In June of 1963 my family moved from Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix, Arizona to Seguin, Texas. Seguin was thirty miles east of San Antonio and near my mother’s family. The reason we moved was my dad’s orders to go to South Vietnam for a one-year tour of duty. He would be there from August 1963 to August 1964.
If anything good came out of a year’s family separation, it was my getting my very own electric AM radio. Dad also got me a one-year subscription to The Sporting News Magazine and well as Baseball Magazine’s 1964 season preview magazine. It contained all the official records for the then twenty Major League Baseball teams.
When we moved to Sequin, Texas dad made sure I knew the Houston Colt .45s baseball team’s games were easily found on my radio. He found the game on KBAT, 680, AM, San Antonio, Texas. He put a spot on the radio dial using red fingernail polish in case I lost the station. That way I could dial it back in. It would be years before digital dials would be available on radios. He also gave me a copy of the Houston team’s schedule for 1964. I lived my life with the ball games being the focal point.
Gene Elston and Loel Passe were the radio announcers. I spent almost every night with them talking on my radio in August and September of 1963 and then again in April through September 1964.
Today baseball gets a bad rap for being slow in the age of video games and Sportscenter highlights. Baseball is not boring. I like to call baseball a talking sport. I love the stories the announcers tell between the ebb and flow of the game. The stories start during the pre-game broadcast. Many times they would begin with a story from baseball’s past, sharing the history of the game. Yes, they would do a preview of the day’s game before moving to the action. I would get excited as Loel and Gene would comment on Houston Manager Harry Craft taking out the line-up card and meeting to opposing manager. I always like it best when the Colts played the Los Angeles Dodgers. They would mention Walter Alston taking out the line-up card. They had Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.
The pregame broadcast would be especially fun when the Colts played the Milwaukee Braves with Hank Aaron and Eddi Matthews. The Braves manager was Bobby Bragan. He was a southerner who later was president of the Texas League. Bobby Bragan could spin a yarn as good as anyone. His stories are still legendary.
Back in 1964 baseball games were only on television on Saturdays, so the radio was the window to the world. Gene and Loel could paint a picture with words. The grass was greener when they described it. The humidity in old Colt Stadium in Houston had me sweating 150 miles away.
The team wasn’t very good in 1964. It was a bunch of young kids and older players. I didn’t care how bad they were. They were my team. Before the season ended manager Harry Craft was replaced by Luman Harris as manager. I still remember the players. Jerry Grote and John Bateman split the duties at catcher. Walt Bond played first base. He was the best offensive player on the team. At second base was an old Nellie Fox. The hall of fame would be in his future. It would be for his paly with the Chicago White Sox in the 1950s, not Houston. Eddie Kasko was at shortstop. I remembered him from his days with Cincinnati, third base was Bob Aspermonte, the outfield was Al Spangler, Jimmy Wynn and Joe Gaines. The pitchers were Bob Bruce, Turk Farrell, Ken Johnson, Don Nottebart and closer Hal Woodeshick.
Most games started at 7 PM and ended by 9 to 9:15 PM back then. I would sit on my bed reading the Baseball Magazine and The Sporting News while Gene and Loel told their never ending stories. That was the year I grew to love baseball. As a ten-year-old boy, there was nothing better. Television, playing with friends and everything else took a back seat to listening to the game on KBAT, 680, AM in San Antonio, Texas.
Listening to baseball on the radio was fun. It still is. I am listening to the New York Mets playing the Texas Rangers in the next to last exhibition game of the 2015 exhibition season as I type this story. No, I don’t have the game on the television. I am listening to it on the radio.