Big League Weekend: Where memories are made

Of all the things to like about Saturday’s Cubs-Reds Big League Weekend game at Cashman Field — the weather, the crowd, the peanuts and cracker jack –  the thing I liked best was Harry Christensen bouncing his
3-year-old son, Gavin, on his knee in the first row of seats behind the Chicago dugout before the game.

Once the game started, I liked Starlin Castro’s two majestic home runs, the second of which cleared the blue monster in center field where the sign on top of the wooden fence says 433, the distance in feet from home plate. By now, one can assume Castro’s dinger has joined the golf ball Alan Shepard hit on the moon in eternal lunar orbit.

But if there’s anything better than playing catch with your old man, it’s going to your first big league game with him.

Gavin Christensen was clutching a baseball that Cubs catcher Koyie Hill had autographed as if he would never let it go. Cubs fans were hoping Alfonso Soriano was watching this unfold.

Harry Christensen said Gavin was hoping to get the signature of his favorite player, Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, on his baseball. If you asked most 3-year-olds about their favorite player, they’d probably say SpongeBob SquarePants, who I think hit for a higher average against lefties than Fukudome did last season.

Christensen works for a “theatrical flying company,” which seems a more unusual job than “designated runner,” world-class sprinter Herb Washington’s job description with Charlie Finley’s Athletics. But whereas Washington got picked off first base by the Dodgers’ Mike Marshall in the 1974 World Series, Cher did not fall out of her harness in 200 shows at the Caesars Palace Colosseum.

Although the Cubs’ record isn’t nearly as impressive, Gavin Christensen and his dad didn’t seem to mind.

The weather was warm, father’s knee had a son on board and it smelled like hot dogs.

THREE UP

■ After Pope Paul VI died in 1978, Yankees broadcaster Phil Rizzuto famously said, “Well, that kind of puts a damper on even a Yankee win.” During batting practice, Hiro Aoyama, the interpreter for Fukudome, confirmed the outfielder’s loved ones back in Japan (as well as his own) were safe and accounted for after Friday’s earthquake and tsunami. While not as colorful as Rizzuto’s remark, it did put Cubs closer Carlos Marmol’s dreadful one-inning stint — one inning, two hits, two walks, a hit batter — in perspective.

■ Names on the backs of fans Saturday included Clemente, Mantle, Larkin, Dawson, Grace, Strasburg, Fisk, Bench, Fredette. Yes, a Jimmer jersey. Then there was the rare jersey one doesn’t see every often:  A throwback Reds model worn by local fireman Lou Dezarn, with the name and number (41) of former Cincinnati broadcaster Joe Nuxall. Nuxall was 15 — the youngest player to appear in a major league game — when he got his name in the box score on June 10, 1944. Need a reference point? Way younger than Bryce Harper, even. 

■ Not only did Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman remember he still owes a certain reporter a case of Yuengling beer for betting five years ago that Las Vegas would have a major league sports arena by now, he also recalled the day when he was sitting in the grandstand at Shibe Park — “21st and Lehigh,” he said, as if I doubted his Philadelphianess — when the Phils’ Richie Ashburn fouled off 21 pitches in a row. “I think it might be a record,” Goodman said before throwing out the first pitch at the Cubs-Reds game. Hizzoner bounced one up to home plate, making it 27 first pitches as mayor, two strikes, 25 balls. I thought that might be a record, too, but I forgot about Mitch Williams.

THREE DOWN

■ JabbawockeeZ also bounced in its ceremonial first pitch. JabbawockeeZ was/is three guys wearing black suits and white masks and white gloves. I think they are dancers or something. They take their name from a Lewis Carroll poem called “Jabberwocky” — an eponymous mythical dragon. At least Fukudome, who played nine seasons for the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese Central League, seemed to get it.

■ While the Cubs put a fairly representative team on the field, the Reds lineup in the split-squad game included guys wearing jersey numbers 60, 64, 70 and 77. Cincinnati also had No. 76, outfielder Danny Dorn, who belted a homer that must have made his father, Roger Dorn of  “Major League” fame, very proud.

■ Before batting practice, Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano was in a good mood and wished a reporter good morning. So when batting practice started, said reporter, sensing Mr. Anger Management’s jovial mood, approached him for an interview. “Later,” Zambrano growled, as if the reporter were wearing a Lou Piniella mask. By later, he meant June 3 to 12, when Chicago will be on a season-long 10-game trip to St. Louis, Cincinnati and Philadelphia.

Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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