While I moved from Chicago after the first grade, I still have enough of the Windy City in me to keep an occasional eye on the hometown paper, the Tribune, especially when someone sends me a clipping of interest. That was the case recently when a dear college friend sent me Heidi Stevens’ column on a five-year-old boy named Colin O’Connor, a column that prompted both smiles and, conversely, a few nostalgic tears.
Stevens explained in her July 29th column that Colin is a Chicago suburban dweller in Glenview along with his parents Colleen and Mike, and even at such a young age, he has developed a keen interest in a particular sport.
The sport to which Colin has gravitated is baseball, and a while back he was introduced to the pocket schedule, those small bi- or tri-folds that list a team’s schedule. His aunt, a Cleveland Indians fan, sent him one in the mail. Colin became so taken with the colorful tri-fold with the likenesses of Indian stars Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor and Corey Kluber on the front and the listing all 162 of the Tribe’s regular-season games inside that he began studying it as his pre-bedtime ritual.
That gave Mom and Dad an idea, one, I think, that will bring a smile to the face of every old dude like me out there that remembers sending away for childhood objects of desire back in the 1950s and ’60s. With Mom’s help, Colin wrote a request letter while Dad located an address for all 30 Major League teams, with the goal being that each would send him a pocket schedule.
When the Padres and Yankees sent their team pocket schedules, Colin’s mission was complete. Some teams even sent additional swag, such as team fridge magnets and lanyards and even, from the Red Sox, a small bag of Fenway Park dirt.
Accompanying the story was a photo of the cutest little guy you’re likely to see on pretty much any day, wearing an Under Armour navy blue T-shirt with one simple word just above the company trademark: “Baseball.”
The story that Stevens uncovered really touched me on so many levels. Of course, in an age when baseball has lost the large market it once had with kids to other faster-paced sports like football and basketball, Colin is indeed a throwback. As a matter of fact, reflecting back on my first fascination with baseball, he’s got the jump on me. I was first drawn to the sport at seven when I became aware of someone named Mickey Mantle.
As for Colin’s fascination with pocket schedules, as a boy, I loved them too. While I didn’t send away for all of the teams’ tri-folds, each March spring training, I hightailed it to one of my go-to baseball-card-purchasing locations, CJ Zerante’s Carryout on the corner of Cable and Allentown, not just for a wax pack of cards but also to reach in the small boxes on the counter and snag the free pocket schedules of the Reds and Tigers.
The Reds schedule generally had a head shot of lead radio play-by-play man Waite Hoyt and, of course, an advertisement for Burger Beer, while the Tiger schedule showed small head shots of announcers Ernie Harwell and George Kell and, of course, an advertisement for Stroh’s Beer. I say “of course” because it was impossible to separate baseball and beer in my 1950s and ’60s when one of the only televised games was Saturday’s Falstaff Game of the Week with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese on the mic.
As Colin will probably do, I kept those pocket schedules for years in a shoe box before eventually they somehow were lost in life’s adult shuffle like so many other childhood treasures.
Colin’s daily mad dashes to the mailbox, I think, were much like Ralphie’s in that holiday classic “A Christmas Story” as Ralphie impatiently waited for his Little Orphan Annie decoder pin. And, it also reminded me of my own sprints to the mailbox well over 50 years ago to see if that Mickey Mantle autograph arrived after my father helped me craft a request note and include a self-addressed envelope with postage (it eventually did and on Yankee stationery that I DO still have).
There were other items, such as little frogmen that would move through my bathtub water as long as I filled their backs with baking soda and a set of free magnets, for which I also made my anticipatory sprints to the mailbox.
Oh, and there’s one other reason I loved Heidi Stevens’ column on Colin. And, that’s because, in true throwback fashion, this young man somehow found a way to have some real old-school fun, in other words without using a smart phone or an iPad to tap on some game app.
Thanks, Heidi, for finding Colin’s story. For me it’s a story of hope for a generation of kiddos so often accused of not being able to generate fun the old-fashioned way.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.