Winter Dreams of a Season to Come

Buffalo Stadium Houston, Texas Its Post WWII Night Game Look

Buffalo Stadium
Houston, Texas
Its Pre-WWII Night Game Look

As Rogers Hornsby once famously proclaimed, he spent the winter months staring out window, waiting for spring and the return of baseball, Of course, he did, and he certainly wasn’t alone. A lot of us had our meditative ways of envisioning ourselves forward into a new season, attaining a few blissful moments of accelerate-the-clock time travel into the warmth of spring and all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of baseball, the game we spent all of our time loving and too much of our off-season months missing.

I remember coming home to Pecan Park from downtown on the Lawndale 7400 bus once in December of 1952. It was my way home from St. Thomas High School everyday until I learned to drive. We were headed east on Leeland, coming up on the corner intersection with Cullen when I suddenly just rang the “getting off” buzzer line to also exit at Cullen, not something I’d ever done before or after, coming from downtown. I’d done it uncountable times coming the other way. Leland@ Cullen was the exit stop we took for 3-mile bus trip games from our neighborhood to Buff Stadium.

Buff Stadium lay a long a long block away from that corner, heading south, on the right hand side of the street. As I slowly walked south on the right side of Cullen, it was possible very quickly to be in view of the high and deep center field wall of the ball park, the tall light towers that made night ball possible, and the grand roof and front window image of the press box area that now rested in the winter darkness as the hiking approach drew me closer to the grand old dame structure of all my baseball dreams for every hopeful moment of what was then only my five years old affair (age 9-14, 1947-52) with baseball.

Suddenly, I stopped. Maybe because I had been induced to hold my ground by the abrupt strong aroma from the smell of freshly baking bread behind me across the street from the “Fair Maid” Bread Company.  It was the same sweet smell that wafted into Buff Stadium each summer, one that made even the ball park hot dogs taste better, regardless of their own bun freshness. And the giant neon-outlined “Fair Maid” bread loaf was even more impressive a sight from the closer vantage I now had of it, over my left shoulder and high above the bakery. On charcoal grey and late-in-the-day December afternoon in Houston, the now again glittering light above Fair Maid was both a direct character from our enjoyment of baseball this past summer as it was also siren call for the new season to get here as fast as possible.

As I turned to stare again at the mild winter silence of Buff Stadium, my mind simply rested in some kind of meditative state in the moment – and those were all words and concepts I had no speaking capacity for describing things back in 1952.

It was akin to what I now think Rogers Hornsby may have been trying to explain when he talked about “staring out the window (in winter) and waiting for spring. It just happens, sometimes.

 

The Fair Maid Bakery Sign ~beyond deep center, across Cullen Blvd, atop the Fair Maid Bakery on Leeland@Cullen.

The Fair Maid Bakery Sign
~beyond deep center, across Cullen Blvd, atop the Fair Maid Bakery on Leeland@Cullen.

In my meditation that day, the afternoon grayness sort of transitioned into a movie-like twilight and night darkness, with the big arcs of light launching on by some invisible hand, followed by the sounds of organist Lou Mahan playing into the mood of the now filing in fans and the “bounce-and-bust” of baseballs flying all over the place in pre-game reps, play, and practice.

For something like a couple of nanoseconds in December 1952, I had traveled by meditative wishfulness to the 1953 baseball season back. Glad it all happened before those sudden gusts of late-in-the-day norther breath hit me on Cullen. There was no going forth to the spring of 1953 after those cold winter bad boy winds got here. It was time to lope back to Leeland and catch the next Lawndale 7400 bus home.

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eagle-0range

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4 Responses to “Winter Dreams of a Season to Come”

  1. Davis Barker .... Jacksonville, Texas Says:

    Dad used to talk about games during the winters of the mid-late 1950’s, as groups of major leaguers trouped into Buff Stadium on tour …. crowds were pretty good since it was really the only chance to see the major’s players … I can remember as a kid at the time that KPRC televised some games in what was billed as a “Winter League” … most were major and minor leaguers who lived in Texas … I have never been able to find out any information on the practice in Houston.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Davis, they called them all star games in the post-WWII years that immediately followed the resumption of Texas League play in Houston. They were exactly what you described as teams filled out with a few major leaguers, far more minor league players, and probably a few semi-pro “wannabes,” but my memory fails on the “Winter League” billing. I went to one game in about 1951 that included Johnny Keane and a young Dodger pitcher from this area named Larry Ludtke. I remember because I got both of their autographs on a the inside white part of a Dixie cup that I picked up off the ground for that purpose. I also found a short scorekeeper’s pencil on the ground for the actual writing part. I did not have them long. The Dixie cup looked too much like trash to my mom when she found it on the floor at the door leading to my room and she threw it out. – Larry Ludtke ruined his arm fighting for pitching life in the Dodger chain, but he later became a world class sculptor – and even did some pieces that are still in place around the Astrodome. Larry’s dead now, but he was quite a nice guy and brilliantly talented. As a sculptor, he signed his work as “Lawrence Ludtke.”

  2. Davis Barker .... Jacksonville, Texas Says:

    Dad was one of the “semi-pro” wannabes … invited to several more as a pre-game tryout than playing in the games … played for the Philco club out of Houston in the old South Texas Semi-pro League … interestingly, his manager was Lefty Graham, father of the Rice coach … most players were recent college players and former minor leaguers, including several Buffs like catcher Jerry Burmiester … I was there for some, but it was hard to see over the edge of the bassinet … he worked for Southwestern Bell for $38 a week and played for Philco on Sat and Sun for $25 a doubleheader each day … his stories always fascinated me … I guess it’s true, some of us were born in the wrong era …

  3. Davis Barker .... Jacksonville, Texas Says:

    Funny what you remember …. first I think I can remember Ludtke’s work featured at Sea World in the late 80’s (Tx History people) …. and also when researching years ago A&M’s baseball players who went on to play pro ball, if I remember correctly, Ludtke was from Jeff Davis and played at A&M as a freshman …. kinda lost track of him after that ….

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