- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 8, 2007

We hear talk all the time about baseball being a generational experience for fans, with geezers spinning tales about Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle while watching Cal, A-Rod or the Rocket create horsehide magic anew.

No other game has as strong a hold on America’s sporting psyche as rounders. That led to an emotional and empathetic evening last week for Gordon Thomas, a lobbyist from Arlington and a certified baseball nut.

Beaming the way you would expect any proud patriarch to do, Thomas escorted grandchildren Marianna Marquardt, 4½, and Thomas Marquardt, 3, to a ballgame at RFK Stadium — the same place where Gordon saw his first major league game 43 years ago. Also along for this fun ride were daughters Elizabeth Thomas Marquardt, 36, the children’s mom, and Mollie Thomas, 9.

Gordon was 13 when he saw the expansion Senators play the Los Angeles Angels on Aug. 15 and 16, 1964, at what was then called D.C. Stadium, so a lot of memories linger. His grandchildren probably are too young to remember details about last week’s game, but perhaps just being there will generate a love for baseball that will endure and grow.

Marianna asked some really good questions like why [stadium workers] were drawing all those white lines on the field before the game,” Gordon said. “And when we were leaving, they ran down all the ramps — that was a little scary.”

It’s ironic that the Marquardts enjoyed their first game together here because the family lives in Highland Park, Ill., which is Cubs territory. Of course, Grandpa planned the whole expedition.

Big surprise.

“When my grandson was born on April 18, 2004, I got unused season tickets for all 15 major league games that day and had them framed,” Gordon said. “My granddaughter was born on October 20, 2002, the same day as Game 2 of the [Angels-Giants] World Series. I got her a ticket for that game and had it framed. In notes to both grandchildren, I told them if they grow up to love baseball half as much as their Grandpa does, they will be fans for life of the best game ever invented.”

Amen!

So how did the kids do, Mom?

“I think they had a great time,” said Elizabeth, who spent part of the evening reading a “Dora the Explorer” book to shirtless, towheaded Thomas at steamy RFK. “Marianna wanted to know how old she would have to be to play on a field like that, and at first she thought a foul ball was called a ‘fire ball.’ Thomas crawled around a lot, but he had ice cream, potato chips and a hot dog. Both of them really liked the Racing Presidents — they were rooting for Abraham Lincoln because he was from Illinois.”

And might they grow up to be fans like Gordon?

“I’m not sure anybody is a fan like Dad is. But it was really a nice way to spend time together. It was more fun than I expected because it can be stressful taking young children out.”

Unless it’s to become part of what used to be called the national pastime.

“It’s really neat that their first game was in the same ballpark as mine,” Gordon said. “I sure remember those two in ‘64. On Saturday, Claude Osteen of the Senators defeated the Angels 6-2 — and he had a home run and a double. The next day, Buster Narum beat the Angels 4-1.”

Obviously, Gordon caught the club on a rare good weekend. Osteen was a classy left-hander who won 196 games in an 18-year career mainly with the Senators and Dodgers. But Narum won just 14 games over five seasons before vanishing from the bigs, and the Senators finished 62-100 and ninth in the American League.

Gordon, who lived in North Carolina then, didn’t have much company on his first big league weekend. The Senators drew just 2,597 paid customers on Saturday and 5,072 on Sunday, yet for him it was a golden time spiced with vignettes that linger. For instance: “I remember the Angels outfielder, former Senator Jimmy Piersall, enduring taunts and chants from the fans in left field — and Piersall yelling back at them between pitches.”

From that beginning, he has spent a lifetime collecting memorabilia and memories. When artist Bill Purdom wanted to paint a mural of Griffith Stadium in 1990, Thomas lent him assorted pictures of the Senators’ former home. As a reward, the painting shows Gordon as a vendor hawking his wares.

That painting remains a symbol, along with many others, of Gordon Thomas‘ love affair with baseball. And like his first visit to a ballpark, his most recent produced a victory by the home team; the Nationals smacked down the Reds 7-3.

There was another nice generational touch, too: The night when the Marquardt children saw their first game was the 100th anniversary of Hall of Famer Walter Johnson’s debut with the Senators. Baseball’s links to both the distant past and the unfathomable future make it unique among the games people play and watch.

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