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My First Major League Baseball Game: July 15, 1969
In the turbulent, memorable summer of 1969, my family took a cross-country trip through more than half the states in the country. Along the way, at a stop visiting friends in Washington, DC, I got to attend my first Major League Baseball game at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC. I had just turned seven years old a month earlier, but I remember it rather vividly, even today.
It was Tuesday, July 15, 1969. The next day, Apollo 11 was set to launch to take the first men to the moon. I was seated high in the lower deck beyond third base. The defending World Champion Detroit Tigers were in Washington to face the Senators for a night game at RFK Stadium. The Senators—a 1961 expansion team managed by Hall of Famer Ted Williams—were enjoying their best season in their history. They were four games over .500, in fourth place in the American League East, and only two games behind the Tigers and Red Sox. The nearby Orioles were running away with the AL East in the first year of divisional play.
The Senators started homegrown pitcher Barry Moore against the Tigers’ starter John Hiller. The lineups for the two teams featured legendary players. Frank Howard (1960 Rookie of the Year and 1968 AL Home Run champ) was at first base for the Senators; Hall of Famer Al Kaline started in right field, 1962 Rookie of the Year Tom Tresh started at shortstop, and 1961 AL batting champ Norm Cash pinch hit. All Stars Willie Horton and Bill Freehan also started for the Tigers.
When the game began, there was a buzz in the stands among the 16,122 in attendance. A large section just to the first base side behind home plate was empty. Soon after the game got underway, a phalanx of men in neat blue suits walked in to fill the section with one man in a brown suit seated in the middle. It was President Richard Nixon.
The Senators, riding a three-game winning streak, broke out to a 4-0 lead with two runs in the second and third. The Tigers countered with a run of their own in the top of the fourth to make it 4-1. In the bottom of the fifth, the Senators scored three more runs and loaded the bases with nobody out to make it 7-1. The next play provided more history—Washington’s Ed Brinkman hit a grounder to Detroit third baseman Don Wert. Wert stepped on the bag, threw to second, and had his throw relayed to first in time for the first and only triple play witnessed by an American President (or me, for that matter).
Washington won the game 7-3. The 1969 season was the only time a Washington DC baseball team finished above .500 from 1952 to 2012 (granted, there was no Major League Baseball in Washington from 1972-2004, but still….). It was the only season out of 14 years of Major League Baseball at RFK Stadium where the home team finished above .500. And it remains the only time an American President has seen a triple play.
I grew to have a love of baseball after that game. In 1972, I was a catcher on a Los Angeles, California Little League team, and happened to be the home team catcher when 1971 Cy Young Award winner Vida Blue threw out our first pitch. I played high school baseball in my sophomore year, and attended the 1978 World Series at Dodger Stadium. I also became an enormous fan of Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully, which helped to prompt my interest in radio broadcasting.
About 12 years that first game in DC, when Washington was without a baseball team, I ended up getting a job at WWDC radio in Washington—the station that was the home of Washington Senators broadcasts. While I was at WWDC, we started a tradition of playing the last-ever Senators game every year on baseball’s opening day, to mark the lack of a team in Washington. In 1981 and 1982, I lived just a few blocks from RFK Stadium, and as an employee of the station that covered the Washington Diplomats NASL soccer team, I had press passes to their games. In 1982, I played in a media game on the RFK Stadium field—every once in a while looking up at the place where I sat in 1969. Finally, in 2005, the city of Washington once again got a baseball team after a 34-year absence when the Montreal Expos moved to DC as the Nationals.