My Aunt Elsie, my mother’s older sister, married a man named Eddie. When I was a kid, Uncle Eddie was my favorite uncle, by far, because Uncle Eddie knew what was important to me, and he made sure I had access to those things: comic books, popsicles, and Indians games.
Whenever my family would visit Aunt Elsie and Uncle Eddie, I could count on going to their freezer and pulling out an icy-cold popsicle, without fail. And because Uncle Eddie was friends with a guy who worked for the George Klein News Service, once a month I’d hear this: “Hey, Vernon Lee, I got ya some more funny books. Over there.” And he’d point his thumb to a stack of the previous month’s unsold comic books, all kinds of them, ones I would have paid my own money for (Superman, Action Comics), ones I liked but never would have bought on my own (Donald Duck, Sad Sack), and ones I pretended to scorn but read from cover to cover just the same (Richie Rich, Little Lulu).
But best of all, Uncle Eddie would take me to Indians games. And he never bought a ticket.
In 1966, I was nine years old. I remember that Uncle Eddie and I went to ten Indians games that year, the most I’ve ever seen in any one season. We’d drive to the general vicinity of Municipal Stadium, park on a side street, and walk up to Gate A. Uncle Eddie would case out the ticket-takers until he spotted one of the right ones, lagging behind or speeding up as necessary. He’d make eye contact with the man—it was always a man—and the ticket-taker would nod and let us in, no ticket offered or needed.
Of course, once you were inside, you had no ticket to show to an usher, so you had to be careful where you tried to sit—but with an average game attendance of approximately 12,000 in a stadium which seated more than 70,000, you didn’t have to be VERY careful. You’d just wait until an usher was helping someone else, and find a pair of empty seats. If anyone claimed them later on, you’d just move down the row a little bit. By the third or fourth inning, you could usually sit in the box seats if you were of the mind to, and we usually were.
At first I couldn’t figure out how Uncle Eddie was able to get us into the Stadium without tickets. Even at age nine, I knew my uncle wasn’t any kind of big shot—he was as working class as they came.
One day, though, I learned my uncle’s secret. As we got out of the car to walk to the Stadium, Uncle Eddie reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a pint bottle, the kind I’d seen often enough at his house. Four Roses, it said.
“What do you need that for?” I asked him.
“This is to thank the people who get us into the games,” he replied. And sure enough, when we got to Gate A, he took the bottle of whiskey from his jacket pocket and slipped it to the ticket-taker, who stashed it into the pocket of his uniform, neither man saying a word. Unless you were watching for it, you could have stood right next to the two men and not have noticed a thing, the transfer was that smooth.
Throughout the rest of the summer, I paid more attention to exactly what went on when we got to Gate A. It didn’t happen every time we went to a game, but every once in a while, Uncle Eddie would take a brown bottle from his jacket pocket and slip it to the ticket-taker, who would nod and let us in.
Of course, you couldn’t get away with such a thing today, and in retrospect I suppose we were stealing from the Cleveland Indians. No wonder they couldn’t afford to sign the best players!
Uncle Eddie left this world some thirty years ago, and Cleveland Municipal Stadium was torn down scarcely more than ten years after that. I don’t touch the stuff myself, but I understand that you can still get Four Roses at the liquor stores. These days I pay for my own tickets to Progressive Field. And although I never got a ticket stub to save in a scrapbook, I’ll never forget the magical summer of 1966, the year I saw ten Indians games. Here’s to you, Uncle Eddie.