There is a section of Old Route 66 where Missouri and Oklahoma intersect.
A turn here or a missed road there can take you from the Show Me state to the Sooner state or back again. Once crossing over into Oklahoma, barely across the Missouri border, far from the big cities such as Oklahoma City or Tulsa, you come across a string of small communities that make up the heart and soul of the Midwest.
These are the little towns where everyone knows everyone. These are the places where the post office or local café serve as the principal nerve centers of the community.
Here is where tall tales are spun, conjecture is commonplace, and local news and stories are swapped.
Sports teams are king. Fall brings its passion for football, while winter ushers in a smorgasbord of hoop highlights. They represent a diversion from the mundane and a captivating escape for the local fans.
The old saying goes that familiarity breeds contempt, but this is far from the case. I was born in Southern Illinois with a similar scenario. The setting was different, of course, but the story was the same. It might be commonplace, maybe predictable, but sorely missed, especially as the years pass by and there is a longing for the simpler life and surroundings.
Commerce, Oklahoma, had a similar feel. The asphalt roads unwound from the main street like the tentacles of an octopus. An overview left you with the impression that all venues were roughly the same: exquisite homes, family dwellings complete with swing sets, bicycles, and the trappings of youth, places needing demolished, and other residences showing the decline of the community and the pressures of a depleted economy.
If you follow Quincy Street past these rows of homes and come to its end, you see a quaint wood-sided home which looks as if it came out of the l930s. It didn’t have air conditioning, of course, and a tin shed stood to the back of the lot. It probably served as a multi-purpose facility, holding everything from coal for the stove, to hoes and rakes for the garden, and the family automobile. Some dwellings resembling this are a reflection on hard times or apathy, but this specific home was remodeled to look this way.
It is this house that gives Commerce its special distinction. This community thrives on baseball lore and Cooperstown aspirations. Here at 319 South Quincy Street was the home of the “Commerce Comet.” It was here that Mickey Charles Mantle grew up in this four-room structure along with his parents, his grandfather, and six other brothers and sisters. Mantle’s destiny had him headed for the “Big Apple,” Times Square, and Yankee Stadium. It all began for him here at the age of 6.
Page 2 of 2 - If you close your eyes and adjust your imagination, you can still see the small sandy-haired youngster playing baseball between the house and the shed. His father, Mutt, served it up to him right-handed; his grandpa southpaw. The shed was the backstop. A ball hit below the windows was a single, at the top of the windows a double, off the roof a triple, and over the house a round-tripper. Mickey joked that he was the only boy in town who didn’t get in trouble for breaking a window. It was here that his skills were honed, his switch hitting prowess initiated, and his baseball future planted in a fertile field of potential.
I came here to see the home of my boyhood idol. In every sandlot game I ever played, I wanted to be the Mick and perceived myself hitting mammoth home runs in a vacant lot that for an afternoon became “The House that Ruth Built.”
Maybe in going to Commerce and seeing Mantle’s home, I really got to find part of myself. We both grew up in a small community with mining as its economical soul. In Commerce, it was the zinc mines; in Southern Illinois, coal was king. His backstop was a tin shed; mine was a concrete garage. He didn’t get in trouble for shattered glass, I ... well, let’s just say, the similarities can only go so far.
I’ll never find my way to the “Big Apple,”?much less Yankee Stadium, but for a time in Commerce, Oklahoma, in a small home on Quincy Street, the Mick and I played ball together in his backyard. For a while, we were kids growing up with not a care in the world just the concerns about the game and its implications. It was a simple time and a good time. My imagination allowed me to go there, and my memories enhanced it with games played behind Appino Hardware in Christopher, Illinois.
Life with its twists and turns took us down much different roads. Mantle’s has been written about and dissected in countless volumes. Mine, hardly worth an epitaph, but as for riches God, through Jesus Christ, has made me the richest man in the world. I pray Mick could claim the same. Who knows, maybe one day Babe, Lou, Mick, and Roberto will let me in one of their games? The stadium is fantastic, and the owner and manager are ... well, let’s just say:?HEAVENLY.