I recall being both happy and sad on Sept. 30, 1971. I witnessed Frank Howard, aka the "Gentle Giant" and "Hondo," hit his 237th home run as a Washington Senator. Then, three innings later, I waved goodbye to a team that, as a youngster growing up during a troubled time in this city, I'd come to rely on.
I can't imagine how the old-timers must have felt, the long-suffering Washington baseball fans who faithfully stuck by the Senators for so many years. Team owner and ultimate stealer Bob "Boob" Short declined to show his face the last time the Nats took the field at RFK Stadium.
In 1991, I wrote that the Baltimore Orioles' final game at Memorial Stadium was a sellout, even though the Birds were moving only across town. It's a shame, because for all the good the Senators brought to this city, they never had the support they deserved.
In fact, only 18,460 showed up to watch the Senators play ball that final night, and 4,000 of those were gate-crashers who refused to put another dollar into the Boob's pockets.
I was fortunate that my father introduced me to the Senators at a very young age. We sat in the upper deck above left field - not the most expensive seats in the house, but to me there were none better.
From there, I watched Ken McMullen tag third to complete the most incredible triple play a boy could ever see. I'll never forget the night a New York Yankee hit a long, towering shot destined to clear the right-field fence, only the ball - and pigeon - dropped like bricks as a bewildered Lee Maye looked on in disbelief.
There was Casey Cox throwing curves to Paul Casanova, Mike Epstein snagging line drives down the first-base line, Tim Cullen and Ed Brinkman trapping runners between bases, and Del Unser swiping homers off the top of the center-field fence.
But no player roused the crowd more than Hondo, who aimed each of his mighty homers for the Anacostia River. Howard hit 44 home runs in both the 1968 and 1970 seasons, leading the league, and I consider myself lucky to have seen many of them. I would dare pitchers to throw Hondo the "blooper," because when he wasn't fooled you could kiss the ball goodbye.
Howard was very friendly to little people like me, which I knew from staring up at him on several occasions. Not far from my home stood the George Mason Hotel, which, like the Senators, is gone now. Every six months or so, manager Ted Williams and other baseball greats would gather there for receptions, and the doorman would allow my friends and me to go as far as the buffet line with our autograph books.
John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on Townhall.com and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .
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