I hope the Braves win today.
I hope they continue in the playoffs all the way to the World Series. And I hope they win that, too. Not just for me as fan, not just for the city and the state, but for one person in particular: Chipper Jones.
Chipper has lived out the dream that every little boy who ever picked up a bat and ball has had. As one of those former little boys, I'd like to see that dream come to a storybook ending.
I was going through a box of old stuff the other day. Inside were some old baseballs I'd collected over the years. One was a Chipper Jones picture-ball, showing a very young-looking Chipper grinning back from the rawhide. Also inside was a picture of me, circa 1982, down in a crouch, hat on backward, catcher's mitt at the ready. Chipper and I are roughly the same age, so I assume he has some similar ones from the same time frame around his house. He probably doesn't have a baseball with my picture on it, though.
But that picture of me brought back some memories. Baseball games were as important as anything in life back then. Little League, school ball, and when those weren't happening, you hit the backyard.
Backyard games were a constant in my neighborhood. So were the rules, though our street rules deviated slightly from the big leagues. We used "ghost" runners because we never had enough guys to field a full team. And over the fence was not a home run -- it was an automatic out.
The fence rule served several purposes: 1) It was too easy to hit a baseball out of our backyards, and we wanted to play, so the rule dissuaded guys from trying to launch one every at-bat. 2) It served to protect the ball. We usually only had one ball between us, and you could easily lose that ball by hitting it over the fence. The fate of the ball depended on whose yard you were playing in.
At my house it either got gobbled up by a slobbery, grumpy ol' bassett hound or it got lost in the jungle of my other neighbor's backyard. (I later found out all those bushes and trees were grown on purpose to hide some smaller plants that particular neighbor used to, uh, enjoy.)
At another kid's house, the fates were worse depending which fence it went over. On one side, the guy who lived there kept a beehive. The rule was whoever hit it into the yard with the bees had to go get it. I'll never forget one kid army-crawling up to the hive to retrieve a ball that had rolled underneath it. We had no idea that the bees were fairly docile -- this was an age of disaster and crazy-animal movies like "The Swarm" -- so we thought we were witnessing Medal-of-Honor-style bravery.
On the other side was the worst of all: a bitter old lady. She's probably dead now, but I'll still withold her identity. But jeez did that lady hate kids and baseballs. And boy, was she fast. When a ball went in her yard, she was out the door and scooping it up like Brooks Robinson, confiscating it for perpetuity. I swear, if we'd given her enough chances she might've caught one on the fly one day. Her yard was definitely a place where home runs (or in our case, automatic outs) went to die.
Some of those backyard games ended in lost balls. Some were blowouts. And some were the seventh game of the World Series, the bottom of the ninth, bases full of Braves, two outs, full count, and it was your turn at the plate.
What kid didn't dream of that? (And that was really a dream back then, because the Braves in the World Series was only slightly more likely than Martians landing at Fulton County Stadium.) In those days, you pretended you were Hank Aaron or Dale Murphy. Being a catcher, I sometimes channeled Johnny Bench or Carlton Fisk. Sometimes I saved the day and sometimes I was the goat.
And when I was by myself and pitching a tennis ball at the side of our storage shed, I was Phil Niekro. Sometimes I dropped down sidearm, like Gene Garber. The Braves always won when I was pitching.
But, of course, they were only dreams. And the ones of getting to the big leagues were very short-lived. My last baseball season was 1988. My last game was a loss -- in the AAA region championship. It still hurts a little, both because we lost and because I never went any further in baseball than high school.
But Chipper made it. He lived the dream. He played every year with the Braves. He was an all-star, won an MVP, a batting title, a slew of division and league titles and a World Series. And I'd like to see him get one more.
Hey, a boy can dream, can't he?
Email Nate McCullough at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.