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August 2, 2018

Countering Common Sense

by Brian Holaway

I’m a Braves fan. I was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, and grew up in Lindale, Georgia.

But, my baseball story starts in Detroit.

My parents were both born in Michigan, my mom on one side of Detroit and my dad on the other. The entire family talked Tigers on a regular basis. My great grandfather would sit in his room and listen to Ernie Harwell on the radio while watching the game on television with the volume down. There seemed to be two important historical events: the time Jesus came to earth and 1968, the last time the Tigers won the World Series. Al Kaline and Norm Cash were spoken of as national heroes. Sparky Anderson was king. 

Brian and his boys at the Field of Dreams film location, Iowa, 2016.

I’d played baseball the summer we moved from Mississippi to Georgia. I liked it but it was just something to do. Something I didn’t want to do, actually. Social engagements, including sports, aren’t my thing.

In October of 1984, though, my mom (the baseball fan) sat me down in front of the television to watch the World Series. She said something like, “Not since 1968,” which seemed so very long ago to an eight-year-old.

Game one went to the Tigers, of course. The Padres made a game of it. I remember thinking their uniforms were ugly. (They were).

Afterwards my mom explained to me this was just the first game. It could go to seven games. My dad – never the sports fan – was not thrilled that potentially seven games would take over his watching of nature documentaries and sci-fi. He was thankful for a five game series. My Mom and I were thankful the Tigers won it all.

Alan Trammell, a picture taken by Brian and his family at one of his first games at Tiger Stadium, 1985.

In 1985 we visited family in Detroit. As Mississippi didn’t allow for easy access to an MLB team and our move to Georgia took some adjusting for all of us, I had not yet watched a professional baseball game from the stands. That changed on July 14, 1985: Minnesota visited Detroit at old Tigers Stadium. (I don’t like that it’s gone but the location serves a great purpose now).

I watched Alan Trammell, Darrell Evans and Lou Whitaker. For the Twins, Kirby Puckett played center. Even Ron Washington pinch-hit. I was confused when I heard boos for Lou Whitaker only to realize, after my great-grandfather told us, everyone was yelling “Looouuuuuuuuu!” The Tigers won. I thought they were the greatest team ever, of course.

We went to another game the following year in ‘86 to watch the Yankees play the home team. We sat on the third base side and my dad made us leave early to beat the traffic. But I watched Lou Whitaker, Kirk Gibson, Don Mattingly and Rickey Henderson. Dave Winfield hit a home run. Alan Trammell saw my mom trying to take a picture and sort of posed for the shot. I had already started collecting baseball cards but this game helped seal my love for the game, the history and the characters in the story.

Seattle, Safeco Field, 2006.

We started attending Braves games the next month and saw Bob Horner’s four home run game (the Braves still lost). At another game, I remember so few people at Fulton County Stadium in the Georgia heat that they let us sit anywhere we wanted. They were terrible to watch but I loved every minute of seeing Dale Murphy and his swing and stance that we’d all mimic while playing ball in the street.

A few years later we got the news of the minor league kid Detroit traded to Atlanta – John Smoltz – so they could acquire Doyle Alexander. It wasn’t the worst deal at the time. And we ended up purchasing tickets early in the season for October 5, 1991, for what would be, to our surprise, the moment that saw the Braves win the west. Smoltz pitched a complete game.

There are a lot of memories like that. Seeing Chipper’s last game,  jersey retirement and his Hall of Fame induction. Smoltz’s domination as a starter and reliever and then his jersey retirement, as well. But it’s so much more than a ball and a field. I don’t follow other sports. I love baseball. I love it because it allows me to slow down in a fast-paced day, and be content to follow the sport others call slow and boring. It allows me a place to watch style, strategy and finesse go up against strength and have a chance at victory.

Chipper Jones’ jersey retirement

One reason I like baseball is that it counters common sense. A bit like being able to cheer on the Tigers and Braves in the same household, or how the game doesn’t require you to be tall or physically strong to play well. “They give you a round bat and they throw you a round ball and they tell you to hit is square,” said Willie Stargell.

But I think I love baseball because it’s a story that requires a bit of faith and being content to never fully comprehend the sport and its’ history of fun, controversy, injustice, joy and drama. “Baseball is like church,” Leo Durocher said. “ Many attend, few understand.” I’m thankful to be one who understands and stay close to good friends that do, as well.

Featured image: Brian at the Baseball Hall of Fame, July 2018.

August 2, 2018

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