On June 18, 1945, Dick Schofield, a ten-year-old fourth grader from Harvard Park School, had the opportunity to meet the state's top elected official, Gov. Dwight Green. Schofield, a representative of the Springfield Junior Baseball League, was there to promote the Old Time Baseball Players Association's "Baseball Day" at Lanphier Park.
The program for "Baseball Day" included a pair of games, a concert by the Springfield Municipal Band, vocal entertainment by Eddie Erickson, and the raising of Old Glory preceded by a march to the flagpole by the adult players of the Springfield, Chicago, and Taylorville teams, as well as the members of all eight Junior League teams. The music and the flag raising came off without a hitch, and Green managed to bounce the ceremonial first pitch to Hall of Fame catcher Ray Schalk, but rain forced the cancellation of the games.
Almost eight years to the day after his visit to the governor's office, Schofield was in New York City as a roster member of the St. Louis Cardinals. He had signed with the club the very night in June 1953 that he graduated from Springfield High School. Four days later, he found himself at the Commodore Hotel in Manhattan, catching a taxicab with a couple of guys named Musial and Schoendienst for a trip across the East River to Brooklyn for that night's contest with the Dodgers.
"It was pretty scary. I didn't say 'boo.' They didn't know my name and couldn't have cared less," Schofield recalls. "Musial called me 'Lefty.' But I was treated well by them and by all the Cardinal players."
The first thing Schofield did to prepare for his life in the big leagues was to visit a friend of his father's, Springfield clothing salesman Joe Fortune. "I had to go downtown and buy a couple of suits with two pairs of pants," he laughs. "I had to have decent clothes."
Of the thousands of memories from a nearly 20-year career, a few stand out from that first trip to New York, particularly the Brooklyn fans. "They were so knowledgeable about the game. They knew I had just come up and they cheered me during infield practice. I'll never forget that."
Schofield got a hit his first time at bat. "It was my first time up in the big leagues and I hit a line drive to left field off Johnny Podres. Every time I've seen him since, he's looked at me and said, 'Yep, high fastball hitter.' Guys remember stuff like that."
Proof of that statement is Schofield's recollection of his first home run, which he hit in Cincinnati's old Crosley Field off a guy with the undistinguished name of Frank Smith. "He told me, 'You'll never forget my name. You'll always remember me,'" says Schofield. "And he was right."
Schofield grew up on Bryn Mawr Street and says many of his boyhood games with the neighborhood kids were played right there on the boulevard.
"We drilled a few houses, I remember that," he says. "We used to ride our bikes to Bunn Park, over there by the Lake Club, where they had a backstop. We'd play as long as we could. We'd play all day long."
Schofield credits his father, who also played professional baseball, with teaching him the skills to achieve success. They, too, would go to Bunn Park where, Schofield says, "he threw me a million balls. Jimmy Shepherd, he was a boxer and he used to be the bouncer at the Lake Club. He was always walking these two big dogs. He'd tie up the dogs and shag balls for us."
"My dad taught me how to play baseball. He knew what to do and how to do it. He never told me that I had to do this or that, but he'd stay out there with me as long as I wanted to play. I knew how to play and it showed all the way through high school. It makes a difference if you know how."
Schofield's Junior League games were played mostly at Iles Park. He recalls such teams as the Wrens, the Robins, and the Hawks, "but for some reason, we were the Eddie Quinlans!" He can still recall many of the boys he played with in the kiddie league -- Tom England, Gene Sagan, Joe Bejay, Pete Larson, Tom Gagnon, Bob Childs. He still remembers the pitcher he least liked to face in his entire career -- a fearsome 14-year-old named Ron Little.
"He scared me to death," Schofield says.