“I hit one on a house across the street at Cardozo,” he said, referring to the high school in Columbia Heights. “And then I did the major cardinal sin. I hit one to straightaway center field. I stood there and watched it, and the ball hit the flagpole and came back. They called it a ground-rule double. If it had hit the fence or something, I might have not made it to second.”
“I feel reasonably certain that I probably could have gone to the minor leagues,” he said. “But to be honest with you, I didn’t have the sense of self-confidence that I thought I would make it.”
Mr. Gray’s parents wanted him to go on to college — they had never even gone to high school — “so at the end of the day I felt like I had to make a choice.”
A tough decision, to be sure. But it is hard to make the case for regret when you are sitting in a suite that overlooks a city of 618,000 people, a good number of whom know your name and read about you in the newspaper every day.
“What I’ve been able to do with my life has been extremely rewarding,” he said. “It isn’t like I look back on the option that I chose and really had a dismal experience. It’s been anything but.”
Baseball’s reign in LeDroit Park
Mr. Gray’s first brush with the major leagues came about a mile from his boyhood home. From 1911 to its demolition in 1965, Griffith Stadium occupied a large space between Georgia Avenue and Fifth Street in Northwest. Howard University Hospital sits on the spot now. The streetcars along the corridor have been replaced by cars navigating the busy intersection with Florida Avenue, which cut a diagonal path south of the ballpark.
The Washington Senators won the World Series in 1924, secured the American League pennant the next year and enjoyed a blip of success in the early 1930s. Other than that, well, there were always the hot dogs and peanuts.
“They were a pretty dismal team,” Mr. Gray said with a laugh. “They never were competitive.”
Mr. Gray said he took in a good number of games among the people who sat under the watchful eye of the National Bohemian beer logo on a large sign above left field, although fans couldn’t consume the product in the stands.
In a legendary moment that has been dissected by biographers and physicists alike, visiting New York Yankee Mickey Mantle smashed a legendary home run in 1953 that clipped Mr. Boh and landed in LeDroit Park. Mr. Gray said he saw the Yankee switch-hitter crush one to the row houses beyond the park’s confines, but he can’t be sure it was that famous “tape measure” shot that traveled a disputed 565 feet.
“I just remember how far it went,” Mr. Gray said. “I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe a ball could be hit that far.”
He mainly cheered on his hero, Senators first baseman Mickey Vernon, and Mr. Gray still wears No. 3 in Vernon’s honor during his weekly softball games. The old ballpark, distinguished by a tall fence in right field and odd angles in center, had bullpens on the field outside the foul lines and offered an intimacy that is hard to find in ballparks today, Mr. Gray said.
“If you were down there, you could talk to the players,” he said. “They didn’t talk so much back to you, but they were right there.”View Entire Story
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Tom Howell Jr. covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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