Sports in 2020 will likely go down as the Year Without Fans, even as the NFL season starts with some number of spectators in the stands. For the most part, the fan has been forced to watch at home and stadiums have been eerily empty with only cardboard cutouts and the sounds of cheering from speakers.
One thing that cannot be replicated is the memories those fans are missing out on this year.
With the news of Lou Brock’s death last weekend, it occurred to me that I may have witnessed Brock during his playing days, which ended two years after I was born.
Not that I remember, but my parents bought and kept a felt St. Louis Cardinals pennant and wrote down the date of the first game they took me to see on June 5, 1978.
Thanks to the magic of the internet, specifically baseball-reference.com, anyone can look up any Major League game for any date.
As it turns out, the Cardinals played the Cincinnati Reds on that Monday night. It was a night game that lasted a little under three hours.
Brock started in left field and the Reds starting pitcher was Tom Seaver, who died a few days before Brock last week.
What are the odds? Pretty good considering no batter faced Seaver more than Brock.
Since I was only 14 months old at the time, I had to rely on my mother’s memory.
“You were awake the entire game,” she recalled.
“We sat up high,” she said. “Dad bought the pennant to remember the day, not knowing how much you were actually going to love the Cardinals.
“All except Fredbird of course.”
It seems Fredbird scared my younger self. In my defense, Fredbird had some creepy eyes back then.
There’s no doubt dad picked the game because Seaver and Bob Forsch were pitching. It turned out to be a good one, even if the Reds won 2-1. There were four future Hall of Famers in that game, with two not playing, and that doesn’t count Pete Rose. The others were Reds manager Sparky Anderson and Johnny Bench.
Brock, Seaver, Joe Morgan and newly elected Ted Simmons were in the lineups.
Southeast Missouri native Mark Littell pitched two innings in relief, getting out of a jam after the Reds took the lead in the eighth.
Oddly, Brock didn’t steal a base and Rose didn’t get a hit. Seaver struck out eight in a complete-game win, allowing no earned runs.
Seaver had won 21 games the previous year between the Mets and Reds, who sent Doug Flynn, Steve Henderson, Dan Norman and Pat Zachry to New York.
Brock came to St. Louis in 1964 for Ernie Broglio, Doug Clemens and Bobby Shantz and helped St. Louis to three World Series, winning two.
In 1978, Brock stole 17 bases in 92 games, both career lows during his time with the Cardinals.
The following year at the age of 40, however, he hit .304 to reach 3,000 career hits, stole 21 bases, drove in 38 runs and was an All-Star for the sixth time.
Rose, who started his 44-game hitting streak on June 14, started the game with a groundout to Keith Hernandez. Garry Templeton put St. Louis ahead with two outs in the third. The baseball-reference.com boxscore reads “single to (pitcher); (Mike) Phillips scores on (error by the first baseman), Templeton to third.”
Mom couldn’t remember what happened, or anything about the game.
The Reds tied the game on a two-out, bases-loaded walk to Don Werner, the No. 8 hitter playing instead of Bench, after intentionally walking Mike Lum. The Cardinals had three managers that season and finished 69-93, three games in front of the last-place Mets.
Forsch ran into trouble in the eighth after a leadoff walk to Morgan. With runners at the corner, Dan Driessen singled to right, ending Forsch’s night. Littell came in and got a double play before a strikeout left a runner at third.
Seaver, meanwhile, struck out five of the final seven hitters he faced, including all three in the ninth.
My guess is we didn’t stick around for the end but listened to it on our drive back to High Ridge. At least, that’s the memories I have from all the other games we attended.