1957, A Train, avocado, baseball, born again, Brooklyn Dodgers, bullying, centerfield, Christian, D Train, Dodger-Giant rivalry, Duke Snider, Fallbrook, gender nonconforming, Hall of Fame, hate, IND, intolerance, Jesus Christ, Los Angeles, male to female, MTF, New York City, New York Giants, Polo Grounds, Southern California, subways, Taylor Alesana, TDOR, teen suicide, Terry Cashman, Transgender, transgender suicide, Willie Mickey and the Duke
“C’mon Duke, hit a homer! C’mon Duke, hit a homer!” A precocious four-year-old punctuated each shout with a little fist swung upwards, no doubt imitating someone or something (Popeye, perhaps) seen doing the same thing. It was that child’s first major league baseball game in person. It was September 1957. Dad, Mom and their two children were in attendance. Big brother, approaching his 10th birthday and obviously a man of the world by now, had already accompanied Dad to a game in each of the previous two years.
But the younger child, always competing to do the same things, was getting a four year head start on the experience. And that extended to the subways as well. By that age, the child knew the route. From their home in Richmond Hill, they walked to Liberty Avenue and took the A train (which by now connected to the Fulton Street subway with a sparkling new pastel green tiled station at Grant Avenue near Conduit Boulevard and Pitkin Avenue) to Columbus Circle. There they changed to the D train which veered off towards the Bronx at 145th Street. But they were not going to the first stop in the Bronx for Yankee Stadium. They would emerge from the subway at 155th Street and 8th Avenue in a section of Harlem known as Coogan’s Bluff on the west bank of the Harlem River.
The Polo Grounds, the last ballpark in the major leagues dating back to the 19th century, was located there. It was enemy territory for Dodger fans, and this family all rooted for the Dodgers. And Duke Snider, with the big blue number four on his back, a future Hall of Famer, was one of their premier players.
Not long before September 1957, even a little child might have been booed for rooting for a Dodger player at the Polo Grounds. But Giants fans were in short supply by then. Everyone knew that the team was moving after the end of the season and the team was mired in sixth place with a losing record, mathematically eliminated from any chance of winning the pennant. While the attendance for the game is listed as 41,629, I suspect that there were a lot of Dodger fans in attendance that day. The Dodgers were defending National League champions and while they were in third place late in the season, die-hard Brooklyn fans clung to hope that once again their team of experienced players could put on a late run and capture the flag (while they were in denial about the rumors that their beloved “Bums” were also moving to California after the end of the season).
So on that particular day, the only reaction by someone nearby was that of an amused woman, her own motherly instincts undoubtedly triggered by the tiny child who demonstrated a surprising awareness of what was happening on the field. And that child knew exactly what was happening in the top of the sixth inning. For indeed, Duke hit a homer, one that gave the Dodgers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. I know because I was that precocious child. And I was in seventh heaven when that ball went in the stands and Duke circled the bases with two teammates scoring ahead of him.
It turned out to be the next to last Dodger-Giant game ever played in New York City. Disappointment would come the following season when my heroes, Duke and Pee Wee, Gil Hodges, Johnny Podres, Carl Furillo, Carl Erksine and the rest of the team in Dodger blue were now playing in Los Angeles. A greater disappointment came from never having seen a game at that section of hallowed ground in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn known as Ebbets Field. (Sniffles kept me from going with my brother and my parents the year before. But to be honest, I wouldn’t have had as great an appreciation for the experience a year earlier. I do remember sitting in front of the television and sulking while I watched the game on our Dumont TV.)
If you have followed my blog, you know that I still root for the Dodgers. As I got older, I also gathered and remembered more and more statistics and anecdotes about baseball: especially about the Dodgers. And there was a great deal to remember about Duke Snider. On the playing field, I knew that he was the only person to hit four home runs in a World Series twice. That he hit more home runs during the 1950’s than any other player. That he hit 40 or more home runs in five consecutive seasons (the year I saw my first game was the final season in that streak). And that after the end of his career, he would enter the Hall of Fame in the same year that Al Kaline was inducted (1980).
I also began to learn that childhood heroes are not perfect. Duke was known by his teammates as moody, and prone to be overly despondent when in a slump. He was also afraid of dying young, as his father had died at a relatively young age. (Duke, on the other hand, died at age 84 in 2011.)
He was also one of a number of players who was caught failing to report the income he earned from signing autographs. But from a Christian perspective, the best thing I ever read about the Duke, as he told it in his autobiography, was that later in life, he gave his life to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I also know that the Duke was born in Southern California. And during his playing career shortly before the game I saw at the Polo Grounds, he and a business partner (a former teammate in the minor leagues) had bought land north of San Diego to make it into an avocado farm. The location of that land was Fallbrook, California. Snider and his family would live there for many years. In almost all the baseball reference books I had seen, Fallbrook was listed as his hometown. Among many other things, I associate Snider with Fallbrook.
So in a recent story, “Fallbrook” jumped out at me. A moment later, it tore at my heart that another transgender teen had committed suicide.
On April 2, Taylor Alesana, a 16 year old male to female transgender girl, took her own life because she could no longer take the bullying of her classmates. Taylor complained to school counselors, but the bullying continued. By December, hoping it would end the bullying, this teenage girl who loved to post makeup tip videos on You Tube regressed her own transition, cut her hair and nails, and started appearing in school without makeup and in boy clothes.
Whether the bullying subsided or not, it wasn’t enough to take away the pain of being forced to deny her true self again. Four months later, she departed this earth. Her name will now be among those read at TDOR in November. Her family and friends will grieve her loss and perhaps ask hard questions about what they might have done differently to prevent it. We will never know what Taylor might have become or the positive contribution she might have made in the future.
Any teen suicide death, transgender related or not, is more than a mere statistic. It is more than an isolated incident. It is a calamity. But in Taylor’s case, it isn’t even an isolated incident. A month earlier, the same area of Southern California experienced the suicide of a gender non-conforming teen known as Sage-David. While lack of support does not appear to be a factor in this case, it indicated the struggle that young people still face when growing up transgender.
Whether transgender or cisgender, when will we stop sacrificing our young people on the altar of hate and intolerance toward those whose identity does not conform to the mainstream of society?
Terry Cashman’s song, “Willie, Mickey and the Duke”, celebrated the greatness of the three Hall of Fame centerfielders who patrolled that position from 1951-57 for the three baseball teams in New York City. “Taylor, Fallbrook and the Duke” speaks to a sadder, grittier side of life. Duke Snider’s two business ventures in Fallbrook (the avocado farm and a bowling alley) failed. But his career gave him options, and he eventually became a successful baseball broadcaster.
Taylor Alesana, on the other hand, has no more second chances. Fallbrook would be advised to be proactive to overcome this black mark against its name. And every one of us needs to ask ourselves what we can do to make this world a safer place for transgender people.
Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not. – Jeremiah 31:15