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Des Moines, Iowa. 1977. It was a very hot and humid summer day, and my dad asked me if I would like to go to a baseball game.
I was nine years old. I had never shown much interest in sports, but Dad was trying to broaden my horizons. He had taken me to a Royals game in Kansas City in '76 and I had somewhat enjoyed that. However, driving 250 miles to see a game wasn't practical more than once a year or so. A pragmatic man, Dad decided to try the next best thing and see if he could interest me in the local Triple-A team.
I remember that it very unpleasant outside, that I didn't really want to go. Being a lazy city kid I preferred to stay home in the air conditioning and watch TV. But he insisted, so we drove down to Sec Taylor Stadium, home of the Iowa Oaks of the American Association, to see the game.
Located at the convergence of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers near downtown, Sec Taylor Stadium was an out-dated, cramped facility held together by a combination of rotten wood, rust, and river humidity. At that time the Oaks were the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. Eventually they would hook up with the other Chicago team and change their name to the Iowa Cubs. The creaky stadium was torn down in the early 90s and replaced with a modern facility now called Principal Park.
I still think of it as Sec Taylor.
The crowd was huge, and I think my father was taken aback by this. It turned out that it was Farm Bureau Night, and the Oaks had given away a thousand tickets as part of a promotion.
I was painfully shy at that point in life and didn't like big crowds. I remember being uncomfortable at first.
The air was stifling and still, thick as paste. It was hard to breathe. There was a lot of noise. I couldn't see the game much of the time because of all the people. But there was a certain buzz, a certain energy that I had never felt before.
Maybe it was the coke my dad bought me (my mom never allowed sodas in the house). I remember the popcorn, the saltiest I had ever tasted. I remember the box of Cracker Jacks, the first box I had ever had.
And I remember, somewhere around the fifth inning or so, thinking to myself: I like this.
Then came The Home Run.
Oaks first baseman Mike Squires knocked one over the right field wall. The homer must have tied the game or pushed the Oaks ahead, because I remember the roar of the crowd, and the look on happiness on Squires' face as he rounded the bases. I remember The Energy.
And I remember my thought when Squires got to home plate: this is the coolest thing I have ever seen.
I don't remember the final score, although I think the Oaks won, but it was one of the critical moments of my life. Mike Squires became my first baseball hero. It was the first game of hundreds: my dad and I would attend 50-60 games a year for the next nine years, many times with my best friend Brent Jacobs. This lasted until I was a high school senior and too cool to hang out with my father any longer.
I think about that game a lot. None of the rest of it. . .working for Bill James, the books, this website. . .none of the rest of it would have happened without the Iowa Oaks, Mike Squires, Farm Bureau Night, and my dad.
It was the Perfect Game because it made me a baseball fan, forever.