“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that was once good and it could be again…” – James Earl Jones, Field of Dreams
Revered as the national pastime, baseball is as American as apple pie and one of the purest sports in existence. Although most American sports have evolved and changed over the years, baseball has remained constant and virtually unchanged.
In baseball, there are no clocks, no whistles. A methodical game reminiscent of a simpler time, baseball is filled with history. The sport has broken down social barriers, unified the country and spawned immortal heroes. American legends like Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were brought to us through baseball.
Baseball is so much more than just a game.
The smell of the fresh cut grass, the gentle touch of a warm summer breeze on your skin, the gritty saltiness of sunflower seeds, the crack of the bat and the chatter of the players, baseball is a magical, interactive experience unrivaled by any other sport.
As you can tell, I like baseball. Since childhood, I’ve had an affinity for this game. Like all first loves, it holds a special place in my heart.
I fell for this game at a young age. Some of my earliest childhood memories involved collecting and trading baseball cards with my friends. We loved playing just as much as we loved keeping up with our favorite teams and players.
We played with any makeshift equipment we could find. Sticks, rocks, shovels, balls made from wadded-up duct-tape, it didn’t matter to us as long as we were able to play. During my youth, I can recall countless summer days filled to the brim with baseball. Recruiting cousins, friends and anyone else who wanted to play, our neighborhood wiffle-ball games were the stuff of legends.
Of course, to establish yourself as a true subject matter expert, you had to have a favorite Major League Baseball team. Like most kids in my area of the country, the Atlanta Braves were my team. Actually, during most of my adolescent years in the 90’s, the Braves were America’s team. In fact, the Braves were so good in the 90’s that they won their division every season of the decade, with the exception of the strike-shortened 1994 season. Man, I loved the Braves.
One particular game sticks out in my mind: Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series. That year, the Braves were in an absolute war against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The winner of Game 7 went on to the World Series, and the loser went home.
I was 11 at the time and I still remember the nervous anticipation I felt in the hours leading up the game. This was a big deal.
Unfortunately, the game was on a school night and the length of playoff games typically exceeded three and a half hours. I knew there would be no way I could watch the game in its entirety before my parents forced me to go to bed.
Luckily, I owned a Walkman personal cassette player/radio like every cool and socially accepted 11-year-old at the time. Remember, it was 1992.
I vividly recall devising a plan for the likely scenario that I would be forced to miss the later innings. In a cunningly covert operation, I preemptively stashed my Walkman and a pair of headphones behind my bed hours before the first pitch.
As luck would have it, the night played out just as expected. Around the 6th inning, I had reached my time limit. Despite many futile attempts to persuade my parents to let me stay up, I was forced into my nightly bedtime routine. I rushed into bed eagerly awaiting the prize I had stowed away, a move that likely sent warning signals to my mother’s radar of suspicion. Foreign to me at the time, this parental sixth sense was totally unaccounted for in my game plan.
As the remaining innings dragged on, I pretended to be fast asleep in my bed with the covers pulled over my head, concealing my electronic connection to the outside world from my mother’s nightly patrols. But I was far from asleep.
As the Braves came up to bat in the bottom of the 9th inning, the Pirates were ahead 2-0 and I was on the edge of my seat…er bed. Immediately, the Braves cut into the lead and the score was 2-1 with one out. Soon, however, the Braves were down to their final out of the season with the pitcher’s spot due up. With two outs and runners on 2nd and 3rd, the Braves would be opting for a pinch hitter.
I still remember the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when they announced the name of the batter upon whose shoulders rested all our hopes for a World Series title. Francisco Cabrera……who?!? I basically had the entire roster memorized but had somehow never even heard of this guy.
As Tomahawk chops and war chants echoed throughout Fulton County Stadium, Francisco Cabrera stepped to the plate. In what has become one of the most unlikely and miraculous events in Braves’ history, this dude smashes a line-drive back up the middle, immediately plating one run. Sid Bream, representing the winning run, rounded third base and headed home just as the left fielder unleashed a throw to the plate.
The throw was on the money, but Bream’s slide somehow beat the tag by a split second, sending the Braves into the World Series and me airborne, as I slung the covers off and bounced on my bed in elation.
You can guess what happened next.
My celebration was quickly interrupted by my mother angrily storming into my bedroom. I was busted, but at this point I didn’t care. The Braves were going to the World Series!
My mom knew this scheme had been premeditated and the punishment fit the crime, I was grounded for weeks and my Walkman was confiscated. At the time, I thought it was a little harsh, but worth it.
Now that I’m a parent, I wonder what I would do if my son were to pull the same stunt. I guess I’d have to act mad and dish out some punishment, even though I’d secretly be wanting to high-five him.
Becoming a father has been a blessing and my most favorite thing about life. As much as I loved the game, sharing it with the people I care about the most has meant more to me than any highlight or any home run I’ve ever hit.
I was able to introduce my son to the Atlanta Braves on a mid-summer evening just a few years ago. As I entered the gates at Turner Field with my wife and son, I realized my love for the game had come full circle.
I tried to nostalgically explain my passion for baseball to my son as we were en route to the game that night. My son, who was six at the time, couldn’t quite understand these complex emotions.
As we stood there behind the left field wall, staring out at the expanse, my son said “Whoa! Dad, this is awesome!”. I turned and smiled at my wife, who was smiling just as big as I was. I looked down at my son and pulled his Braves cap up from his eyes. I could see the excitement on his face.
I hugged him and said “This. This right here is why I love baseball.”