Now that spring has arrived here in the east, I see Little Leaguers scurrying home from school, eager to finish their homework (that’s what they claim, anyway) and get to the park for their practice or game. That has stirred memories from playing days of yore and coaching days and nights of not so long ago.
Over the years, in the course of interviewing athletes and sports business figures and personalities, I occasionally asked them about their earliest sports memory. Here are some of their responses:
Mark Attanasio, the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers: “Being a Yankee fan in 1964 when I was 7 years old and the Yankees losing the World Series in Game 7 to the Cardinals and walking around the block in the Bronx where I lived and crying because the Yankees had lost.”
Print and broadcast journalist Peter Gammons said, “Listening to the seventh game of the 1952 World Series when I was seven years old in the barber’s chair. Billy Sambito was my barber, and eventually the sponsor of my Little League team. His nephew, Joe Sambito, went on to be great pitcher and we became very good friends. He’s now an agent. Our families were forever intertwined.
“I have a tape of that game. It’s so different, because the pitchers all had full windups and pumped over their heads. There wasn’t a lot of base-running. You can watch that and see how Jackie Robinson changed the game. The Yankees used four starting pitchers in relief in that game. It was tremendous.”
Wyc Grousbeck, the managing partner, governor, and CEO of the Boston Celtics, said that his earliest sports memory was of baseball. “When I was six years old in ’67,” he said, “my dad got to go to a Red Sox/Cardinals World Series game and I didn’t get to go.”
Likewise Sports Illustrated writer Alexander Wolff's earliest sports memory was born out of a missed opportunity. He said that he recalled “being put to bed by my parents in December 1964 and being told I could not stay up late to watch Michigan, with Cazzie Russell, play Princeton, with Bill Bradley, in the Holiday Festival. I was seven years old.”
Writer and editor Daniel Okrent was the first public editor of the New York Times and the inventor of Rotisserie League Baseball. He said, “My father took me to my first game at what was then called Briggs Stadium in Detroit when I was six years old in 1954. It was the Indians against the Tigers — my team. The Tigers lost, but I do remember specifically Walt Dropo, who was playing first [base] for the Tigers, hit this, what seemed to me, gigantic home run into left field. It was probably an ordinary home run, but I’d never seen one before.
"My continuing ongoing memory is going to sleep at night listening to Ernie Harwell broadcast games.”
Debbie Yow, the director of athletics at North Carolina State, said that her earliest sports memory was of “attending my older sister Kay’s high school basketball games. Kay [who passed away in 2009] was eight years older, and when she was a freshman in high school, I can remember going to her basketball games and sitting on a very large barrel while my father talked to men during half-time.
"This was North Carolina. There was [cigarette] smoke everywhere. Smoke, smoke, smoke. People smoking out in the hallways while I was sitting on this large barrel and waiting to go back in and watch Kay play again.”
Brian Bedol, who founded Classic Sports Network and College Sports Television and is now managing director at Bedrock Venture Partners LLC, offered his earliest sports memory: “Jimmy Brown in his last season with the Browns,” he said. “I remember sitting in a snowstorm with 83,000 other fans.”
Terry McDonell, editor of the Sports Illustrated Group, said, “I remember being a little boy in my grandfather’s house and being shown an old-fashioned diagram of a Minnesota/Notre Dame football game that my father, as a child, had diagrammed. You know, showing the ball moved from the 10 [yard line] to the 20, to the 23…and I remember trying to do that while listening to a football game on the radio, trying to have the same experience that my father had had many years before. My father was killed. He was a pilot. So, this was a big thing, being given this [diagram] as a little boy and being told that maybe I could do this too. I think I was about 4.”