[January 13th] -- Though I had attended several games prior to 1969, trips to RFK Stadium were still a thrilling experience for me. The excitement would build as I walked from the parking lot past the concession workers selling food - "get your peanuts, get your peanuts here --- they're delicious and they're nutricious!"
was the cry of my favorite hawker. By the time I got to the ticket booth, I was apoplectic with delight. Then, a few steps later, I would hand that little green ticket to the guy at the gate and then, I was in.
I would always stop and absorb the atmosphere. I always went in the same gate, and so the view was always the same. That said, it was new to me every time I returned to the stadium.
I would look left and right, and there were the beginning of those long and lonely concrete ramps that would take the fans to their seats. In front of me, and just to the right, was a concession stand. There was always a short line there - three or four minutes was all it took to get my hot dog and coke. I fumbled in my pocked for my coins as I walked towards the end of the line. Just as I reached it, a tall man slipped in from around the corner and took the spot in front of me.
I saw something you'd never expect to see in a major league stadium.
There, inches away from me - and standing in line - was a man wearing a Washington Senators uniform. I'm talking the real thing. I couldn't tell you these many years later who it was, but there are many things that I do remember about him.
He was a coach. He was probably 6'4" and 230 pounds and still very muscular. He had graying curly hair sticking out along the sides of his "curly W" cap, which was somewhat askew on the top of his head. His face was contorted and red - it was obvious that he didn't want to be there. Heck, he was burning with anger that he was standing in line with the rest of us. There were probably 25 people in the line; me, 23 fans and this guy. My eye level was about in the middle of the uniform number on the back of his jersey. I thought it was so cool that I was close enough to see the individual stitches around his number. I could tell - for the first time - that the blue around the red number wasn't piping sewn on but rather a red number sewn onto a larger blue number, leaving just a tad bit of blue showing around it. I also realized for the first time that the uniform wasn't white. It was creme color.
I began to look r-e-a-l-l-y close at the number - too close - and bumped into the guy. He turned around and looked at me - paused for a moment - and turned back around. He turned around one more time and said, "Hi." "Hi" I said. Then I followed up with this gem: "Did some guy make you get 'em a hot dog?" He stared at me for a moment and then broke into laughter. "Yeah, one of the guys made me go get 'em a hot dog." To this day, I kick myself for not asking who it was (my guess is the only person willing to embarrass a team coach was Ted Williams.
Now, you have to get a clear picture here. We were standing in line, leaning against a white cinderblock wall. The people behind the counter couldn't see who they were serving until they walked into view. Pretty soon, the line shortened and the coach emerged and took his place by the cash register. There was a large African-American man behind the counter who was putting the money from the last customer in the drawer. He slammed it shut and looked up, saying "Can I help ya?" as he raised his head.
When his eyes made contact with the guy in the Senators' uniform, he froze for several seconds. His eyes didn't shift. He didn't move a muscle. "Gimme a hot dog and a Sprite" said my friend. The worker remained frozen save a slight upward shift of his left eyebrow. Then he started to laugh.
And laugh. And laugh. And laugh.
When the coach walked away, his face looked even more angry, if that was even possible. When it was my turn, the man looked down at me and asked with a stern voice, "And I guess you're Frank Howard, right?"
And then he laughed some more.
I strained to spot the coach during the game, but didn't have any luck. It wasn't Nellie Fox and it wasn't Wayne Terwilliger, and it wasn't Sid Hudson - I knew what they looked like. He was probably the bullpen coach, but I just don't know, and probably never will.
I don't remember the game - I couldn't even tell you who won or who played the Senators. But I do remember that guy in the Senators' uniform. It was one of those moments etched and stretched across my memory.
Man, that uniform was creme, not white. Well, what'dya know ....