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A Tale of Baseball and Redemption

All right, so the Braves lost. I, however, prefer to focus on the positive.

I am getting ahead of myself, though, aren't I? First, a little background is in order. Although I was raised a baseball fan, I grew disenchanted with the national pastime as a result of the 1994 strike and I generally stayed away from the game thereafter.

My attitude began to change when I became a father a little over three years ago. Like many men, I acquired my sports loyalties from my father, so having a son of my own had an impact on my desire, if not my willingness, to forgive baseball.

My fellow SportsBlogs Nation webloggers offered their advice, as did some of my readers, until, ultimately, I decided to bite the bullet and take my son to his first major league baseball game.

Because I figured a weekday afternoon game would be most conducive to a leisurely trek to Turner Field and back, we chose Thursday's 1:05 outing against the Florida Marlins. Susan's summer break from teaching is not yet finished, so I took the day off of work and the three of us journeyed to The Ted to take in the game.

We entered at the southwest gate, right by the huge painted baseballs, and found our way to our seats in Section 216. We were sitting in a shaded area on the third base side, with a good view of home plate. I will confess to feeling a great deal of nostalgia for Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, but I will give the designers of Turner Field credit for this much: while the park itself is a mammoth edifice, you can sit in the terrace level and still feel a certain coziness between the diamond and you.

Thomas is three years old, so there was a limit to his understanding and attentiveness, but he enjoyed the experience and behaved himself well. Since his interests lie primarily with Pixar movies and his sports frame of reference is college football, there were certain barriers that had to be overcome. When a foul tip popped up into the stands, Thomas observed that the ball wasn't flying, it was falling with style. The boy also asked whether Uga was on the premises.

Once we got past those initial difficulties, Thomas was patient with my attempts to explain the action. These efforts, however, were hampered by Susan's questions, which revealed to me just how much my avoidance of the game had contributed to her ignorance of it. She was surprised to learn that Leo Mazzone was no longer in the dugout and Greg Maddux was no longer on the roster. I also had to correct her when the Marlins' first run crossed home plate and Susan told Thomas, "Look! They just scored a point!"

It took Thomas a try or two to get the hang of the tomahawk chop, but he picked up on "Charge!" right away. My descriptions of the action were rather rudimentary and I doubt whether he will remember that, say, you can tell the Braves are the home team because they're wearing white instead of grey and their jerseys feature their nickname rather than their hometown, but he knew when to clap and he got his first taste of ballpark food.

In many respects, Thomas's first experience with a Braves game was quite different from my own; my first major league baseball game was in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, back when Hank Aaron was on the roster, Chief Nokahoma had his teepee, and the tomahawk chop had not yet reached the National League. Nothing like the plaza---with its Cartoon Network funhouse and the sorts of shops in which I purchased my son a John Smoltz baseball---was there when I was his age.

Nevertheless, a father taking his son to a major league baseball game is still a father taking his son to a major league baseball game. The fundaments remain the same . . . the bat, the ball, and the glove . . . taking ball four or swinging at strike three . . . a ball hit 405 feet to dead center field sparking bursts of applause and a ball hit 395 feet to dead center field generating a loud cheer that dissolves into a collective groan . . . a man who remembers his boyhood and a boy who will remember when he reaches manhood.

The first major league baseball game Thomas attended was a Braves loss, but, really, that is neither here nor there. Given how bad Atlanta's professional baseball club was in the 1970s, the odds are that my first game was a Braves loss, too.

What is more important, though, is the fact that I neither recall nor care whether my first Braves game ended in a win or a loss, because what matters is that we rooted, rooted, rooted for the home team. I remember Dad pointing to the mound in Fulton County Stadium and telling me how he once saw Sandy Koufax pitch. Thomas will remember me pointing to the mound at Turner Field and telling him how I once saw Greg Maddux pitch.

It is an impressive thing when a baseball player hits a single, a double, a triple, and a home run in a single game, but, in the end, that's just one guy having a good day. Really, that's no big deal.

My grandfather (a St. Louis Cardinals fan) seldom visited Atlanta, but, on one of his rare visits north of the gnat line, he went to an old-timers game at Fulton County Stadium with Dad within a year or so of the time the Braves arrived from Milwaukee. Having been to a major league baseball game in Atlanta with my grandfather, my father later went to games in the same stadium with me.

Although the park is different now, I, too, took my son to a Braves game today, some 40 years after the first such outing by the two generations previous to my own. When, 30 years from now, my son takes my grandson to a game there . . . that, my friends, will be "hitting for the cycle."

By the way . . . for what it's worth, on the way home, Thomas told me he wants to be a baseball player. I take that as a good sign.

Go Braves!