In the fairy tale version of the story, the Dodgers rallied for three runs in the ninth inning to defeat the home team by a score of 6-5. But what actually happened was that the Braves’ crafty knuckleballer Phil Niekro baffled and limited the Dodger offense to four measly hits and not a single run, while future Hall of Famer and home run king Hank Aaron bashed one homer and outfielder Dusty Baker hit two homers as the Braves crushed my beloved Dodgers 10-0.
I was disappointed, but no less thrilled by the experience of seeing my first major league game with my dad. When my son was born 12 years ago, I looked forward to the day that I would be able to take him to see the Braves and Dodgers play. I looked forward to it even before he was born, explaining with great conviction to my wife, a baseball agnostic, what a sacred occasion it would be.
Six years ago, when my son was half the age he is now, I figured he was ready to see his first game. After all, he loved playing baseball against me on his PlayStation. Unfortunately, he liked the Cardinals better than the Dodgers because he liked the cool red birds on their uniforms and because his favorite player, Albert Pujols, played for the Cardinals. So, I scored some amazing seats on eBay about six rows behind the Cardinals dugout and we went down for his first game.
Let me tell you, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I looked forward to explaining some of the finer nuances of the game to my son while we basked in the hot Atlanta sun with our Cracker Jacks and five-dollar sodas.
After the first inning, barely settled in our seats, Jack looked at me and said, “Dad, how much longer before this is over?”
It turned out that my 6-year-old son preferred baseball on the PlayStation to baseball at Turner Field. Getting him through eight more innings was like pushing a mule through a thicket of briars. I managed only by bribing him with approximately a hundred dollars worth of concession stand goodies, memorabilia, and promises of treats to come after the game.
After the game, I promised myself I would wait until he was ready and actually wanted to go see a game, hopefully when he was over his ridiculous infatuation with the St Louis Cardinals.
It took a while. A long while. But now, with the Dodgers in midst of what may well be the greatest season in the franchise’s storied history, the time had come to try again. So, last week, I found some excellent tickets on Craigslist and took my 12-year-old son to Atlanta to see the Braves take on the Dodgers, just as my father had taken me over 40 years ago when I was the same age.
This time around, he was actually interested in the game as a game, rather than as an unusual source of sensory stimulation and a buffet of snacks. This time, we actually could discuss the nuances of the game. He was as excited to see Dodger stars such as Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, and Yasiel Puig as I had been to see Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, and Ron Cey four decades ago.
When we got to SunTrust Park, we had some time to kill before the gates opened and we could watch a few players from each team taking batting practice. We wandered around, checking out The Battery, and then walked around to the front of the ballpark, where I took a photo of him sitting next to a statue of former Braves manager Bobby Cox and posted it on Facebook. Then we found a restaurant and ate some barbecue and a hot dog.
After the gates opened, we found our seats and waited for the game to begin. Would the Braves sock it to the Dodgers, just as they did the last time I saw the two teams play live? Nope. This time, it was the Dodgers’ pitcher Kenta Maeda who baffled the Braves’ batters. After rookie sensation Cody Bellinger belted his 31st homer of the season, it looked like the Dodgers would win easily. The Braves made things interesting with a two-run homer in the eighth inning, but the Dodgers behemoth closer Kenley Jansen struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth to seal the deal and send us out to search for our Uber driver with goofy grins on our faces.
When we got back to our hotel, I turned on the television so we could catch the highlights of the game and maybe get a glimpse of ourselves in the crowd down the first base line. Then I saw a commercial spot promoting Braves legends weekend, coming up in a few days.
“Come over here and look at this, Jack,” I said. “Phil Niekro is going to be at the game on Friday night. Did you know that when I was your age, I saw him pitch a shutout against the Dodgers in this very city?”
“Is that right?” Jack said, taking off a sandal. “Dad, do you think we’ll have time to get in the pool in the morning before we have to check out?”
Give him another few years — or 20, or 40 — and maybe he’ll become interested in nostalgia, too. Maybe someday he’ll get a chance to bring his 12-year-old son to Atlanta when the Dodgers come to town and tell him about that magical night when he and his old man saw Kenta Maeda mow down the Braves.