I am a baseball fan, as regular readers know. With all the attention given to soccer (football elsewhere) in the FIFA competition in South Africa during June I realized again that baseball is the truly American game that has spread its influence to Latin America and Asia. There are many reasons for loving baseball but most are simply lost on people who do not love the game. And you can only love this game if you understand the game. Otherwise, baseball seems so slow and so boring. But for the true fan this is a special game that has its own pace and its own rhythms. It is also a game that requires thought and strategy in a way that allows the ordinary fan to manage in their mind, to question decisions carefully made and then to openly disagree. There are endless debates about baseball. Three people can see one play and form four opinions and all of them may be wrong!
I realized a few days ago when I first fell in love with this game. It was in the summer of 1957. I was eight years old and had already begun to play baseball. My dad would pitch and catch with me and my friends and I would pitch and hit in our yards and on local fields. I was reminded of this when I visited my childhood home in early June. My backyard, which was our baseball field, is now a parking lot for a very large church. Somehow I wasn’t all that excited when I saw that paved backyard. Then I drove by the old Little League field where I played my first organized baseball and where my dad kept the official score book in the press box. Memories and more memories flooded my mind.
Soon after my trip to Tennessee I saw where the MLB Network (a cable channel for baseball junkies) did a one hour special on the 1957 World Series. I realized that it was truly that magical fall of 1957 when I fell in love with baseball. The New York Yankees had once again won the pennant in the American League. But the newcomers to the World Series were the Milwaukee Braves. Stars like Warren Spahn, Joe Adcock, Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews and Lew Burdette led the underdog Braves storming into the postseason. I had forgotten a great deal about that World Series but seeing this program brought it all back to me as if it was almost yesterday. The Braves won that series in seven games. Lew Burdette won three games, two by shutout, 1-0 and 5-0. He won game seven on two days rest, pitching a shutout in Yankee Stadium. Burdette, rightly so, was named the MVP of that series. Hank Aaron hit three home runs and the Braves pulled out some very dramatic wins. It does seem like yesterday to me, nearly 53 years later.
So it was that summer of 1957 when I truly became a real baseball fan. I loved the Braves and always wanted to see them play a home game in Milwaukee. I traveled to Cincinnati and St. Louis to see them play on the road but never to Milwaukee. Then in the summer of 1964 the Braves moved to Atlanta. I was in high school. My parents took me to the old Fulton County Stadium to see my first Braves home game. I have been to so many Braves games, home and away, since then that I have stopped counting. In fact I have seen the Braves play in at least fourteen different parks over the years.
I recently attended a Braves games in Miami thus seeing an actual regular season game played in every major league home stadium of the current thirty teams! I have to return to New York to the see the two new parks, and visit Target Field in Minneapolis, but that just adds to the challenge. If there is a baseball “bucket list” then I have reached it. What possesses someone to make these trips? I guess the answer is love and really profound joy. I love this game and I get great joy from being around it. It is a form of relaxation and pleasure for me that now extends into my seventh decade of life.
By the way, how about those Braves this year? Maybe they will find magic in Bobby Cox's final season at the helm?