ALL IN THE FAMILY
Before ESPN’s round-the-clock coverage of every sport from Extreme Ironing to Bunny Jumping, (both real, my friends) “ABC’s The Wonderful World of Sports,” was the only once-a-week game in TV town.
“Spanning the globe for the constant variety of sport…the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat… the human drama of athletic competition.” – Well said, ABC.
Of the constant variety of sport, “GIVE ME BASEBALL OR GIVE ME DEATH” is our family motto. Like baseball, we originated in England, migrated to America in the 18th century, and spawned multiple generations of Ape Shit baseball fans.
Oh, we’ve lived it all – thrills of victory, agonies of defeat, tragic human dramas, career-ending slumps, impossible comebacks, bench-clearing brawls, doping scandals, corruption, lifetime bans, and near-fatal situations of all kinds. And that was just everyday family life!
In life, and baseball, anything can happen. Death is the only certainty. You can always evade the IRS.
“Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand.” ― Leo Durocher
My grandfather played on some Southern league. His oldest son, Joe, a star pitcher, won scholarship to the hallowed University of Alabama. In this long shadow, my father warmed the bench on their high school team, prompting the question: “Are you SURE you’re Joe’s brother?”
Like church attendance, National League radio broadcasts were mandatory.Of the original eight, the Cardinals were the home team – Saint Louis being the nearest city to the South.
A FAN IS BORN – ATLANTA BASEBALL – A LITTLE GIRL’S LOVE STORY
My parents moved to Atlanta, where I was born, their only child. During the early Sixties, Mommy spent summers in grad school and Daddy was stuck with a six-year-old girl.
Basic childcare skills eluded him. My frizzy curls snaked like Medusa from his ponytail attempts. We ate every meal – brownies and ice cream – at Howard Johnson’s. Buster Brown shorts inside out, my right flip-flop paired with a left saddle oxford, who cares?
Because, hey, Sports Fans, we NEVER missed an Atlanta Crackers’ home game at Ponce de Leon Ball Park, where we joined rabid regulars known as “The Faithful.” Among countless rituals, Faithfuls were inducted into the “chain gang,” by wildly slamming empty wooden seats like tribal drums during rallies.
My favorite Elder Faithful, even with our Crackers down by 20 runs, last at bat, two outs two strikes, religiously chanted: “We always…win ‘em in the 9th!!” The players – Angel School, “Flame-Throwin’ Fanok,” and “Mombo Cat,” were my adopted brothers.
During one nail-biter, I blurted to Dad: “I wouldn’t leave this game even if Mommy was coming home!” swearing my allegiance, solidifying me in Hall-of-Fame Faithful Fandom. Retiring my number.
That was only the beginning.
PROFESSIONAL BALL – RIGHT HERE IN RIVER CITY – ATLANTA BRAVES
Auspiciously, on my 12th birthday, April 12, 1966 (6 plus 6 totaling 12 – to extend numerological mystique,) the Atlanta Braves debuted, in their first home game. Glove in hand, beside my Dad, we marveled at Space-Age Atlanta Stadium. This was long before sports arenas and players became corporate brand extensions.
Tony Cloninger threw the first pitch, and even with Joe Torre, Felipe Alou, Phil Niekro and Hank Aaron, we lost 3-2 to the Pirates in 13 innings. It didn’t matter. Professional based had arrived.
The next 48 years would become the first of times and the worst of times for the Braves and Atlanta. And for my son, a tragic slugger, warming up in an unborn league, not yet a twinkle in his mother’s eye. On opening night, still a child, I followed the first rule of baseball and kept my eye only on the ball.
On deck: Part two: THE MIDDLE INNINGS – 1969 – 1991. Agony on agony. Carpetbagger fans. Hallucinatory all-nighters. Psychic visions. Anything can happen.
****2014 Season Update**** Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014 – Braves post their first losing season since 2008, losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates 10-1. Atlanta fell to 5-17 in September and will close their regular season with three games in Philadelphia.
Atlanta fell to 5-17 in September and will close their regular season with three games at Philadelphia.
“We’ve got three games and we’ve got to play it out,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Stellar quote, Fredi! Thrillingly inspirational.
“Where have you gone Joe Dimagio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”
– Georgia Lee