THAT’S KEN BOYER, or my crude artistic rendition of him, anyway. I never saw him play. He last took the field in a major league uniform in 1969, seven years before my birth. But I remember his name, and those of his brothers Clete and Cloyd, also major leaguers whose time had passed before I was born. I remember them because my father used to mention them to me. All of them, but Ken in particular, because Kenton Lloyd Boyer played some minor league ball in Hamilton, Ontario, where my father grew up.
When my dad was a kid, the Hamilton Cardinals were St. Louis’s farm club in the class D PONY League (Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York, now the short season A-level New York-Penn League). Newly drafted kids came to Steeltown to begin their climb up the ladder toward the bigs. Ken was a 19 year-old pitcher when he arrived in 1950. In 80 games he hit .342 for Hamilton that season, which explains why he was quickly moved from the mound to the field, where he would spend the rest of his baseball career. He jumped up to class A Omaha in ‘51, and probably would’ve moved right on up to the big club had his number not come up. He spent two years in the service before returning to the Cardinals’ organization. On Opening Day, 1955 he was the Cards’ starting third baseman (Boyer was 1 for 4 with a run scored, but the Cards were walloped by the Cubs at Wrigley, 14-4). By ‘56 he was an All-Star. He retired after 15 seasons, most of them with St. Louis, with a .287 average and 282 home runs. That’s not half bad.
I mention him only because I’m thinking about him today, and I’m thinking about him only because of my father. My dad turned 7 the summer that Ken Boyer spent in Hamilton, and I want to imagine him, my dad, his face so like mine, in the grandstand of a ballpark, watching Boyer and the Cardinals take on the Batavia Clippers, or the Hornell Dodgers, who won the whole enchilada that year. I can see his boyish face, which looks just like my face, and in turn my boy Cormac’s face, shaded beneath a cap, looking eager and happy and careless. Today is my father’s birthday, so that’s why I’m headed down this meandering path. I hope you don’t mind indulging me.
The team left town in ‘56, and my dad left a few years later. We never really visited Hamilton when I was a kid; there was no family left there. I’m not a Cardinals fan and, as I’ve mentioned, I never saw Ken nor any of the Boyer brothers play ball. But somehow this all feels like a part of my history, for reasons associated with baseball’s long memory, and the sheer timeless pleasure of sitting in the stands with your father, or anyone you love, really.
Happy Birthday, Dad. I hope we once again find ourselves shoulder to shoulder in good seats at a ballgame somewhere, and soon.