Thursday, July 13, 2006

Where is my JET PACK?

It's the middle of the baseball season and my mind rewinds to the summer days of the late 60s and early 70s when my brothers and I would be treated to one of life's great experiences - going to the ballpark with our dad. In our case these games were at legendary Comisky Park in Chicago - home to the White Sox.

Until last season and their World Series win, the White Sox were one of baseball's most consistent losers. Seasons would often start with the promise of being competitive and quickly fade. While never as disappointing as the hapless Cubbies of Chicago's North Side, the "Pale Hose" rarely came close to being competitive, but that never diminished the excitement of going to the stadium and drinking in the game and every amazing experience. The richest of these was also one of the most rare - the double-header!

Before baseball became a business dominated by TV ratings and driven by multi-millionaires who make more money than the captains of Industry, there was a time when teams scheduled several double-headers in each season. These were days when a team would expect to play two games, back to back... for the same ticket holders! And when my dad would tell us that we could pick out a game to attend that summer, my brothers and I would scour the schedule for a couple of things. First we would look for a game that giveaways... like BAT DAY or CAP DAY. Not only did you get to see a game, but if you were one of the first 20,000 youngsters (14 and under) in the park - you were given a bat for free, and your picture appeared in the paper the next day. Both the Tribune and the Sun Times printed a wide shot of Comisky filled with bat-waving children. (Thanks to lawyers and a few hundred unruly fans, nowadays they hand out the bats and free baseballs as fans LEAVE the stadium.)

If we could not convince dad to take us to a giveaway game, we'd immediately look for a double-header! Imagine that - TWO GAMES in one day! Back to back! 18 innings of professional baseball --- all those chances to catch a foul ball or see a home run and witness the exploding scoreboard - a highlight of ANY visit to Comisky. A double-header also meant twice as much ballpark food! Hotdogs, Coke, popcorn, crackerjack, peanuts, frosty malts - a young man's dream buffet! Ever fiscally responsible, mom usually made sandwiches which were consumed as early as possible in hopes of establishing a need for us to eat the bad and expensive food.

Between games, as the players showered and regrouped second game, the field was home to some of the most unusual entertainment. I recall times when we were treated to expositions of dogs catching frisbees, radio controlled airplane dogfights (as the stadium P.A. played "Snoopy Vs the Red Baron"), golf legend Patti Berg hitting golf balls from home plate into center field, and my personal favorite - THE JET PACK demonstration!

For 30 minutes we watched in slack-jawed amazement as two jack-packed men flew into the stadium, landed on either side of the pitchers mound and then circled the park, just a few feet above our heads. This was the future! The announcer told us all that it was only a matter of time before we all would traveling to school or work via jet pack! My brothers and I talked about those jet packs for weeks, we spread the word at school --- "Get ready people, lose the Schwinn - ground travel is so last decade! We're headed to the skies!"

I believe the year was 1970... 36 years ago... My Schwinn is gone, and has not been replaced by a jet pack. I am however, getting to work on a computerized, automated transportation system - the New York City Subway.

Oh yeah, those double-headers are also a thing of the past...


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