Sapakoff: Wrigley, Fenway and every other MLB ballpark for Dick Heiterer
Wrigley or Fenway?
Dick Heiterer shakes his head. Sorry, he can't decide. Like watching Hank Aaron as a minor leaguer and Sandy Koufax in his prime, both were prize catches in a baseball memory mitt.
Heiterer, a 75-year-old James Island resident, has spent his life realizing big league dreams. He was a wide-eyed bat boy for the Charleston Rebels in the 1940s and '50s. He was kicking it with fellow seniors in Miami this month at a Marlins game.
But “The Quest” was not complete until June 15 at a Phillies-Rockies game. When Heiterer set foot inside Denver's Coors Field, he achieved his goal of seeing a ballgame at each of the 30 ballparks in the major leagues.
“I'm so happy for my dad,” Ricky Heiterer said. “My mom died in 2010. He had a kidney transplant in 2009. To be able to see him finally go on that last trip and get to do something he loves was just amazing.”
The lifelong Dick Heiterer Ballpark Tour isn't limited to present-day palaces. He saw games at most of the old ballparks, too. He has been to three big league ballparks in Minnesota.
Heiterer has been resourceful. The early trips in the mid-1960s were on now defunct Eastern Airlines, where Heiterer worked as a Charleston ticket agent.
“We'd be sitting around at work saying, 'Let's go to the ballgame tomorrow.' And we'd go see the Yankees or the Cubs,” Heiterer said. “Tickets for employees were $2 coach or $5 first class.”
Best food? Worst ballpark?
After James Island's Gorman Thomas reached the majors as a slugging Milwaukee Brewers outfielder in 1973, he often provided game tickets.
Lately, Heiterer's trips have been arranged by a travel agency specializing in ballpark tours. The most recent jaunt was Miami-Tampa-Denver in five days.
“It was a real good trip because the tour group I was with had 20 people and three of them had been to all the ballparks, and a few others were missing only two or three ballparks,” Heiterer said. “It's was a real good group of baseball people with everyone really into baseball.”
Heiterer is in his sixth decade of service as a union clerk on the Charleston waterfront, and he plans to keep traveling. But now is a time for baseball reflection.
“I like Cleveland a lot,” Heiterer said. “But I really like the old ballparks best, Fenway in Boston and Wrigley in Chicago. It's just that they've been there so long, and then the atmosphere around the ballparks.”
Least favorite ballpark?
“Comiskey in Chicago.”
The new one (U.S. Cellular Field) or the old one?
Best ballpark food?
“Surprisingly enough, Atlanta. I really like the 755 Club at Turner Field.”
“That's easy,” Heiterer said.
It's Game 7 of the 1965 World Series, the Dodgers against the Twins in Minnesota. Magnificent lefty Sandy Koufax started on two days rest.
“Koufax struck out Bobby Allison to end the game and the Dodgers won, 2-0,” Heiterer said. “You could just feel the electricity in the air.”
Planes, trains and buses
A 10-day, 7-ballpark West Coast marathon in 2003.
“We flew to Phoenix and took a bus to San Diego,” Heiterer said. “Then bused to Los Angles and Anaheim. Then Amtrak to Oakland. A bus to San Francisco. Then we flew to Seattle and back home.”
Heiterer grew up playing baseball on James Island and played at Bishop England High School (Class of '56). Heiterer and his twin brother Bob served as batboys for the South Atlantic League's Charleston Rebels.
They saw home run icon Hank Aaron play as a 19-year-old with the Jacksonville Braves in 1953. They met Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Ted Williams when the Cardinals and Red Sox played exhibition games at College Park. They made friends with Rebels players such as Frank Thomas, who went on to hit 286 homers over 16 major league seasons.
“All the kids envied us Heiterer boys,” Dick Heiterer said.
He isn't much of a collector. Heiterer has only a few pennants to show for his coast-to-coast ballpark travels.
But the former batboy remains envied.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff