Sunday’s final ballgame at Ray Winder Field made the grumpier part of The Observer’s personality almost glad that so few people show up to most Travelers’ games. Simply getting off I-630 took half an hour, and though for the first half of the game we sat one row behind Spouse Observer, we were genuinely lucky to have found seats at all. Getting a Sprite took another half an hour. We couldn’t bear to even try the hotdog line.
But the nobler part of our personality, the part that loves people-watching and perfect weather and sentimental milestones, could not have had a better time, sandwiched in with 8,300 other people — some, like the older ladies we sat next to, who’d arrived four hours before game time — and lucky enough to have scored seats right behind home plate.
We were stuck in the soft-drink line during the opening ceremonies, including a standing ovation for Travs General Manager Bill Valentine, but we were back in our seats when the final “Play ball!” called the players out onto Ray Winder’s field for the last time. The Travs’ pitcher started the game with a dose of attitude, smacking the Springfield Cardinals’ lead-off hitter in the shoulder with the first pitch — perhaps accidentally, but we prefer to think as a kind of throwing down of the gauntlet after the previous evening’s humiliating 17-2 defeat. The rest of the team stepped up when their turn came, scoring five runs on two homers in the bottom of the first and never giving up the lead.
The game was the best we’ve seen at Ray Winder all year — decent pitching, nice mix of home runs and small ball, a final score (7-3 Travs) that ushered out the 74-year-old ballpark in perfect style but let both teams leave the field with at least a little dignity intact. The jaunty musical offerings of long-time Travs organist Alfreda Wilson, who tossed out “Can’t Touch This” after the Travs’ first home run. The repeated pleas over the loudspeaker for fans not to destroy anything so the ballpark could be used again (they listened, as far as we could tell). And, of course, the 8,300 people who showed up to cheer on the Travelers — a crowd worthy of a major-league team, hooting and hollering in all the right places. It was fun. It was … what the game of baseball deserves.
We’ll see you on the north side next spring.
The Labor Day weekend got The Observer thinking about one of our first jobs in Little Rock post college graduation. At the time, it seemed like a nutty job, but we were getting paid for it. The job was to walk several blocks in downtown, east of Broadway, to pass out refrigerator magnets that had the phone number of the new ambulance service on it. Little Rock’s previous ambulance service had infamously dragged its wheels when responding to calls from low-income neighborhoods and the new service promised to treat all equally. That was part of the spiel The Observer was to give, that calls would not go ignored.
The things we saw — if only we’d taken a camera along. We walked up and down High Street (now MLK) and Pulaski and Cross and Ringo and Chester, making our way east. We knocked on residential and business doors. One business was in a big old clapboard building that looked like it could have once been a grocery store; now it was a place to bring your deer to be butchered. We wish we could locate that building again. At one home, a man answered the door and invited us in to hear what he was playing on his record player. He had blues albums stacked all around his parlor, an enormous collection, and he spun a few for me. The Observer was in awe, but not in the kind of awe the guy deserved, now we think of it. At another house, a nude woman came to the door. She was not interested in ambulance service. We discovered the world’s smallest hamburger joint, and had lunch there a couple of times. In those days, there was one table, and We took it. (More recently, the hole in the wall served take-out health food.) The most amazing thing, The Observer guesses, is that all those people opened the door to a clueless 20-something whose message was, now you’re going to be treated right.