Baseball, Glory, Glory, Baseball!
Baseball. That game of nine men pitted against nine other men which begins during the chill of early spring and ends with the thrills of a chilly autumn classic is upon us once again. I’ve always looked forward to the opening of baseball season.
Opening Day of the baseball season was a signal in my youth that the winter was over and it was time to get out of the house and move around a bit. A chance to pound your fist into the palm of your glove, spit in it and get the leather supple for the next baseball thrown or hit your way.
Baseball is more than the slides into second or third or home, grass stains on the pants in the area of the knees, or the frustration of trying to hit a 3-2 slider. Baseball is even more than the elation you felt when the ball connected with the sweet spot of the bat and the drive off your bat landed in the gap in left center field as your teammates on the bases ran home to score.
Yes, without a doubt there is something about baseball that is as eternal as the springtime, as enduring as tiny vegetation pushing itself up out of the ground reaching for the sky. I’ve been hooked on the game since a hastily organized game of stick ball after church one Sunday in the mid-1950s. I could not have been more than 5 years-old. I recall when it came my turn to bat, I took two swings at the ball and failed at each attempt. Then one of the bigger kids or adults took my last swing and when they hit the ball, I ran to first base. It was a thrill to run down the first baseline. I’ve been fascinated with the game since that Sunday afternoon.
Lately, I’ve been a baseball fan without a baseball team to root for, to cheer on to victory. To be sure there is, at least for another year, a baseball team in my hometown. They go by the name of the Atlanta Braves, but beginning in 2017, the Braves will be playing baseball up in Smyrna, Georgia. They are building a very fine facility up there and developing the community surrounding the new stadium. I can’t get over the way the Braves left the city of Atlanta without pumping any meaningful money into the economic development of the Buttermilk Bottom community that laid out the welcoming mat for them when they escaped from Milwaukee back in ’65.
I stayed up late, listening on the radio the night of their first game in Atlanta Fulton County Stadium against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Later that summer, my Mom boarded the old Nancy Hank train at the segregated depot in Macon, Georgia with my brother and I. We were headed to Atlanta to take in a game between the Braves and the San Francisco Giants.During the game I saw Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marchiel, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spann.
I’ll never forget that Saturday and Sunday series. There was a double-hitter on Saturday.All three games were won by the Giants. The Sunday game ended after Willie Mays angrily yelled at his rookie left fielder to move to a certain spot on the field. After the first two pitches the rookie failed to move into the position Mays wanted him, but gave in before the third pitch and moved to the exact position on the field Mays had told him to play. On the next pitch the batter hit the ball right where the rookie was standing. Ball game over. I left the park thinking that Willie Mays was the greatest baseball player of all time.
When I went to college, I was not recruited out of high school, so I walked onto the team at Fort Valley State College and made the team. I did not get to start, but was able to contribute to the team off the bench in critical situations.
After my freshmen year, I decided to transfer to Tuskegee Institute. Again, I was in a position of having to walk-on to make the team. I made the team and played two seasons putting up a spectacular fielding percentage of .10000, stealing 25 bases and batting .280. Last summer, I was honored to give the acceptance speech for William C. Matthews, who was inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame. Matthews had played baseball at Tuskegee Institute from 1893-97.
Back in ’65, my mom taught me you could always hop onto a public conveyance and take in a baseball game in a faraway city. Since I don’t have a hometown baseball team to root onto victory, next week, when the baseball season starts, I will board a plane for a trip to Cincinnati to take in the opening game of the season between the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates. I’ll hang out with my son Coley, another avid baseball fan. We will watch the opening day parade that is held in Cincinnati every year, then onto Great American Ball Park for some peanuts, cracker jacks and baseball.
Baseball, glory, glory, baseball season is here again!
Harold Michael Harvey, is the author of the legal thriller “Paper Puzzle,” and “Justice in the Round: Essays on the American Jury System,” available at Amazon and at haroldmichaelharvey.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org