I was never an athlete. My brother Mark got all the athletic talent in our family. I played tee ball when I was six years old; all I remember is that we did not keep score, which I thought was dumb, and the coach made me cry once. My high school football career lasted one day, before I realized that I was in way over my head and badly out of shape. Despite that, though, I still grew up around sports, watching games on television and working the scoreboard and snack bar for Mark’s baseball and basketball games.
I went to my first professional sporting event, a Bay City Titans baseball game, in 1982, the summer after I finished kindergarten. A few years later, the four of us in our family started going to games more regularly, a few times every year, until the summer of 1994. By that time, several months of negotiations had failed to produce a resolution between the players’ union and the team owners on money issues. The players voted to strike, and the last month and a half of the season was canceled, as well as all postseason championship games. The strike was not resolved until a few weeks into the 1995 season.
I moved to Jeromeville for school during that players’ strike, and with no baseball that fall and no cable TV with which to watch games once baseball resumed in the spring, I stopped following baseball closely. Besides, I was still upset that the previous season had been canceled. One of my favorite players, Matt Williams, had 43 home runs at the time the strike began, giving him a legitimate chance to break the record for home runs in one season, which was 61 at the time. He never got that chance, and he never hit that many home runs in another season. Baseball had broken my trust.
The strike did not affect the minor league teams playing in smaller cities, and some national television networks began showing high-level minor league games. A new independent league, with players and teams not connected to the big leagues, formed in the western United States in 1995. This league included a team in Santa Lucia County where I grew up, the Gabilan Peppers. I went to a few games with my parents over the years when I was home during the summer, and they were always lots of fun. Unfortunately, the Peppers only lasted a few seasons before folding.
I did not think about going to a baseball game again until just recently. I had stayed in touch off and on over the years with Mrs. Allen, my English teacher from both seventh and eighth grade. Seventh grade had been a very difficult year for me, I was going through things that I could not share with anyone around me, and I did not really have friends. Mrs. Allen had been a positive influence for me that year, someone who believed in me and showed me that school could be a safe place. Last week, shortly after I moved back to Jeromeville for the fall, I got an email from Mrs. Allen, asking how I was doing. Among other things, she asked if I had been following the Titans, because they had a chance to win their division and make the playoffs. She was a season ticket holder, and she invited me to come to a game with her before classes started again for me. I told her that I had not been following closely since the strike, but it would be good to see her, and good to go to a game again after three years.
It was mid-afternoon on a Friday as I left Jeromeville for the Titans game, driving west on Highway 100 toward Bay City. The first half hour of the drive, as far as Fairview, was very familiar to me, because that was also the first part of the drive to my parents’ house. But after Highway 6 split off from Highway 100 to the south, the next thirty-two miles of busy freeway from there to the Bay City Bridge was a road I had only been on twice. The first time was that weekend trip sophomore year when I rode in Eddie Baker’s car and kept hoping for a chance to talk to Haley Channing, and the other time was last year seeing the other major sports team in Bay City, the Captains football team.
In Oaksville, as I approached the bridge, traffic slowed to a halt. This was normal for this area, especially on a Friday afternoon as people tried to get home from work and get either away from or into the city for the weekend. I had left earlier than I needed to, expecting to hit traffic. I inched forward at a crawl for about fifteen minutes leading to the toll booths. I gave the toll taker one dollar, which was the toll on most of the area’s bridges at the time before it increased dramatically over the next couple decades.
Oaksville and Bay City were separated by about four miles of water. Most of my trips to Bay City as a child were to watch Titans games, and the stadium is at the extreme south end of the city, so that I would not see much else of the city on those trips. I had also been to a few other places that required driving across the city from south to north. This spectacular view I had now of entering the city from east to west, with all of the tall buildings of the city’s downtown rising from the water below, was one I had only seen a couple times before. I did not grow up around buildings this tall, and the concept of such a densely populated city fascinated me. I could not fully admire the view, however, because I had to pay attention to where I was going. The freeway was extremely crowded at this time of day, and I had to make sure that I was not in an exit-only lane, and that I would end up in the correct lane to continue onto Highway 11 southbound at the point where Highway 100 ended, two miles after the bridge.
After taking almost half an hour to drive the seven miles from the bridge to the stadium, I found a parking spot in the vast asphalt lot, among the sea of cars surrounding the stadium, and began walking toward the entrance. The Titans’ stadium was built in the 1960s, during an era when the construction landscape in professional sports was dominated by huge concrete structures on the fringes of cities with little character on the outside. Being in Bay City, there was at least the view of the bay, but even this was removed from the inside of the stadium in 1971 when the Captains began sharing the Titans’ stadium. New seats were added to accommodate the larger crowds for football, surrounding the entire field 360 degrees in a misshapen ring, distorted to account for the different shapes of baseball and football fields.
Mrs. Allen had told me to meet her outside one specific entrance to the stadium, and as I approached, I was surprised that I found her relatively quickly, considering the size of the crowd. She looked pretty much the same as she had when I was first in her class nine years earlier, a heavy-set woman in her late forties, with long hair typical of one her age who had been a hippie in her twenties. She wore a Titans jersey and jeans. I waved as I approached her. “I hope you weren’t waiting long,” I said. “I hit traffic.”
“Hi, Greg,” Mrs. Allen replied, giving me a side hug. “I haven’t been here that long. I figured traffic might be bad coming over the bridge. How are you?”
“Pretty good. Ready to go in?”
I followed Mrs. Allen to our seats, toward the back of the lower level. The evening air was cool, because of the bay nearby, and would only get colder as the night went on. Night games in Bay City had a reputation for being cold, and the stadium had been built in one of the coldest and windiest parts of the city, simply because it was one of the few places in the city with open land at the time. I had been carrying a jacket, the same jacket I got for the trip to Urbana last winter, but I was not quite cold enough to put it on yet. I was a little sweaty from walking from the car to the stadium.
“So how was your time in Oregon?” Mrs. Allen asked. “What exactly were you researching?”
“Quasi-Monte Carlo integration using low-discrepancy sequences,” I explained. “I was looking at ways to efficiently approximate integrals that can’t be calculated exactly using conventional means. ‘Monte Carlo integration’ uses random numbers to make this approximation; that’s why it’s called Monte Carlo, because of random numbers being associated with gambling. We were looking at ways to choose numbers that give more efficient and accurate approximations than just purely random numbers.”
“That’s all a bit beyond me,” Mrs. Allen said. “When would you use something like this?”
“Any time you need to calculate an integral that can’t be calculated using normal methods. Integrals are used for finding area and volume of irregular shapes. And for any problem where you have to multiply, but the things you multiply are changing. Like, for example, you multiply speed times time to find distance. But if the speed is always changing in some predictable way, you would use an integral to find the total distance. And some integrals can’t be calculated using regular techniques like adding and multiplying, so we need efficient ways to approximate them, and we need to know how accurate those methods are.”
“I see. So what did you learn from your research?”
“Honestly, I’ve been telling people that the most important thing I learned was that I don’t really like math research. But I’m glad to have learned this now, before I go invest years of my life and thousands of dollars in a Ph.D. program.”
“That’s a good point. Graduate school is a huge commitment.”
“So do you know what you’re doing instead after you graduate?”
“Even though I said a few years ago I never wanted to, I’m now looking at being a teacher,” I explained. “One of my professors set me up helping out in a high school classroom last spring, and I really enjoyed it. I know I need a few more classes I hadn’t planned for as prerequisites for the teacher certification program. I’m taking one of them this next quarter, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get them all in during this year. So I don’t know yet if I’m going to graduate in the spring. I might have to wait to start student teaching until the fall of ’99. I’m also going to look into options for other teaching programs besides Jeromeville, but one of the professors from the Jeromeville program I’ve met before, so if I stayed at Jeromeville, I’d have that familiarity.”
Mrs. Allen had a look of excitement on her face; I could see that she approved of this career choice. “Good for you!” she exclaimed. “I think you’ll make a great teacher.”
“Thank you.” It was an honor to know that I had Mrs. Allen’s vote of confidence, since she had been such an influential teacher in my career as a student.
“I’ll have to tell Mr. Colby when I see him on Monday,” Mrs. Allen said. “I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear you’re looking into teaching.”
“Yes. Tell him I said hi.”
“He used to tell that story all the time about the time he had to step out of the room, and when he came back a few minutes later, you were teaching the class.”
“I remember that,” I said, laughing. “Someone asked me if I knew how to do a homework problem, and I didn’t want to scribble all over her paper, so I went up to the board to do it. And when I was done, I turned around and everyone was watching me, and they started asking me more questions.”
“That’s a great story.”
The baseball game had begun by then. The opponent was the Dallas Armadillos, and because of the recent changes made to baseball scheduling, this was the first time the Armadillos and Titans had ever played each other. Before this year, teams in the two baseball leagues did not play each other until the end of the season, when the two champions would face each other. Dallas was in the other league, and they had never been in the championship, so they had never played Bay City until this year.
The Titans scored first with a home run in the second inning, but their lead did not hold. Three Dallas players got hits in the fourth inning, and two of them scored. The game was then boring for about an hour as the teams took turns not scoring for the next few innings. Mrs. Allen and I used that time to catch up and make small talk. I told her more about my new house and roommates, as well as volunteering with the church youth group and being in chorus last year.
“When do classes actually start for you?” Mrs. Allen asked.
“September 25. But next week I’m going on two retreats. Monday through Friday I’ll be in Pine Mountain with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship. Then I’ll be leaving straight from there to a retreat with the youth group leaders from church, somewhere up near the Great Blue Lake.”
“That sounds like it’ll be fun! A good way to spend the last week before school starts. What classes are you taking?”
“Number theory, abstract algebra, writing in education, and chorus.”
“I’m glad you’re still doing chorus. You were never doing anything with music back in middle school, were you?”
“No. I was too self-conscious back then.”
“That’s too bad. But I’m glad you found chorus eventually.”
The crowd became more lively after the Armadillos’ pitcher threw two walks and gave up a hit, loading the bases for the Titans. A new pitcher came in for the Armadillos, and the next Titans batter hit a ground ball and was thrown out for the second run of the inning. The runner on third base was fast enough to score, giving the Titans a tenuous lead of three runs to two, and the crowd cheered loudly.
I stood and cheered, then sat back down a minute later. “It’s cold,” I said; more of my body’s surface area had been exposed to the cold night wind when I had stood, and I had no more layers of clothing to put on.
“It’ll be nice when the new stadium gets built,” Mrs. Allen said. “The new location is supposed to be less windy.”
“So did they decide on a new location for sure?” I asked. The team had been trying to get this old, windy stadium replaced for a long time. Five years ago, the old owners tried to sell to a group that was going to move the team out of state, but the other teams in the league voted the sale down. The owners then sold the team to a group committed to keeping them in Bay City with a plan to build a stadium close to downtown and the bridge.
“Yes. It’s the same place they’ve been talking about for years, near the bridge,” Mrs. Allen explained. “But they had to go through a long process to finally get everything approved. Construction is supposed to start later this year, but it’ll be a couple more years until it’s done.”
“That’s exciting,” I said.
Both teams scored again shortly afterward, and by the end of the eighth inning, the score was tied at four each. No one scored in the ninth inning, and the game went to extra innings. I shivered in the cold wind as I watched the game and continued to make small talk with Mrs. Allen. Neither one of us wanted to leave the game early, but I felt miserable sitting outside in the cold, even with a jacket. The jacket did not stop the wind from blowing into my face, and I only wore one layer over most of my legs.
But my persistence paid off. In the bottom of the twelfth inning, a new pitcher entered the game for Dallas, and he did not seem to have a good command of where his pitches were going. He walked the first batter he faced, then two batters later, with one out, he gave up a double to the outfield. With runners on second and third base, the next Titans batter got a hit, scoring the runner on third and giving the Titans a win, by a score of 5-4. I jumped up and began screaming and clapping loudly. I reached over and gave Mrs. Allen a high-five. “Someone’s excited,” she said.
“That was awesome!”
I walked Mrs. Allen back to her car. “Thank you so much for inviting me,” I said.
“Tjhank you for coming! It was so good to see you.”
“Yes. Say hi to all my other old teachers.”
“I will. Drive safely!”
Even though it was still technically summer, I turned on the heater when I got back to my car. I was cold. This was my first time watching a big-league baseball game in over three years, and tonight was the perfect experience to reintroduce me to the sport. The Titans had gotten a win in dramatic fashion, and they had a good chance to make the playoffs. This was also the first time I had ever stayed to the end of a night game that went to extra innings, and sitting through the cold made it feel more like I earned the win.
It had been a long game, and it was well after eleven o’clock by the time I got back to the car. The drive back to Jeromeville would have taken about an hour and a half in good traffic, but traffic after a major sporting event is rarely good, so I did not get home until one-fifteen in the morning. Traffic was mostly stop-and-go for the first couple miles, and it slowed down in other spots elsewhere in the city. By the time I finally got to the bridge, traffic was moving again, and the rest of the drive home was smooth and uneventful.
The Bay City Titans did in fact end up with the best win-loss record in their division, but they lost in the first round of the playoffs. It would be over a decade before I would get to see them win a championship in my lifetime, but I would go to many more Titans games over the next few years. I was at the final game played in this stadium, and while I was not able to go to the first game in the new stadium, I was at the fifth one, the first Saturday game in the new stadium.
Mrs. Allen is the only teacher from my childhood whom I have stayed in touch with semi-consistently for my whole life, although Mr. Colby did find me on Facebook when I was in my late 30s. I tend to see Mrs. Allen every few years, through a combination of planned events and chance encounters when I am back in Santa Lucia County. We met for lunch the last time I visited back home, in June of 2022; she is now in her mid-seventies, with much shorter hair, and has been retired for some time.
I have also been on the other side of some of those teacher-student relationships, since I grew up to be a teacher myself. Many students I have never seen again after they finished their time at my school, or after I left their school, whichever the case may be, but there have been a small handful who have stayed in touch to various degrees. I have watched some of my former students grow up and become parents themselves, I have attended three weddings of former students, and I have experienced at least one hilarious awkward encounter with a former student who knew I looked familiar but could not place how she met me. All of those are stories for another time, but those stories are part of what keeps me going in the demanding and exhausting field of education.
Readers: Do you follow baseball? Do you have any fun stories about memorable baseball games you’ve been to?
I know I’m a day late this week, and it’s for a reason kind of appropriate to this episode: I was in Bay City yesterday at a Titans game, with my parents and the Kanekos, at that new stadium that got built a few years after this episode.
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9 thoughts on “September 12, 1997. My return to the baseball stadium. (#144)”
I now am very certain I know where all this takes place :) I’m not much of a sports fan myself, but if someone invites me into the City to see a game I always say yes for the adventure and spectacle of the thing. I’ve visited a few big stadiums in other states too for various games and always find the sport kind of boring (I prefer basketball’s pace), but the entire experience is always worth it. When everyone sings during the 7th inning stretch I honestly get a little teary!
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No offense, but there is a lot of deep strategy in baseball that can only be appreciated if you really know a lot about the game. That’s why a lot of casual observers find baseball boring, and that’s why I despise many of the rule changes of the last few years, aimed at making the game less boring to younger audiences…
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Also (I can say this now that I don’t have to hide the fact that I’m a teacher anymore), when I go to a baseball game with someone who doesn’t follow baseball closely, I always ask something like, “Do you want me to be a teacher and explain what’s going on all the time, or should I just let you enjoy the game and ask questions when you need to?” Usually they pick option 2, and that’s fine.
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My husband is a big baseball fan and he’s explained it to me plenty…I just prefer the action of basketball. I think it’s simply the pace of the game, but it makes total sense that you love it because it’s so much about math and stats. My husband’s the same.
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Good point about math. :) And I don’t dislike fast-paced games like basketball. One thing I’ve said before is that with the slower pace of baseball (and to some extent football as well), I can go to a game with someone and not feel like I have to choose between paying attention to the game and paying attention to my friend. With basketball and hockey, it’s hard to do both.
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Yes, I agree both baseball and football allow more time for hanging out with people at the games. Hockey is prehaps the hardest, in my experience, and the fans are pretty intense!
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