by Peter Trunk
My baseball story begins in Brooklyn. It was 1953 when I was 7 years old. As a young boy, I lived in a four family residence on Essex Street in the East New York neighborhood. My kinfolk lived not only in my building, but up and down my street. We had family everywhere! With Ebbets Field being a mere five miles away, our entire brood were rabid Dodger fans, living and dying with the fortunes of “Our Bums”. I have early and fond memories of my mother working in the kitchen as she listened to a young Vin Scully announce games on the radio sitting on the ice box while my brother, Paul, sat at the table keeping score on his homemade sheet.
My Uncle Joe, who lived across the street, bought the family’s first television set just in time for the 1953 World Series. This is how I learned that the Brooks’ hot shot second baseman Junior Gilliam, was an African American! Before I knew it, I was hooked on everything Brooklyn Dodgers, quickly learning all the players, their numbers and statistics. The Dodgers’ young center fielder Duke Snider was my favorite player.
After the Dodgers lost that ’53 World Series to the cross-town Yankees, I listened intently for the entire off-season as my dad, mother and various uncles and aunts would discuss the Dodgers at family gatherings. Among the countless turkeys, meatloaves, chickens, casseroles, highballs, beers, egg creams, cakes, pies and ice cream, came the relentless “Who’s Walter Alston?” We knew very little about the future Hall of Fame manager, but with his quiet demeanor, he would carefully guide those Dodgers for 24 seasons including the last four seasons in Brooklyn, the team’s first World Series title in ‘55, and 20 seasons on the west coast.
In 1954 I attended my first Dodgers game. I can still recall my eight year old self studying the players on the green expanse below. The first strains of Gladys Goodding’s organ startled, then chased, a murmuration of pigeons from the centerfield roof. There was the Duke of Flatbush waving his cap at a mosquito in center. There was the Captain Pee Wee Reese, standing at attention a few feet away on the outfield grass near shortstop. Near the Captain, I saw Jackie Robinson who by this point in his career was playing third base with Junior Gilliam at second. Robinson was a fierce competitor who I still admire now, some 65 years later for his tenacity and courage.
As the teams took the field my dad drew on his Roi Tan cigar, sending a cloud of blue smoke over my head. I might have been introduced to baseball in ‘53, but I fell in love with baseball in ‘54. I could hardly believe that what I saw on that black and white television at my uncle’s house was even better in person. I remember being jealous of all the vendors, hawking yearbooks, popcorn, beer and ice cream. I thought they all got in for free and could watch all the games. I wanted to be one of them! I was at Ebbets Field and my heros were directly below sporting their wonderful snow white uniforms with Dodgers in blue script across their chests. Be still my heart!
Would you believe that Duke Snider hit a home run in his first at bat that day! This only forever solidified my love for number 4. I wore Snider’s number 4 with pride in honor of him all through my playing days in Little League and Pony League.
When the Brooklyn Dodgers won their first and only World Series in 1955, my family celebrated like never before! All the doors stayed wide open and the adults sang, danced and drank the night away. For the next few weeks, someone in the family would have a party to commemorate the magical and marvelous occasion. I had just turned nine years old and believed the Dodgers would now win every year to come!
The Dodgers would return to the World Series the following season in ‘56, only to lose to the Yankees 4 games to 3. This would prove to be their last postseason hurrah.
My family did not believe Walter O’Malley would actually move the team to the west coast. They all said he was bluffing for a better deal in Brooklyn. I heard about the potential move sometime in the ‘56 season while on the way to a game with my dad. This did not seem possible. This could not happen! No way.
Then it did.
The final game was played at Ebbets Field on September 24, 1957. The following year after spring training in ‘58, instead of flying its customary route north, the team plane veered west for Los Angeles. My Dodgers would never return to Brooklyn. My baseball world was severely rocked.
Over the ensuing years of my youth as I fought the emotions of losing the Dodgers, then our President John F. Kennedy was assassinated when I was 16 years old. I was both outraged at losing the Dodgers and now dismayed at losing our President. These moments defined my youth.
As time wore on I began to visit Hyannis Port and Cape Cod on the Nantucket Sound in Massachusetts. While enjoying the environs, I began listening to Boston Red Sox games, discovering the games could be heard back home through a Connecticut radio station. It was then that I began following the BoSox. I thought more than a few things about them mimicked my Brooklyn Dodgers. Their ballpark seemed to be a mirror image of Ebbets Field. Built just a year apart from each other, Fenway Park was plopped right in the middle of a neighborhood with little or no available parking just like Ebbets. Back then a full house was less than 35,000 and their fans spoke with a funny accent and were extremely passionate. And just like my Dodgers, they had “B’ on their caps and their history entailed illustrious highs and despairing lows. Although my loyalty and allegiance is to the Dodgers, I’ve been to Fenway many times and still hold a strong affection for the Red Sox. There’ll never be another Ebbets Field, but Fenway Park is a pretty good surrogate.
After 1957, attempting to follow my Dodgers from 3,000 miles and three time zones away proved unachievable and impractical. Not until years later when cable TV and the internet came along was I able to realistically keep up with the Dodgers’ fortunes and results. Now with MLB TV package it is quite easy to cheer them on from afar, so to me it just seems as if the Bums are on an extended road trip. I do travel out to Dodger Stadium on occasion, visit Philadelphia and New York when they’re in town and now, over six decades later, I still root for the Pantone 294 of Dodger Blue.
To this day, older Brooklyn fans speak of the astounding verdant Ebbets Field upon popping out of the tunnel, making way to their seats. That incredible green grass! I, on the other hand, mostly remember the smells of the old park. The cigar smoke. The sun basted beer spills on the concrete walkways. Those dirty water hot dogs, smeared with mustard from a “community” wooden stick. The urine troughs in the men’s room where I was instructed to touch nothing! The dirt. Yes, the dirt. I can still smell the petrichor as the infield was being hosed down before the first pitch.
Oh the Brooklyn Dodgers of my youth…the 1950’s, our family living together so close, those Boys of Summer playing a kids’ game at Ebbets Field and Vin Scully on the ice box. These are great memories that not only shaped my childhood, but have influenced my life ever since.
2014 Dodger Stadium. This was Peter’s first trip to Dodger Stadium and subsequently, his first time to see the Dodgers play in their home white uniforms since leaving Brooklyn in 1957 when he was 11 years old.
Peter Trunk lives in Central New Jersey with his beautiful wife Linda and their border collie, Dr. Sheldon Cooper. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Peter was a high school Family Health teacher for 35 years where he also coached baseball for 11 years and soccer for 10 years. Today Peter is a model train enthusiast, an avid Brooklyn Dodgers historian, co-hosts a podcast “The Dodgers…from Brooklyn to Los Angeles: A Tale of Two Cities” and thoroughly enjoys spending time with Linda and their family.