Crim: Birthdays and baseball fit together perfectly like game of pitch and catch

Crim stuff

Don Crim's collection of memories from his days going to St. Louis Cardinals games with his dad, Charlie, includes an honorary one-day contract and the foul ball his dad caught that earned him that contract. | Submitted photo

QUINCY — It somehow seems appropriate that my dad’s birthday in early April coincides with the start of the Major League Baseball season and mine in late September signals its end.

Perfect symmetry, like the game itself.

My dad, Charlie Crim, turned 91 on Sunday. While he celebrated by sharing homemade dessert and ice cream with grandkids and great-grandkids, I couldn’t help but think how our lives have been shaped by the shared love of sports, particularly baseball.

He spent hundreds of hours honing my skills as a pitcher in our backyard in Macon, Mo., beginning when I was 9 and continuing through my final season playing American Legion baseball in the summer before I headed off to college.

He taught me how to make a pitch run away from a right-handed hitter or ride into a lefty and how to make the ball sink as it approached the plate. His body absorbed a few fastballs and curveballs that traveled short of 60 feet, 6 inches, but he would be out there the next time with only his catcher’s mitt ready to go.

He took me to my first Cardinals game in St. Louis in 1965 and we regularly went to games each season thereafter. He often would get eight tickets for each game of a Friday-to-Sunday series so my aunt and uncle and seven cousins living in St. Louis could also get a chance to go to the ballpark.

And we always charted the Cardinals’ starting rotation in advance to make sure Bob Gibson was going to pitch one of those games.

He made sure we were there when the Cardinals played in the World Series in 1967 and 1968, making me the envy of my classmates. I still have those ticket stubs and game programs tucked away.

We were sitting 13 rows behind the St. Louis dugout in 1971 when my dad caught a foul ball. A fan catching a ball on the fly in those days received an honorary Cardinals contract. When the usher approached my dad, he gave him my name.

The framed contract and ball are prominently displayed in my home office.

When Gibson’s retirement day was announced for September 1975, as I was away from home just beginning college, I called to see if Dad could get tickets. He did, a few rows behind the third base dugout, and Gibson autographed that commemorative program when I was lucky enough to sit next to him at a dinner five years later.

That memento, along with a framed Gibson-autographed jersey and other photos featuring Cardinals greats, hangs on a wall in our game room.

Muddy River Sports Senior Columnist Don Crim, right, poses for a picture with his dad, Charlie Crim, who celebrated his 91st birthday Sunday. | Submitted photo

Growing up, my dad and I regularly went to high school and college football and basketball games. When I first began covering high school football for the Macon Chronicle-Herald when I was 17, he tagged along to serve as a spotter from either the press box or the sideline.

My parents moved twice while I was in college, the second time to Texas, where they lived for 31 years before moving to Quincy in 2009 to be close to their three grandchildren and growing number of great-grandkids. Their vacations were spent driving to Illinois and Missouri for extended visits with family in the summer and at Christmas.

I was a few years into my career as a sports writer with the Quincy Herald-Whig in 1983 when I decided to treat my dad to a game on one of those visits. Securing press credentials for both of us for a game at Busch Stadium II, I handed him a reporter’s notebook and pen and instructed him to not draw too much attention by occasionally scribbling a few notes.

We went on the field for batting practice and sat in the Cardinals dugout while Whitey Herzog held court with sports writers. We ate dinner in the press box cafeteria with Jack Buck sitting nearby, watched the game from our assigned seats alongside other writers and took the elevator down to the clubhouse afterward for interviews.

My dad didn’t say much at the time, although I could tell he was having the time of his life. My mom later told me he spent the next six months “busting buttons” telling his Texas friends, neighbors and co-workers all about it.

That would be my dad. He was never effusive with praise but was always regaling others with stories about his kids and their accomplishments.

Dad gets around with either a walker or a wheelchair these days. He fell trying to shovel snow 26 months ago and broke a hip, necessitating a move to an assisted living facility and then a year later to the Illinois Veterans Home.

A man known for being able to strike up a conservation with anyone, anytime, anywhere about anything isn’t as talkative anymore. He doesn’t hear well, his memory isn’t as sharp and he sometimes has trouble coming up with the right words, frustrating him and leading to awkward moments of silence.

It’s during those times when I wish we could turn back the clock and play a little pitch and catch, my dad and I, and debate whether the Cardinals’ pitching will hold up over a 162-game season.

While those days are behind us now, they’ll never be forgotten.

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