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This April, there is crying in baseball

April 23, 2020 - 01:00
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  • This April, there is crying in baseball

No one goes there nowadays. It’s too crowded.

– Yogi Berra

There was almost no baseball during the month of April in 1995, but a prolonged work stoppage – strike – finally ended on April 2 and play resumed on April 25.

You have to go all the way back to 1883 to find a month of April devoid of professional baseball scores.

According to baseballreference.com, the first games that year were played on May 1. Every April since, in spite of the Great Depression and two world wars, baseball has been an integral part of spring.

Not this year. Baseball might not start until June or even later and the 2020 season is going to look very weird in the history books. Even weirder than the strike interrupted season of 1981 and the strike truncated season of 1994.

But for baseball fans, the absence of the sport leaves an empty hole that can’t be filled by watching replays of the 1992 NLCS or the 1995 World Series. I even tried to watch the 1965 World Series finale between the Minnesota Twins and the Los Angeles Dodgers on YouTube.

The magnificent Sandy Koufax threw a three-hit shutout and struck out 10, but that moment in time is long gone. Reliving it is fine, but reliving it trying to cure the baseball blues just doesn’t work.

And living in the past ultimately just makes me sad.

My dad took me to several baseball games when I was a little boy, and thinking about those days makes me miss him. We would drive down to the stadium and get off at Hill Street. We’d find a parking place, buy some peanuts in brown paper bags and get in one of the ticket lines.

My dad liked to sit along the first base line in the field level seats. I think they cost about $7 each back then.

I was thrilled every time we walked into that old Atlanta Stadium. To me, the building was a huge cathedral filled excitement. Even if the team lost, the games were always memorable. I remember the powder blue seats, and the Teepee sitting in the stands in left field. Chief Noc-A-homa would run down on the field and do a war dance on the pitching mound before the game started, and the players would run out onto the field: Henry Aaron, Joe Torre, Rico Carty, Felipe Alou, Mack Jones, et al.

I was too little to remember many details of the games themselves, but I do remember going to see a Friday night game in 1966 against the hapless Chicago Cubs. The Braves won the game 12-2, and with the help of baseballreference.com, I am able to recreate what I saw that night.

Five future members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame played in the game, including Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo for the Cubs and Henry Aaron and Joe Torre for the Braves. Braves HOF third baseman Eddie Matthews didn’t play that night or that would have made six.

Denny Lemaster was masterful for the Braves on the mound, pitching a complete game and scattering nine hits. The only Cub he had trouble with was Banks who homered off of him in the second and eighth to plate the only runs for Chicago.

The Braves hitters had little difficulty with 20-year-old rookie pitcher Ken Holtzman. After Banks put the Cubs ahead 1-0 in the top of the second, the Braves scored six runs in the bottom half.

The highlight was a three-run homer by Henry Aaron. Mack Jones (nicknamed Mack the Knife, a dubious nickname for someone swinging a bat at a ball) homered in the third, and Felipe Alou (who was managing the first place Montreal Expos when the 1994 season was interrupted) and Joe Torre (who managed the 1996 Yankees that beat the Braves in the World Series) both homered in the fourth. Jones cracked another homer in the seventh to complete the scoring for the Braves.

Watching our team score a bunch of runs was exhilarating and those moments made me a Braves fan for life. Dad and I tried to go see Koufax pitch twice during the season, but everybody else had the same idea, and both games were sold out when we got there.

So, all I have is YouTube for Koufax. But like I said those days are long behind us now.

I want to see Acuna and Albies and Soroka. I want to see who wins the third base job: Austin Riley or Johan Camargo. I wanted to see if King Felix had anything left in the tank.

But this is COVID-19’s April and always will be.

I won’t be reliving it. Selah.