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Las Vegan Duke Sims recalls playing MLB game on day of moon landing

Updated July 20, 2019 - 5:18 pm

One small step for man … another big step toward ignominy for the 1969 Cleveland Indians.

That’s pretty much how longtime Las Vegan Duke Sims remembers the moon landing that happened 50 years ago Saturday.

Minutes before the Eagle had landed with Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin on board, Sims was summoned to pinch hit for Stan Williams by Cleveland manager Alvin Dark. Fred Lasher was pitching for Detroit, and Sims fouled out to Tigers second baseman Dick Tracewski in the bottom of the ninth inning of the first game of a doubleheader at cavernous Municipal Stadium in Cleveland.

Trailing 3-2, the Indians loaded the bases with two out. But Tony Horton struck out, and the last-place Tribe fell to 37-59.

Seconds later, man landed on the moon.

“What I remember is flying out of Cleveland at the All-Star break which (coincided) with when they went to the moon,” said Sims, a left-handed hitting catcher, who played 11 major league seasons and hit 100 career home runs, including the last one struck at the original Yankee Stadium.

“Looking up as the airplane elevated — it was a full moon that night — I said, ‘I can hardly believe that 300,000 miles away, guys are up there wandering around on dirt.’”

There still was a bit of awe and wonder in his voice. It was like facing the Tigers’ Denny McLain in those days, except he didn’t use swear words.

Many baseball stories would emerge from the moon landing, none more remarkable than the comments Dark had made about Gaylord Perry’s lack of hitting acumen when both were with the San Francisco Giants a few seasons before.

“We’ll have a man on the moon before he hits a home run,” Dark said to San Francisco Examiner baseball writer Harry Jupiter (honest — the man’s name was Jupiter.)

About a half-hour after the Eagle landed, Perry came to bat against the Dodgers’ Claude Osteen in the bottom of the third at Candlestick Park with nobody on base and hit his first major league home run.

Bryan bros unplugged

An estimated 500 million people were watching when the Apollo 11 astronauts struck moon dust, but had the tennis-playing Bryan brothers been around, they probably would have missed it.

“We grew up without a TV — our parents wanted us to spend more time doing studies,” said Mike Bryan, who will join twin Bob in playing doubles for the startup Vegas Rollers in World TeamTennis matches at Orleans Arena this weekend. “They put (musical) instruments in the living room.

“Early on, we had a Nintendo system and we would play it too much. We were playing like at 2 a.m., and my dad (Wayne) came in, ripped it out of the wall and threw if off the cliff in our backyard.”

One can’t argue with the results. The brothers developed their parents’ musical interests and earned scholarships to Stanford.

Nearing the end of a spectacular career that has seen the brothers become the greatest doubles team in tennis history, Mike Bryan says he’s not opposed to watching a little TV in his hotel room when he’s traveling.

What about Bob?

“Bob’s got like 13 TVs in his house,” Mike Bryan said.

Jeremy Huber honored

Ground was broken Thursday on a lacrosse field at Teton Trails Park in northwest Las Vegas that will be named for Jeremy Huber.

The former Las Vegas high school star died in January 2015 of complications related to flu and pneumonia two weeks before he was to play his first game for Johns Hopkins, which is as good as it gets in NCAA lacrosse.

The target completion date for the field is Jan. 26, which also would mark the fifth anniversary of Jeremy Huber’s death.

0:01

Duke Sims was asked about the recent death of Jim Bouton, the former major league pitcher who wrote the first tell-all book about baseball called “Ball Four.”

“I hit him well enough that he worried about me.”

(With ballplayers, it’s always about what happens between the lines.)

No, I said. I meant the book. What about ‘Ball Four’?

“It kind of aggravated me that he dropped the dime on guys who were sacrosanct, if you will.”

Was everything in the book true?

Sims paused, then chuckled.

“Oh, I think it was relatively accurate.”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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