For the Love of the Game
I'm never nostalgic. But while I was in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, I was nostalgic. In fact, there were times I was a bit emotional.
I asked Kathy to join me in helping me accomplish a couple of my bucket list items.
The first was to take a multi-day motorcycle trip.
The second was to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame.
We left on a Wednesday morning in July. The weather was clear here in Atlanta, but ten miles north it was raining. We’d already delayed the trip two days because of bad weather, and now the trip was being threatened again.
I asked Kathy, "Will you be alright riding in the rain for thirty miles?"
She didn't even hesitate.
We packed our meager selection of clothes and necessities into garbage bags to keep them dry and loaded them onto the bike. Then we mounted the bike and were about to leave when we ran into a friend.
The friend warned, "I-75 north is in lockdown. They are clearing a major accident. All lanes are blocked."
Now I was thinking, "We are packed and on the bike. We are out of here. I don't care if it rains or I have to take local roads to Tennessee. The evil spirits will not win!"
We bypassed the I-75 lockdown, rode in the rain for forty-five minutes, and then...clear skies for the rest of the trip. We passed the test. Cooperstown, NY, and the Hall or bust!
When we got to Cooperstown, we found a beautiful and highly rated B&B called the Landmark Inn. It was clean, comfortable, meticulously maintained, and beautiful, and the owners were wonderful hosts. A great find.
I asked Kathy on our way to the Hall, "How much time will you give us in this museum?"
Kathy isn't a life-long baseball fan. I thought this museum was going to be a tough one for her. I wanted to see everything, and she really didn't. She did want to be nice to me.
About two hours into the Hall, it happened. Kathy seemingly came out of nowhere and said to me, "How much longer are you going to be here? I didn't think you would read everything. I am having what feels like a panic attack. We have to leave now."
I saw she wasn't having a panic attack, but I did see her holding on firmly to the end of her rope.
"If we leave now, can I come back to finish seeing the rest of the museum?" I asked.
"You stay," she said. "I'll be fine waiting outside and seeing the shops. Call me when you are finished. No need to hurry."
"Yes!" I thought. Now I had no pressure. I could just enjoy every minute.
Walking through the Baseball Hall of Fame was unique for me. It was like a walk through my whole life.
I've been a baseball fan since I was a kid. Baseball was always a big part of my life. I loved watching it on TV. Loved buying and trading baseball cards. Loved playing Strat-O-Matic, a board game that used all the players and stats in the game. And, of course, I loved playing baseball. I played second base and believed I was Cookie Rojas of the Philadelphia Phillies or Bobby Richardson of the NY Yankees.
I grew up outside NYC. Everybody there was a sports fan. Everybody up there, I learned later in life, bet on everything. They loved baseball, and they loved gambling. Everybody was a baseball trivia expert, including me at the time.
But then at eighteen, I went off to the University of Miami in Florida. There were no teams down there. The people there weren't interested. They loved their Miami Dolphins (even had a song for them during their 17-0 season), but there was no baseball team. I lost touch with baseball just as Hammering Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's lifetime home run record.
But I got to Atlanta in January 1977 and married Kathy in May of that year. One of our favorite places to go was to see the Atlanta Braves play at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. Dale Murphy, Bob Horner, Phil Neikro, Jerry Royster, and, of course, our owner, Ted Turner.
They were so bad back then. I remember Ted Turner sitting in the box seats right next to the Braves on-deck circle with his Coca-Cola can in hand. He used it as a spittoon because he always had chew in his jaw. Every time a baseball was hit into the stands, Ted would stand up and yell for the fan to throw the ball back. He was famous for keeping his expenses down.
As I walked through the Babe Ruth exhibit, I ran into a guy who had to be in his eighties. He caught me explaining to Kathy the Curse of the Bambino. I was showing her the actual sales contract from the Boston Red Sox to the NY Yankees for George Herman Ruth. The guy stepped in and told us a long story on the three greatest home run hitters of all time and what they shared in common. It was a great story and listening to him made the Hall that much more special.
I progressed from display to display. I moved from year to year until I hit the 1960s. That's when my memories kicked in. Like the first time I went to a professional baseball game. I was ten years old, and my friend's dad took a couple of us to see this new MLB team called the NY Mets. We traveled from Jersey City by bus and then by subway to NYC. Then we took a NY subway to a new place called Shea Stadium.
The subway doors opened, and the flood of people exited the train. That's when I saw the size of my first professional stadium. I was in awe. But that wasn't the best part. We went into the stadium and walked through the breezeway and out toward our seats in right field. That's when I saw my first professional baseball field. I'll never forget how green and perfect it was. It smelled like grass and mitt leather. Up until this time, all I did was see baseball games on our black and white TV.
The Hall of Fame took me through my childhood and my heroes. On to the Braves right after Kathy and I were married. Into the development of my business career with the introduction of Chipper Jones, Bobby Cox, Greg Maddux, the World Series win, the sale of our business, my corporate career, each and every one of our children's births. Eventually with Kathy and me attending Turner field with our kids in tow.
Right up to today.
My youngest son, Nick, is a rabid fan. He is the Paparelli baseball torchbearer. His dream after he got his first job was to make enough money to buy season tickets and live at the Battery. Last year his dream came true. Now Nick is inviting me to baseball games.
A couple of nights ago, Nick invited me to attend the Braves vs. Milwaukee game. We were the underdog, but Nick was sure we were going to win. What happened that night is something I'll never forget and is an example of why I love baseball.
Dansby Swanson, our shortstop and a hometown boy, hit a home run in the 4th to put us ahead. Then, at his next at-bat, he hit another home run. Nick turned to me and said, "Dansby just set a new record for the Atlanta Braves. He is now the only shortstop to hit twenty home runs in any one season in the history of the franchise."
On the way home I was thinking about this new record. And then it hit me. He not only hit the homerun to set this new record. He did it by hitting a grand slam. This is the romance of baseball. This is why I love it.
It just always seems to happen this way. There is always a story that marks some part of my life that makes it unforgettable. It brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it. And that is me being nostalgic.