Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, April 10, 2015, 9:20 a.m.
I was thinking on the way home last night, trying to remember if I had ever been to a professional baseball Opening Night.
I wrote about quite a few, but I couldn’t remember going to a team’s first game as a fan.
A notable Home Opener is rooted deep in my memory. My 16th birthday was April 8, 1974, and in one of the spur-of-the-moment decisions for which my father was famous, I was in Atlanta (later Fulton County, too) Stadium on the night Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run. That was a memorable night for Duttons as well as Aarons, though not entirely for the same reasons.
As a general rule, I’m the kind of fan who waits to the second game, when it won’t be so crowded and there won’t be a traffic jam, but, as luck would have it, an old college friend called – no, of course, he didn’t call; this is 2015; of course, he sent a message – and asked me to go with him and his father, whom I hadn’t seen in decades, to watch the Greenville Drive take on the Augusta GreenJackets.
We met at a sports bar near the park, and, naturally, Steve Grant, my friend, asked if I’d heard who was leading the Masters, and I thought, well, the tournament’s in Augusta, but the GreenJackets are here.
Later on, I found out that Jordan “I Before E, Unlike Keith” Spieth had, uh, carded a 64.
The first time I ever saw Lou Grant, he was pushing a rack of furs at his business in the Garment District of New York City. His son, who played first base at Furman, lived in Paramus, New Jersey, and I spent most of a week at their house the summer after we graduated in 1980. That was my summer of being a bum, knowing I was taking a graduate assistantship in the fall. I made some cash money driving used cars that had been purchased in auctions down south to dealerships up north. Sometimes I drove the car up there and took a bus home. I could make some of what seemed like serious money at the time if I could find a car somewhere around New York or Philadelphia to drive back home.
When I visited the Grants, I decided I’d wait a few days to see if I could find a car to drive back to South Carolina. It was a time of freedom and risk. That summer I took buses and trains, and made plans on the fly, and even hitchhiked across New Jersey once and happened upon an alumni celebration at Princeton in which the Ivy League nobility wore cheap slacks with growling tigers running across the fabric and drank heavily to the glory of Alma Mater. They were nice to me and even got me drunk, though I stuck out in that particular crowd.
“Bernice, come here! I want you to meet my new Southern friend!”
I watched Lou play fast-pitch softball in a summer league and met one of the players who just happened to be the brother of Hall of Famer Juan Marichal. It was long ago. It only seems like yesterday.
Even though it was Opening Night, it was also Dollar Beverage Night, and the dollar beer was Pabst Blue Ribbon, and a friend of Steve’s who joined us kept coming back from the concession stand with two. This contributed to my boisterous singing along with “Sweet Caroline” – the Drive is (they would prefer “are”) an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, whose affiliation I enjoy as a fan – in the middle of the eighth inning, just like at Fenway.
Steve and Lou are Yankee fans, but they don’t hold it against the local minor-league affiliate.
Lou and I talked old-time baseball, mostly about players he saw and I read about. We talked about Hank and Ted, and how I worry about the Red Sox’ fielding because they have too many players mismatched with their positions, and Lou offered his opinions of Joe Girardi, and I chimed in with mine of the New York general manager, Brian Cashman, but a lot of the names were relatively obscure, at least to the fans of today: Camilo Pascual, Joe Foy, Tom Tresh, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, and a shortstop named John Kennedy who played five games for the Phillies the year before I was born.
“Who was that third baseman for the Red Sox in the Sixties?”
“Joe Foy? Dalton Jones?”
“That’s the guy.”
Steve and Lou left with the score tied, 2-2, after a first-round draft choice from Marietta, Georgia, named Michael Chavis cleared the Fluor Field center-field wall in the bottom of the seventh. It was a blast, a missile of four hundred feet.
Me, I can’t leave a tie game, and the old satirical cry from my days on the minor league beat occurred to me: “We are going nineteen!”
Thanks to Chavis, though, the game ended an out shy of regulation. He knocked in the winning run with what was almost a second homer. It bounced about a foot below the top of Greenville’s Green Monster clone, and the Drive won, 3-2.
I drove home, searching the AM band for some ballgame somewhere, not knowing that all the big-league action was already over. The best I could do was listen to a bit of the post-game talk from Philadelphia, where the Red Sox had taken two out of three from the Phillies.
It’s the time of the year when almost every question can be answered, “Well, that’s baseball.”
I’ve written a couple baseball-themed short stories at www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com, by short fiction depository, and I’d appreciate it if you’d take a look at my books here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1415634579&sr=1-1