There was a time not so long ago when I was just a man. Now I’m increasingly aware that I’m becoming a “man of a certain age.”
For example, I became an Atlanta Braves fan as a kid because all their games came on TBS.
It seems inconceivable in today’s climate of wall-to-wall baseball telecasts, but there was a time back in the dark ages when baseball games weren’t televised to a national audience outside of the All-Star Game, the playoffs and the Major League Baseball Game of the Week.
But when we got cable television in my house, I suddenly was able to fill my summers with more baseball than I could shake a Louisville Slugger at. WGN carried virtually every Chicago Cubs game, and Ted Turner’s TBS did the same with the Atlanta Braves. These two “Super Stations” allowed me to live and die with the Cubs and Braves on a daily basis, which obviously made me a fan of both teams.
I like to joke that I cut my teeth as a baseball fan on the Braves, the Cubs and those rock-hard sticks of gum that came in every pack of Topps baseball cards. I still remember the excitement back in 1986 when I opened a pack and pulled out a card of Braves third-baseman Ken Oberkfell, Braves catcher Ozzie Virgil and the Holy Grail – Braves centerfielder Dale Murphy.
Like most kids who grew up in the south, I was in awe of Murphy, a clean-cut slugger with a rocket for an arm. Murphy’s excellence at the plate and in the field made him stand out like a sore thumb on an otherwise mediocre roster, but he never complained and never hung his head even as the losses mounted.
The Braves were so bad in the mid-80s that a mailer would show up every August offering Braves tickets for a dollar in a desperate effort to fill the stands at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. It’s hard to believe now given Atlanta’s reversal of fortune in the 1990s.
As I grew older, I was able to see the Braves finally turn things around and win a World Series in 1995. This past fall, the Braves won another World Series championship that captured my imagination all over again due to all the rotten luck last year’s team had to overcome to emerge victorious.
The Braves have long since stopped playing on TBS, but I still fondly remember the broadcasts with Skip Caray. Anytime there was a rain delay, the network would switch over to Andy Griffith reruns, which wasn’t a bad way to pass the time.
For those of us fans far from Atlanta, TBS made us feel as close to the Braves as folks who lived in the city. Those of us in Johnson City once again felt that connection a couple weeks ago when the Braves brought the World Series Trophy to Freedom Hall in Johnson City so folks could get their picture taken with it.
If it weren’t for TBS, I doubt the line would have been as long as it was to help celebrate a world championship that seemed inconceivable in those lean years in the 1980s. As I saw all the hoopla around Freedom Hall, it reminded me of one of my favorite Andy Griffith episodes, the one where the gold truck passed through Mayberry.
“Biggest thing ever happened in Mayberry,” Barney Fife said of the gold truck. “REAL big.”
The Atlanta Braves won the World Series and they brought the trophy to Johnson City?!?