When my memory bumps into my present, as it sometimes does, I visit the stomping grounds of my past.
As I sprawled on the loveseat, head on one arm, feet on the other watching the Atlanta Braves become the baseball champions of the world, I strolled down the streets of my youth.
My love of the game started when I was a barefoot girl playing catch with my sister Jane during the daylight hours and hunched over the AM radio at night listening to the Brooklyn Dodgers. I followed the careers of Roy Campanella and Peewee Reese for most of the 1950s, but it was a casual love affair. And, I never imagined that someday I’d sit in the bleachers watching a big league game.
But in the late 1960s, I moved to Atlanta, not long after the Braves came to town, and I followed the team with a vengeance. I listened to their games every day from start to finish on the kitchen radio, and sometimes I went to the stadium.
My first trip to see the Braves I felt like Alice falling into Wonderland. The sound of the organ pumping out tunes, concessionaires promising something cold to drink. Sitting high up in the center field stands. The smell of hot dogs, popcorn and Cracker Jacks. Tractors pulling giant rakes around the infield smoothing the red dirt. Big league idols in the batting cages, doing infield drills, and running sprints, Braves as well as visiting players. Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey, Pete Rose and Johnny Bench.
I loved sitting in the dollar seats bonding with the crowd — chanting “Come on Alou, do what you gotta do” when Felipe came to bat, and everybody standing as one for the seventh-inning stretch. I watched in awe as Hank Aaron swung his big bat and when Willie Mays, playing for the Giants, hit a homerun in my direction.
When I left Atlanta, Ted Turner had bought the Braves and televised every game. Chief Noc-A-Homa’s dance on the mound was a daily ritual in my den. And the voices of Ernie Johnson, Pete Van Wieren and Skip Caray became as familiar as the sounds of my closest friends.
I lived through some dry summers with the Braves. “Wait Till Next Year” became the mantra. The best years were during the heyday of Dale Murphy and Bruce Benedict. That scruffy 1992 team won the pennant by shear grit and determination. Smoltz and Glavin on the mound. Otis Nixon climbing the center field wall to rob Houston of a homer.
I know there’s no crying in baseball. But I can’t see a replay of the 1992 playoff game and watch half-crippled Sid Bream run the bases, sliding into third, without a moment of emotion, a glistening in my eyes and a little strain in my throat.
Folks who claim watching baseball is about as exciting as watching paint dry don’t know what they’re missing. I say, give it a try. You just might feel the magic.