The average civilian might think that while being stationed in the Navy on the Midway, the largest air craft carrier in the US fleet during the 1950’s, playing sports would be next to impossible. Not so for Ray Glaser, my father-in-law, who is an athlete at heart. In fact, sports were an integral part of his military career and contributed to some of his fondest memories.
Ray played baseball on a soccer field in Spain, ran the 220 meter dash in Athens’s Olympic stadium, and learned to ski in Switzerland.
A Quarter Master who plotted visual communication and navigation, Ray served four tours in the Mediterranean on the Midway aircraft carrier from 1949-1953. During that time, he played for the Midway basketball, baseball and track teams.
One baseball game that Ray remembers in particular was in Terrassa (about 50 miles from Barcelona) , Spain. Baseball was in its infancy in Spain, and the Terrassa All Stars were really no match for the Midway players, many of whom had played the game since growing up. The Midway team played full on.
However, after a helpful tip from an American spectator, the Midway ball players realized they were embarrassing the home team. To turn the game around, they added their own style and humor. The crowd loved it, and then, basically, adopted the Midway team — even making them lifetime members of the Barcelona Olympic Club. Here’s Ray’s story.
Why did you play baseball in Terrassa?
One of the primary reasons we went over there and competed with [the Terrassa All Stars] — actually not competed but played with them — was that we were trying to spur the interest in baseball.
How did you feel about your role of bringing more knowledge of baseball over there?
I don’t know if it really was something we realized.
It wasn’t until later that I realized the importance of it. It was a goodwill connection.
We didn’t have any baseball fields over there. So we had to play on the soccer field. And the soccer field is a little narrower. So we realized we could hit home runs if we batted left handed. And we started hitting the ball, and it was like 220 feet over the fence, which was pretty short.
What was the reaction of the crowd?
Well there was an exchange student over there from the US. He came down and said, “The people aren’t really enjoying this.” I think we scored 10 runs in the first inning or something like that. The exchange student said, “They want to see more of an exciting ball game.” That’s when We decided we were going to add a little humor to the game.
Well, the guy who played basketball for us, Gary Holloway, he had a 42 inch vertical leap. We would throw the ball four or five feet over his head. He would just go in the sky and get the ball, and every time he would do that you could hear the crowd go “Ahhhhh!!” in disbelief. And we did other things that we thought were comical.
[Terrassa] ended up winning the ball game, which was probably a great thing. It was probably the best thing that could have happened. Then they gave us a big welcoming after the game and came out and put wreaths on us. And the governor came down of Terrassa. They set up a dinner for us — a big spread at the capital building. We had dinner there, and then, they invited us to go to their Olympic Club [where all their Olympic athletes were members]. We went there and they gave us lifetime memberships.
Was the team eager to see some American techniques?
Oh sure. We would do clinics. Before the game, they would ask us questions about the basic fundamentals and the game itself. I think that’s what spurred my interest in coaching.
Sports seem to be so universal and such a unifying force.
How did you guys communicate with the team? Did you use lots of gestures?
It was kind of miming. They would have interpreters there, too.
Did the spectators approach you after the game?
Oh yeah. They came down and they wanted to talk to us. But obviously the communication part of it was challenging. However, some of the guys [of the Midway team] spoke Spanish.
They gave us all nicknames. Donny Dresser was “Danny Kaye” since he looked like Danny Kaye [the actor]. On first base, we had Gary Halloway. They called him “Kangaroo” because he could jump so high.
I was Popeye.
Because you had big muscles?
I guess. I had big forearms then.
What were some more of your antics?
We’d pretend the plays were in slow motion. Even the outfielders would juggle the ball. Then they’d throw it in. We would get on each others’ shoulders when we went to bat.
It took the seriousness out of the game and put a grin on everyone’s face. They had a really good crowd over there.
It sounds like you guys had a great time out there.
We enjoyed it, absolutely.
It also sounds like you brought a lot of fun into the game after the exchange student told you the crowd was not exactly pleased with the direction of the game.
We found out it wasn’t the idea of just us playing the game. That’s when we started to realize the importance of just communicating with the people and getting involved in their outcomes, too.
Did the players ever challenge you to a soccer game?
That always came up. “We’d like to play you in soccer,” they’d say. Somehow we wriggled our way out of that. That would have been embarrassing.
What was the most amazing sight over in the Mediterranean?
The Acropolis because it has such history behind it.
One funny conclusion to Ray’s baseball experience happened after the game when the Terrassa team held a dinner in the Midway team’s honor. Ray and his friend Donny saw a beautiful Spanish woman who was unescorted up in the balcony at the Olympic Club. Emboldened, Donny went up to ask the woman to dance. He bowed, kissed her hand and then requested a dance. She turned him down.
Feeling dejected, Donny returned to Ray. Ray gave him a ribbing and said Donny had, “no class.” Ray then caught the woman’s attention and pointed to her and then to himself. He then made a twirling motion with his fingers and nodded. She nodded and came down to dance with Ray.
Ray, who had expected to be refused also, thought, “What the heck did I get myself into?” He later found out from one of the Spanish ball players that the unescorted women could not accept a dance before 8:00 p.m.
Ray just so happened to literally be at the right place at the right time. To this day, Ray still gives his buddy grief and asks if he “wants some etiquette lessons.” Basically, it seems, Donny is still in the dark. According to Ray, “I never told him [about the 8:00 p.m. rule].