The Braves are back

Published 9:24 am Thursday, September 27, 2018

The year was 1966. I was a 9-year-old country boy who dreamed of playing baseball in the Major Leagues.

It was the same dream my dad had many years before. My dad was named George Herman, after all, as in George Herman “Babe” Ruth.

Late at night, with a little hand-held transister radio that brought in really scratchy voices, I could pick up WSM 750 on the a.m. radio dial. I had to wait until 8 p.m., when the signal strength was stronger. I would lay in bed with the transister to my ear, just loud enough to hear but not loud enough for my parents to hear in the next room. More often than not, I would hear Ernie Johnson say “Let’s go get ‘em Braves.” He said that a lot in the early years, because he only said it late in the game when the Braves were losing.

The Braves lost a lot in the 60s, and the 70s, and the 80s, and into the 90s.

But I remained a steadfast fan into adulthood (Although I’m sure you can find quite a few people who would question that “adulthood” statement.). We had relatives in Alabama, and occasionally got to stop in Atlanta for a baseball game going to or from Alabama.

I remember one summer, my older brother told me if I would read 50 books (He ended up being a school teacher.), he would take me to see the Braves. I read the books, and he took me to a Sunday afternoon doubleheader against the Giants. I think it was the only sellout the Braves had that year, and we didn’t get tickets in advance. Seeing the packed interstate headed to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, he drove his Camaro the wrong way up an exit ramp, parked it, and we rushed to the stadium to get tickets. We snared a couple high in the upper level in left field.

It didn’t matter to me. We were at a Braves game, probably the last time they ever had a seat cushion giveaway. As the Braves were being pounded, people all over the stadium started pounding the plastic seat cushions together. The noise was deafening, and not pleasant. But to a young boy at a Major League baseball game, it was beautiful music.

One thing the Braves had was Hank Aaron. It was on my teen-age bucket list to see Hammerin’ Hank break Babe Ruth’s home run record of 714. The Hammer went into a slump. But I did see No. 709. He broke the record early the next season.

My trips to Atlanta to see the Braves pretty much didn’t happen from the late 70s through the 1980s.

Then came 1991. I saw the Braves clinch their From Worst to First season. In one year, they went from the team with the worst record in all of baseball to the team with the best. The team started offering 20-game season tickets, and with free hotel rooms in Atlanta through work, I bought in.

What a ride.

I was there when Otis Nixon made the miraculous catch to preserve a game that season, a catch that later became a poster.

I was there when Andy Van Slyke, an outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates, stood in awe as the fans for inning after inning, kept up the Tomahawk Chop and chant so loudly we couldn’t hear the announcers.

I was there for a World Series game, watching batting practice, when Nick Esasky was shagging fly balls, and looked up into the stands. I cupped my hands, and he tossed the ball perfectly into my palms. I still have that ball. Even the batting practice balls had the World Series logo.

I was there when Sid Bream slid into home for the game-winning run in a playoff game, probably the most iconic image from the modern Braves.

Heck, I even named a dog “Smotzie” after Hall of Fame pitcher, John Smoltz.

The relevance?

On Saturday, the Atlanta Braves clinched the title for the National League’s Eastern Division. Before the season, they were picked to finish fourth in the division. Last year, they stunk it up. They’ve made it with young, energetic players, who according to the coach, have “it.”

No, I didn’t have what it takes to be a Major Leaguer. My dad may have, but Scouts weren’t exactly falling all over each other to came to Davie County to watch a bunch of farm boys have fun on a Saturday afternoon.

But it was worth it to take him to his first World Series game. I’ll never forget sitting in the hotel room, within site of the stadium, and with a blimp overhead, hearing him, with a few tears in his eyes, say he’d always dreamed of attending a World Series game.

Thanks, Dad. I may have helped you with the trip of a lifetime, but you provided a lifetime full of hope for a young boy.

– Mike Barnhardt