Submitted by: Dean Whitney

I became a baseball fan in 1955 while living in Sacramento, California. That was the year the Brooklyn Dodgers defeated the New York Yankees in the World Series. I didnt understand that much about the game then, but I quickly learned.

My favorite player at that time was Duke Snider. The reason for that was because my next door neighbors on 60th Street in the Fruitridge (no jokes, please) area of town were originally from Brooklyn and vacationed there every summer. The youngest of two boys, Billy who was my age was a Snider fan and used to brag to everyone about seeing him hit home runs at the games he and his family attended while in Brooklyn. Since I had never been to a major league game, I wanted to punch him out of pure jealousy.

The very next year my family relocated to Oceanside, California, where we lived for six months before moving into a brand new home in Fallbrook. My step-father was stationed at Camp Pendleton, which is between Oceanside and Fallbrook. Anyway, even though I wasnt very happy about leaving my friends and relatives, I vowed to make the best of it.

Soon after moving to Fallbrook, I learned something that made me very happyDuke Snider owned a home just outside of town and spent the majority of the off-season there. Furthermore, after signing up for little league in early 1957, I got to meet the Duke of Flatbush in person. And boy was I thrilled! Being the great guy he is, Duke came out to Potter Field and held clinics for all the kids in the community before he left for spring training in Florida. In fact, I learned how to properly field a ball in the outfield from the man himself. And, dig this: Duke would step up to the plate at the Babe Ruth League field against Fallbrook Highs best pitchers and hit drives that appeared to sail 500 feet or more. Boy, did I have some stories for little Billy up in Sacramento the next time I saw him, which wasnt until the summer of 1959.

Of course, the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and I finally got to see my first major league game at the L.A. Coliseum during the summer of 1959. And, with the game being broadcast out of L.A., I was able to catch most of them on my transistor radio. The Dodgers won the World Series that year, defeating the Chicago White Sox in six games. During the 58 and 59 seasons, I became a huge fan of two young, up-and-coming Dodger pitchers Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax.

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Sometime between the end of the 59 season and spring training the following year, Duke Snider opened at bowling alley which was aptly named Duke Snider Lanes on Mission Road just outside of town. That was a big deal back then because other than one movie theater in the village, there wasnt a whole lot to do in Fallbrook back in those days. Now, I dont remember if the grand opening was in late 59 or early 60, but I do recall that it was a huge event. On hand for the event was Duke and several L.A. Dodger players, including pitcher Roger Craig, outfielder Chuck Essegian (who hit two pinch-hit home runs in the 59 series), and big Don Drysdale.

I dont know exactly how many people were there for the grand opening, but I can tell you that there were a lot of kids around my age. And, after introducing the players, Duke had his people break the kids up into groups. Each group was then assigned a player. We were going to get bowling lessons from major league ballplayers.

As luck would have it, I was in Don Drysdales group. Big D, who was only twenty-three at that time, was listed at 6-foot-6 (although some claim he was actually 6-foot-5) and over 220 pounds. Standing about six feet away from where I was sitting, the man looked like Paul Bunyan to me. And when he spoke, everybody listened.

The first thing he did was pick up a bowling ball and demonstrate the proper grip. And then, almost in slow motion, he displayed the proper technique for the approach and release of the ball. He then turned and walked back toward us while emphasizing the importance of not stepping over the line. Even though most of us kids had already bowled a few games prior to the grand opening and knew how it was done, we acted as if we were learning about it for the first time.

After he was done with the lessons, Drysdale asked if there were any questions. We all looked around at each other, but no one said a word. He then asked if we were ready to see how its done for real. Of course, we all started yelling, Yeah, yeah! So, the big guy got into position, held the ball up, focused on the pins, and then took a couple of strides toward the line. Thats when it happened. To this day, I dont know if one of his shoes stuck to the floor or he actually tripped over his own feetbut the gigantic pitcher went down like a falling tree and landed on his face. And to think that none us thought to holler, TIMBER! as he took the header. Although Im not exactly sure where the ball went, I seem to recall that it landed in the gutter.

Of course, all of us kids were shocked and just sat there with our mouths agape. I could see the headline in one of the L.A. papers the next day Drysdales Career Over at 23 Due to a Bowling Accident. But, happily for the Dodgers and their fans, Big D got up, dusted himself off, and with his face a little red, said, Okay, lets try that again. His next attempt was successful.

Even though Duke Snider Lanes has been closed for many, many years, Duke is very much alive and kicking and still resides in the Fallbrook area. My wife and I were fortunate enough to see and hear him speak at the San Diego Hall of Champions a few years ago. He wasnt getting around too well that day, but his mind was sharp. And the man has great stories.

Don Drysdale, of course, is no longer with us. He passed away on July 3, 1993, while in Montreal with the Dodgers. I remember exactly where I was that day and how sad I felt upon hearing the news. There will never be another Don Drysdale.

Ive got a couple of great Sandy Koufax stories, toobut Ill save them for another time.

About the Author: Dean Whitney, a semi-retired music producer & publisher and avid baseball fan, recently self-published his debut novel, Pinch Hitter, through BookLocker.com. Dean also writes a baseball blog, which can be found at

Dean’s Baseball blog

. To learn more about Dean and his baseball novel, visit

Dean Whitney

.

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