Baseball, Fatherhood, and Building Special Memories
The Atlanta Braves did a great job as they counted down the final days of playing at Turner Field. The closing ceremony was amazing and having Henry Aaron literally take home plate from Turner to the new Sun Trust Park was ingenious.
It’s not just the park, however; it’s the game. I fell in love with baseball when the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966. My dad was a fan, and passed down his love of the game. He bought me a glove and after he got home from work, we’d go out in the back yard and play pitch. He taught me to swing the bat, follow the rules, and understand the intricacies of baseball.
He even endured my little league years. I loved playing. And going. I visited Turner Field through the years, including a farewell game in April (the Braves lost 1-0 to Boston), but my love affair with baseball began at the old Atlanta Stadium.
Atlanta Stadium was completed in April, 1965, and the Atlanta Crackers minor league team played there that season. My first baseball game was a trip to see the Crackers in the brand new stadium. I don’t remember much about that game, except for the clown that entertained between innings.
The Braves moved to Atlanta next season and my dad took me and my brothers to see the new team: Joe Torre, Hank Aaron, Clete Boyer, Felipe Alou, Mack Jones, Rico Carty, Phil Neikro, Tony Cloniger. Even after relocating to Milledgeville, we made an annual trek to see the Braves.
Here are a few Atlanta Stadium memories (later renamed Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium):
*I was there one night in either 1969 or 1970 when Morganna the stripper (The Kissing Bandit) bounced out of the stands, ran to third base and attempted to kiss Clete Boyer. Boyer, sporting a mouthful of chewing tobacco, let her kiss him on the cheek. She was escorted away by Atlanta’s finest while the crowd cheered. Morganna claimed to kiss 37 different major league players throughout her career.
*I was with my church group to see the Braves around 1970 when one of our church’s children let a helium balloon go. Why he had a helium balloon and how he got it in I don’t know, but the balloon floated from the upper deck down to the field below and hovered right over third baseman Clete Boyer. Play was stopped for several minutes while Clete and the umpire jumped and tried to grab the just-out-of-reach balloon. They finally caught the string, discarded the balloon and play was resumed.
*My dad got tickets to the 1972 All Star Game in Atlanta. What a thrill to see all those baseball greats gathered in one game. Hank Aaron hit a long homerun in his third at bat, and the National League won 4-3 in 10 innings.
*I was there in August, 1992, when the Braves hosted the Dodgers. Braves center-fielder Otis Nixon was batting in the fifth inning with runners on first and second. Suddenly the sprinklers came on. Someone on the grounds crew had forgotten to change a timer set for 9 p.m. You can hear Skip Carey’s call and see the video on youtube.com.
*In August, 1993, our church group traveled to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to see the Braves and the Dodgers. That was the year the Braves clinched the NL West title on the last day of the season. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember getting home late and my wife telling me that my parents called and shared that my dad had been diagnosed with colon cancer. You don’t forget something like that. He died two months later.
When my son came along, for his first Christmas, I gave him a plastic bat and ball and the 1989 complete Topps baseball card set. He loved baseball until he discovered basketball. I passed down the love of the game, and he was a pretty good player, but now he’s a rabid Hawks fan.
More importantly, I strived to pass down a love for the Lord. And today, he’s serving the Lord in fulltime ministry.
As Paul wrote to fathers, “ . . . bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
(Dr. David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church, Fayetteville, GA. The church is located at 352 McDonough Road, near McCurry Park. Join them this Sunday for Bible study at 9:45 a.m. and worship at 10:55 a.m. Visit www.mcdonoughroad.org and like them on Facebook).