On August 29, 1965, I made the journey from my home town of Kenosha to Milwaukee with my family to see the Braves host the Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee County Stadium. The game, which the Braves lost to the Cubs, 10-2, was historical in that it was the last time the teams would face-off in Wisconsin. It was also of the utmost importance in my life as it was my first major league game. The Cubs, led by Hall of Fame members Ron Santo (four hits, four RBIs and a home run) and Ernie Banks (two hits and four RBIs) had my support because the word had been long out that the lame duck Braves, with their stars Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews and Joe Torre, were pulling up stakes and relocating to Atlanta, Georgia after the last of their 162 game schedule after playing in Milwaukee since 1953. Warren Spahn, the first Braves hurler to win over 300 games, was no longer with the club, but Phil Niekro, the second 300 winner in their history, pitched in relief that day.
The Braves set a Major League Baseball attendance record with 1,826,297 pushing through the turnstiles in their first season in their new home; and they drew close to a million fans in their final season even when the writing was on the wall about their impending desertion of the Midwest for the South. The city had supported the team throughout their residency and the team, in turn, responded by posting winning records for every single season played inside of County Stadium, including two World Series against the New York Yankees. I was only three when the Milwaukee Braves were World Champions in 1957.
By the early Eighties, I was relocated in Boston and following the Red Sox. I was living close to Commonwealth Avenue, where two of my friends lured me to see the Boston University Terriers football team (now defunct) play another college at Nickerson Field. It was pointed out to me that in a previous life the stadium had been Braves Fields (1915 to 1952), and had hosted the 1948 World Series. The “Miracle Braves” of 1914, led by the double play combination of Rabbit Maranville and Johnny Evers, had shared Fenway Park with the American League’s Red Sox. The place had also been the stomping grounds for three professional football teams: the Bulldogs, the Redskins, (who relocated to Washington) and the AFL Patriots (1960 to 1962). The only relics of the reconfigured park were one entrance gate and a portion of the original grandstand.
In late May of 1989, as I waited for my work visa for a teaching position in Japan to be processed, I flew to Atlanta to see a lousy Braves team take on an equally bad St. Louis Cardinals team in a pair of games at Fulton County Stadium. Hank Aaron, who belted his 715th home run there in 1974, was long gone. Dale Murphy, a two-time MVP, did play, but he was washed up and only had one single in seven at bats as the teams split a pair. I lucked out because I saw a young John Smoltz on the mound and he pitched a complete game. Jones belted a home run in the same game: Andruw not Chipper! Although the Braves were awful during the eighties, they turned it around by the nineties, playing in four World Series, and winning one of them against the Cleveland Indians. The Braves shared the venue with the NFL Falcons for thirty years: 1966-1996. The Beatles had also performed live at Fulton during their Fab Four days. My mind dwelled upon the memories the heavy hitting Braves of my youth like Rico Carty and Felipe Alou rather than the roster of 1989 that included Jody Davis and Darrell Evans.
By 2006, I was teaching in the Speech Communication Department at Greenville Technical College in Greenville, South Carolina, roughly 150 miles northeast of Atlanta. I made the long drive to Turner Field to see the once-great Pedro Martinez defeat the Braves, 4-3, in an early April game. This time around I was able to see Chipper Jones play and he treated me well by knocking in two runs. The stadium had a seating capacity of 85,000 for the Olympic Games, but it had been reduced to just shy of 50,000, making it more suitable for baseball in 1997. By 2016 the place was abandoned because it was deemed to be structurally unfit. It was also whispered that the Braves front office had felt that the city wasn’t doing enough to upgrade the neighborhood into an upscale marketable area.
Now the 2017 season is here, and I’m planning to see the Braves yet one more time: in May I shall be going to the newly opened Sun Trust Park in Cobb County, northeast of Atlanta. The Braves shall be on the warpath against a tough Washington National team led by Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. It will be the fifth home stadium of the Braves I will have visited, spanning over many decades and three cities. I’m not sure of it but I may be the only person alive who has accomplished the feat. In fact, I’d accept a wager on it! My voyage to this new stadium shall include a two hour car drive on Interstate 385, a ride on the subway (Marta) and a short jaunt on a city bus. The Braves still have some big men who swing a mighty war clubs like Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp, but they’re still rebuilding after the fruitful years under Bobby Cox.
The Braves are the longest running Major League Baseball team; being a charter member at the birth of William Hubert’s National League in 1876 after dominating the fledgling National Association (1871-1875) by winning four pennants in five years with the likes of early stars Albert Spalding, Ross Barnes and the Wright brothers (Harry and George, not Orville and Wilbur). Not only have they played in three cities, but they have also played under several different team monikers over the three centuries. The Braves were called the Red Stockings (sometimes the Red Caps), in the 19th century and the Beaneaters in the early days of the 20th century. For one lone year, 1907, the sportswriters referred to them as the Doves because of their new white uniforms. The team settled upon their current name under the tutelage and ownership of James Gaffney, a one-time powerful member of New York’s Tammany Hall. The Irish American political machine’s symbol was an Indian chief, so Gaffney considered himself a brave or a warrior in the chief’s war tribe.
So for the 146th straight season, the oldest team in baseball, not to mention the oldest in all American professional sports, are putting their starting nine on the diamond to follow in the footsteps of all of the legends and losers who had preceded them over the long, ghostly years. And I shall be following in the footsteps of the Braves.
By Steven G. Farrell
Steven G. Farrell is an Associate Professor in the Speech & Theatre Department at Greenville Technical College in Greenville, South Carolina. His writings have appeared in such publications as Crime, Scary Monsters, Boxing News, Talking Pictures, Irish American Post, frontier Tales, Candlelight Stories and Lost Treasures. His web page is www.celtic-badger.com.