Songwriter: Dewey Bunnell
Original Release: Homecoming
Definitive Version: None
I always liked this song from the first time I heard it when I was 8. It was a little bit different from the typical America song—more spacey and mysterious. It makes me think of my first little league baseball game, not so much for the game itself but for what happened after.
Yes, my first baseball game in April 1973 was auspicious all right. I would be 9 that June, so I was eligible to play little league baseball at Northam Park. I had had no preparation—no T-ball, nothing, just some kickball and playing in backyards.
The league was known as Cub Scout baseball, and it allowed players up to 11 to play. All the teams took names of Native tribes, and my team was Comanche. We had a pretty good team but not because of me. Not only was I unable to hit; I was too afraid to swing the bat. These 11-year-old kids threw HARD. Funny thing was I ended up with an OBP of .600, because I walked all the time. They threw hard but wild. Our 11-year-olds threw strikes, which is why we won.
Anyway, my first game, we played Ottawa. League rules dictated that every kid play at least one inning in the field or bat once, and I batted late in the game and watched with bat locked on shoulder and knees knocking in my baseball pants as three strikes quickly went by.
In the bottom of the sixth as storm clouds rolled in, Ottawa tied the game 2-2 and within minutes everyone was scurrying for their cars as a thunderstorm washed out the game. It was a heck of a thunderstorm, too, and before long, my family was heading to the basement, because a tornado warning had been issued.
I assume we had weather sirens back then, but I don’t specifically remember them. Typically, Dad had a radio tuned to the right channel to hear about watches and warnings. The first night I ever was aware of a tornado warning was soon after we moved to Upper Arlington. Suddenly Mom and Dad were scrambling out of bed late at night and grabbing us to head down to the basement—a funnel cloud had been spotted at Don Scott Field, which was about five miles from where we lived.
After that, tornadoes scared the crap out of me. They also fascinated me. Tornadoes are both awesome and terrifying, and the evening of my first little league game, I saw one.
We were in the basement, and Dad was upstairs monitoring the situation, when he called down to me to come up. There’s a tornado; you have to see this.
What, are you nuts? I’m not going anywhere but under the pool table. But he assured me it was OK—the tornado wasn’t going to come to our house—and I still was young enough that I trusted him, so I went upstairs to the second floor of our house.
I could see that the thunderstorm in question was well past us to the southeast. In fact, there still was a bit of light in the sky from the setting sun. And then I saw it: A tornado near the end of the thunderhead directly south of us was roaring across the landscape.
Our vantage point was perfect: We had no tall trees in our subdivision, and the windows in Mom and Dad’s master bedroom closet area were situated between the two houses behind us, so I could see the tornado perfectly if not in its entirety. Dad gave me the binoculars as he grabbed his movie camera.
My fear gone, I watched in utter amazement. It seems unlikely, but I want to say that I was able to hear the tornado, that it did sound like a train whistle, like they always said. At one point, the tornado hit something, and sparks flew up in the air. Then moments later it hit something else, causing a big flash. The tornado then went back up into the thundercloud as I could hear fire-engine sirens in the distance.
Dad and I ran downstairs and out into the backyard as the sirens continued. The thunderhead raged spectacularly. Lightning flashed constantly within and around the cloud, like a fireworks finale, but there were no more tornadoes.
Dad found out that the tornado had touched down in Grandview, which was about four miles from us. I don’t recall how much damage there had been, but I do remember that it hadn’t killed anyone.
Seeing that tornado was—and is—one of the most incredible things I ever saw. And if I live to be 100, I hope to never see another one. Tornadoes are fascinating, and they still scare the crap out of me. After what just happened in Moore, Okla., I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels that way.