Route 66 - Thanks For The Memories, Mickey

After leaving Baxter Springs in Kansas, the first town we came to in Oklahoma was Quapaw. There are a number of buildings there with murals painted on them, but our first stop was Commerce. This is a nice little town, but there was really just one main reason for the stop - baseball. Back when the Dead Sea was just sick and I was a young boy, I had 2 hero's - Davy Crockett and Babe Ruth. Eventually, I became old enough to play organized baseball and the sport became more important in my life than running around  Dallas, Texas looking for a bear to kill. Although "The Babe" continued to be my main hero, I soon started following someone who was alive and playing during that time - Mickey Mantle. I listened to his games on the radio, I memorized his statistics and I was deeply torn when he started challenging my beloved Babe's home run record one year. Somehow, when he fell a little short of that record, I liked him even more. Babe wore number 3 on his jersey; Mick wore number 7. When I got my very first Little League jersey, the coach asked if I had a special number I wanted; I chose number 37. "That's a bit strange, son. Don't you want a single digit number?" "No sir," I replied. I wore #37 that year and it is still my favorite number.

The old Mantle home and the metal shed used
as a backstop when he was learning to hit.
Mickey Mantle was born in Spavinaw, Oklahoma, but moved to Commerce when he was just 3 years old. His boyhood home, the place where he learned to play baseball and where his father and grandfather taught him the skills of how one day to be the game's all time best switch hitter still stands. I was finally going to see it.

We made our way to 319 S. Quincy, just a few blocks off Route 66. Located in a small, very quiet older neighborhood, we found the house easily enough, but even though I had seen pictures of it, I wasn't sure we were at the right place until I read the commemorative marker on the front of the home. Small, peeling paint, crumbling concrete steps and sidewalk leading to the covered porch and in need of other repairs, it stands with no fanfare, no locked fence surrounding it, nobody guarding it, nobody selling tickets to tour it - just another one of the small frame houses in this small unremarkable town.

One of the greatest baseball players in history
 and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame
grew up here.
Youngest-daughter and I walked onto the porch and cautiously glanced through the window in the front door. Seeing a few pieces of old furniture, I wasn't so sure somebody didn't live there. I figured if someone was there, they were probably used to having people knocking on their door and not wanting to leave without taking pictures, I knocked. Nobody answered the door so I took a longer look through the door glass. Looking closely, it was apparent the furniture was all from around the 1930's or 1940's era and you could tell nobody had lived there for a good long time.

We walked around the exterior of the house as I told Youngest-daughter about who Mickey Mantle was and how he meant so much to me when I was a kid. I could still recall some of his statistics and I told her what a "walk off" home run is and how Mickey hit more than anybody else, even more than Babe Ruth, The King of Swat. I told her of how he was so good that he started playing semi-pro ball when he was only 15, just a couple of years older than her.

The body of Mickey Mantle is interred in
Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas,
Texas. Yes, I've paid my respects.
Youngest-daughter had played 1 year of girls machine-pitch softball and didn't particularly like it. She proved to be one of the better hitters on the team, but much to my chagrin and in spite of hours of practice and coaching from me, as a fielder she was almost good enough to be average. She didn't really want to play again the next year so I didn't push her. We leaned up against the metal shed which Mickey and his father and grandfather used as a backstop during their games of pitch and hit; the exact spot where he stood and starting when he was only 4 years old, through hours and hours of daily practice, he learned to switch hit. I could tell Youngest-daughter wasn't exactly really interested in the stories, but she listened without interrupting and paid as much attention as she could because she knew this was important to her dad. And for that I was prouder of her than anything she could ever do on a sports field.

Although it has nothing to do with Route 66 or even our visit, there is one more interesting story about Commerce. After fleeing from Grapevine, Texas and the killing of 2 law officers there, Bonnie & Clyde Barrow's Ford became stuck in the mud of a side road in Commerce. When they attempted to flag down a passing motorist, the driver recognized them and fled. He went straight to the Police Chief and Constable of Commerce. When the officers arrived at the scene, the Constable was shot and the chief, Percy Boyd, was disarmed and kidnapped. After escaping outside of town, the chief was released unharmed. Less than one month later, Bonnie & Clyde lay dead in the ambush by law officers in Louisiana.

Cookie's Dairy King in Commerce, Oklahoma.
Before leaving Commerce, we stopped at Cookie's Dairy King on the edge of town and purchased a couple of iced drinks for the road. The place looks like it has been there a long time, but the kids inside didn't know how long. "A long time" was the best I could get out of them. Like a lot of kids these days, they were more interested in talking with each other than with taking care of the customers. I had seen what I had stopped to see in this town so we took our drinks to the truck and drove on down the two-lane blacktop toward Miami and our next adventure.


Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
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