On that day, 75 years ago, Bob Hudson, then 9 years old, attended his first baseball game.
“It was such a life-changing experience for me,” the boy, now 84, said recently. “I was hooked. Such a gorgeous place. I couldn’t imagine. And all those heroes. Jimmie Foxx! And Lefty Grove! And Buck Newsom beat him!”
Hudson remembers this because we never forget our first time, and he remembers the precise date because it was the day after his ninth birthday, and the image has never left his memory because the first time you walk through that tunnel out into the stands and see that perfect green diamond in front of you has been one of life’s great, universal joys for a century and a half now.
“It’s not that I have a great memory. I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday,” he said. “But it’s just that this is important to me. This matters.”
As a sporting public, we are older and more jaded now. But on this day, the 75th anniversary of Hudson’s first game, forget about lockouts and drunk-driving ballplayers, set aside the cynicism engendered by rising salaries and rising ticket prices, and just for a day, remember that time when you were nine years old and your love of sports was still pure and simple.
In Culpeper County, Va., on the morning of May 10, 1936, the car across the street was pulling away. In it were little Bobby Hudson’s uncle and his cousin of the same age. But they must have seen Bobby watching from the window of his house, because before the car’s dust cloud could settle, they were doubling back and pulling into his driveway. They asked Bobby’s mother if he could go with, and then the car was pointed toward Griffith Stadium, some two hours away.
Once the boys collected themselves, after the first transformative sighting of the green grass, and the recognition of those famous ballplayers whose faces they had seen only on baseball cards and newspaper pages, the next thing that amazed Hudson was the ball coming off the bat. Not the long home runs or the sharp line drives.
“The pop flies!” he said. “I couldn’t believe how high they were.”
We’ll have to take Hudson’s word that it happened like that — and that it happened at all — because at age 9, he didn’t have the foresight to hold on to a ticket stub or a program from that fateful day.
But within a year, that sense of history must have taken hold. Because one recent day, in the office of the condo he shares with his wife, Agnes, in the Leisure World retirement community in Silver Spring, Hudson pulled out a file labeled “Very Special Programs.” And on top is a program from the 1937 All-Star Game, held at Griffith Stadium. President Franklin D. Roosevelt gazes out from the cover.