(This is being reposted from one of my other blogs. I think it is a story that fits well with the intent of "The Neukomment Files".)
Late August 1961, it was the summer between 6th and 7th grade, and my last summer of Little League Baseball. That day all us Little League ball players from our small rural Southern Michigan town packed into the school bus and were off to Tiger Stadium in Detroit to watch our favorite Detroit Tigers take on those NY Yankees.
That small rural town was several hours from Detroit, and as such, it was a rare treat for any of us to see a Major league baseball game first hand. We listened to the Tiger games over the radio with George Kell and Ernie Harwell calling the games. Those were the years when Al Kaline, Rocky Colavito, Norm Cash, Jake Wood, and Jim Bunning, among others were our heros.
That summer of 1961 was also the time when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were chasing Babe Ruth's home run record.
When we got to the stadium we were seated out in the center field section of the stands. The Yankees were out warming up, and there he was right in front of us; Mickey Mantle! And over in right field was Roger Maris! The two guys who all season long had been hitting all those home runs!
We started yelling "Hey Mickey!"... He turned and waved. He caught a ball, (it must have come from Yogi Berra in left?). We called out to him to throw the ball up to us. He made a motion like he was going to do just that but that ball returned to his glove and Mickey returned to his warmup. We were in awe. What a guy!
The game started. In the course of the game both Mantle and Maris hit home runs. I don't rememeber what inning it was when Mickey was at bat and hit that 2nd (as I rememeber) home run. I can still hear in my mind the crack of his bat hitting that pitch. We heard that crack all the way out in the center field stands. We watched the ball rise as it headed out towards right field. It keep going up and up and up. It was over the outfield fence and still going up. It cleared the stands and even then was still going up.
Was it going to hit the wall? No!!!
It cleared the wall and was out of the stadium! Mickey Mantle had just hit a home run out of Tiger Stadium, and from our center field seats we had the perfect view of it all the way up and out!
As I recall, the Yankees won the game and afterwards we climbed into the school bus and headed back to our small rural Michigan community. The memory of Mickey interacting with us during the warmups; the memory of that "out of the stadium" home run remain in my memory to this day. We had seen someone who was to us, one of baseball's larger then life heros. And even though most of us remained loyal Tiger fans, Mickey Mantle had a special place in our hearts and memories.
I am well aware that in latter years, after his retirement from baseball, Mantle had some struggles and failures in his personal life. For myself, those things do not take away from who he was as a major league baseball player, nor from what his presence met for the game. For us who as youngsters saw him play the game, Mickey Mantle was and remains a great baseball player and hero.
Official Mickey Mantle Website
(Up to 1961, the Detroit stadium had been known as Brigg's Stadium. 1961 was the first year it went by the new name of Tiger Stadium.)