Monday, October 1, 2012

Right Out of Central Casting....

Her earliest memories of baseball were of sitting in the "colored" section of the old Ponce de Leon Park. A black couple named Ham and Effie watched after children while their parents worked in the old bag mill and Cracker ballgames often became their playground. Later as a teenager, working at Sears right across from the ballpark, she would wander over and catch late innings of afternoon games. Ernie Harwell called a good many of those Crackers games on the radio and I think she learned much while hanging on the words of a man who never played ball but still ended up in Cooperstown. She loved the Brooklyn Dodgers because her father did. She said Fred McGriff had the sweetest swing she'd ever seen and considered the designated hitter as proof that the devil exists. I learned to trust most of what my mother said about baseball because she was generally right. So, not long into into his rookie season, when she declared that this kid named Chipper "just looked like a baseball player" I took notice. At bat after at bat she used to say "he even looks like Mickey Mantle" (it was hard for one who called them self a Brooklyn fan to use a Yankee legend as a flattering point of reference, but facts is facts.) She often used "throwback" describing the kid and one time said "I hope when he retires he's still a Brave." You didn't live long enough to see it, Mama, but you got your wish.

Because it's a sport that - more than others - celebrates its antiquity, being called a "throwback" is high praise for a baseball player. And I have to agree with her - I always thought Chipper belonged to a different time. A time when baseball teams rode trains. A time when baseball players had second jobs to make ends meet. A time when players often lived as hard as they played. A time when pitchers weren't afraid of high pitch counts. And a time when players played entire careers with one team.

Relatively speaking, the Atlanta Braves are a young organization. There are few legends and few faces of baseball in these parts. Going forward, though, when one thinks of the Atlanta Braves I'm fairly certain the picture in their mind is going to be of #10. All sweat and dirt and scooping a slow roller to 3rd with his bare hand. Rounding bases after putting one over that stupid apple in the old Shea Stadium, silencing the citizens of Queens who seconds prior were chiding him with calls of "Laaaaaarry! Laaaaaaarry!" Or of the "old man" of 40 sitting at a table at his last spring training with tears in his eyes, looking very human and explaining why he was walking away. I know he was compensated well for his efforts, but I still feel the need to thank him for the years he spent busting his ass for the team my mother loved. (and, no, she wouldn't approve of my choice of words...but it fits when trying to describe a certain breed of ballplayer. She'd probably give me a pass....)