richie Ashburn and the Philadelphia Phillies and the other versus Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter and the St. Louis Cardinals.
My favorite Brave back then was Earl Torgeson, a bespectacled first baseman who wore uniform No. 9. The next season I latched onto another No. 9, Ted Williams of the cross-town Red Sox, and he became my all-time favorite. To this day, still.
In the spring of 1954, Ted broke his collarbone on the first day of workouts and he missed the rest of training camp. I didn’t. I “saw” it all on the radio through the eyes and, most significant, the voice of broadcaster Curt Gowdy.
Oklahoman Bob Murphy joined Gowdy in the radio booth that spring. Murphy went on to a Hall of Fame broadcasting career, based largely on his later years with the New York Mets. But for one reason or another lost to the vagaries of time, I recall those games in the spring of 1954, as Gowdy games.
I was literally a captive audience. I had the measles and was ordered to bed rest for what now, from a distance of almost 60 years, seemed to have been weeks. It was more likely measured in days, but however long it was, it made an impression that I carry with me to this day.
The doctor ordered me to rest with the window shades drawn to let in no light and keep my eyes comfortable during the healing process. With my bedroom dark and the bed a safe and secure sanctuary, I listened to spring training games on the radio and the informative, reassuring voice of the Red Sox, Mr. Curt Gowdy. He, too, would one day be anointed as a Hall of Fame announcer.
Sarasota, Florida, was spring home to the ball club and I pictured warm weather and palm trees and the carefree life of the players as they lingered in the luxury of a non-snowy March. To a fifth-grader with measles in a dark bedroom and Curt Gowdy as my eyes and ears, “meaningless” baseball games in such wonderful, tropical-sounding places as Fort Myers, Bradenton, Clearwater and St. Petersburg became meaningful. They lifted my spirits and set my imagination in motion.
I did not know what Curt Gowdy looked like, but I pictured him through his voice and game descriptions as red-haired and almost Arthur Godfrey-like of face. I was not close, as I noticed years later when I saw him on TV and in person at FenwayPark during my days covering the Red Sox for The Patriot Ledger.
Regardless, the voice was the thing, and it had an exotic twang to it that made it all the more alluring. (I would learn later that he was from Wyoming, which shaped the sound of his vocal chords.) The voice ushered me into a new dimension – the softer, slower pace of baseball in a Florida training camp. Curt Gowdy talked of players fishing and boating and playing golf in their free time and I wished I could be one of them.
Eventually the measles passed. I had to return to school and relegate Red Sox games on the radio to weekends.
Now, almost 60 years later, the measles and the darkened bedroom are confined to memories. So is Curt Gowdy, whose voice cut through the darkness and brought in the sunshine and baseball men in Florida ballparks that kept a little 10-year-old glued to a bedside radio.
These days, when I listen to a spring training game – maybe in my car, perhaps on the Bose in my kitchen – I see baseball men in uniforms and I hear Curt Gowdy, red hair and all.
Dick Trust covered sports for The Patriot Ledger of Quincy, Mass., for 40-plus years before retiring in 2006. Now a freelance writer and photographer, Dick lives in Scituate, Mass. His limited-edition, coffee-table book of never-before-published photos, Ted Williams: Newly Exposed, is available by contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org Each copy of the book is $49.95 plus shipping. Dick will sign each book upon request.