Horsehide, Leather and Ash

The year was 1954, a mere half-century and a year ago, when my bosom buddy, Del Jones, and I wiled away our summer together devoting almost all our waking attention to the fate of the Atlanta Crackers, known throughout baseball as “the Yankees of the minors,” because of their almost-routine dominance of their Southern Association foes and their eventual success against the champions of the rival Texas League in the Dixie Series. The likes of Bob Montag, Dick Donovan, and later, Bob Thorpe, were our heros, and their exploits implanted a seed in me that has since blossomed into a long-term love affair with the game of baseball. So today when the Atlanta Braves, the inheritors of my devotion to the game, begin their 2005 season against the strengthened and dangerous Florida Marlins, I’ll once again be glued to the television in rapt attention to see whether the Braves can add another year to their phenomenal string of 13 consecutive division titles.

Baseball has changed a lot, as I have, in those 51 years. But despite its loss of purity, and mine, I still feel a thrill when my team is succesful and I suffer when it isn’t. But Springtime never fails to find me eager for the long season of struggle that is about to begin. And the magic of cable television provides a suitable substitute for those frequent trips with my dad and granddad down Ponce de Leon Avenue to the park across from Sears in Atlanta to cheer my team to victory.

Just as the jonquils’ yellow beauty signal the renewal of another year, so the words “play ball” tell me that there’s a new opportunity, a fresh chance for success just around the corner. The long winter of waiting is over. It’s “next year” and there is always the hope that this time the season will end with my hoped-for dream of a World Series title.

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