There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Everyone has a baseball story. It’s the story that, when it happens, you say to yourself, “I’ll be telling this to my grandchildren decades from now.” And you do, ad infinitum, to rolling eyes as you say, “Have I ever told you about the time when…?”
For me, it’s probably going to be the second game of the 2014 National League Division Series on October 5, when the Nationals lost 2-1 to the San Francisco Giants in excruciatingly long, record-setting nine extra innings. At the end of the heartbreaking defeat, the game had lasted 6 hours and 23 minutes. It was terrible. I didn’t miss a single minute of it.
My dad, Merrill Cohen, loves to tell the story of when he attended the 1969 MLB All Star Game—the last time D.C. played host to the event. In fact, since it was announced in April of 2015 that D.C. would host the 2018 MLB All-Star Game, he’s probably told me this story no less than a dozen times; each time completely oblivious to the previous two or three dozen times he’s told it. But that’s the thing about aging and nostalgia and, well, baseball: Those memorable games can be so significant, you don’t ever want to forget them; so you relive them again and again.
My dad was 14 years old in the summer of 1969—old enough to be cognizant of the turbulent times our country was going through, but not quite old enough to fully embrace the “Summer of Love.” “It was an interesting time to be in D.C., as you can imagine,” he tells me recently, approximately his 200th retelling of his story*. “I was a big Senators fan and I talked my father into getting tickets [for the All-Star Game].”
Of course, in those days, “getting tickets” meant standing in a long line for hours with no guarantee that your patience would prove fruitful. My dad, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all in line in hopes to score tickets to the big game, but got there late and had a bad spot in line.
“There were these huge lines, we’re standing in line, and my grandfather was with us,” my dad recalls. “He decided to walk around [the stadium]. They opened up another window right as he was walking around the stadium and he bought tickets, because where we were we never would’ve gotten tickets.”
The starting lineups of the 1969 All-Star Game. I was able to identify all but one (the Oakland A near the left). If you're an old head, see how many you can name. pic.twitter.com/c5sxrYbEz0— Glen Macnow (@RealGlenMacnow) July 16, 2018
As fate would have it, the scheduled night of the game, July 22, 1969, was rained out and it was rescheduled for the next afternoon. The next morning, my dad and grandfather went downtown early because my grandfather had a meeting. Looking to kill time, my dad wandered around the National Mall, checking out the monuments until it was time to meet back up with my grandfather.
And that’s when he got lost, as it’s easy for a 14-year-old to do in the big city.
They made it to the game eventually, with enough time to catch the ceremonial first pitch, which was thrown out by Vice President Spiro Agnew (President Richard Nixon was originally scheduled to throw the first pitch, the previous evening, but the rain delay caused a conflict in his schedule). As my dad remembers, Agnew was booed off the mound by the sold-out crowd.
In retrospect, the game wasn’t all that notable. The National League walloped the American League, 11-6, with a majority of the runs scored in the first three innings. At the time, my dad’s hero was the Senators outfielder Frank Howard. “Howard was playing for the American League team and I remember in the first inning he hit a home run, which was great,” he says. “I also remember he dropped a fly ball. It was an error. I remember looking looking at the scoreboard, and I said to my dad, ‘Look: one run, one hit, one error. It’s all Frank Howard.’”
The Giants’ first baseman Willie McCovey would be voted the game’s MVP, with his two-run homer in the third setting the tone for the rest of the game. My dad doesn’t remember much else from the rest of the game, but “it was an exciting time,” he says.
Two years later, the Senators would move to Texas and become the Rangers. D.C. would be baseball-less for decades later until the Nationals debuted in 2005.
As D.C. is in full swing of All-Star Game celebrations, I’ve been thinking a lot about this story. I don’t even think it’s a particularly good story (in fact, when I told my dad I was going to write about it, he repeatedly questioned my sanity. “Why are you doing this again? It’s not that interesting.“) But it is a big deal that the MLB All-Star Game is in D.C. And for local baseball fans—especially ones lucky (or rich) enough to snag a ticket, it’ll be something they’ll likely remember for the rest of their lives. Even if the game is a dud.
*This might be an exaggeration.
Photo by Lorie Shaull on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.