I am looking forward to July 7, 2022. It will mark the 50th anniversary of the first time I attended a Major League Baseball game.
My biggest sports-related regret is that I didn’t do what it took to attend at least one game every year since that time.
I’m an incurable Atlanta Braves fans. There is no particular reason why I became a Braves fan other than the fact I was born in Atlanta. But ever since I first “discovered” Major League Baseball in 1969 I have been a follower of the Braves.
In my early years as a Braves fan — long before you could watch them on television on a regular basis — I would literally lay on my bed with my head as close as I could possibly get to the radio and listened to the games on WSB 750 AM as the signal continually faded in and out. Static was just a way of life.
While, as I have previously written, it was the 1969 World Series that set the hook as far as my love of sports goes, it was July 7, 1972 that absolutely reeled me in.
It was on that day that Johnny Anderson took me to my first Braves game. While he was actually my first cousin, because he was 17 years my elder, I always considered him “Uncle Johnny.”
My dad, some, and I travelled from Louisville, Miss. to my dad’s home stomping grounds of Atlanta two or three times a year, so my parents arranged for “Uncle Johnny,” who lived in an Atlanta suburb, to take me to a game.
They left it up to me to pick out a date. I chose July 7. It was far, far from random. You see, back in those days each ballclub scheduled a couple doubleheaders each year. On that day, you could see two nine-innings games for the price of one. I quickly scanned the schedule and saw that July 7 was one of those days.
The Braves lost the first game against the mighty Pittsburgh Pirates 10-1, while winning the second one 3-2. I can tell you more little things about those two games than really should be possible 49 years later.
I know that Sonny Jackson made a couple errors at shortstop and the fans let him know about it; I recall that Gene Alley of the Pirates hit the first homer I ever saw; that Earl Williams hit a long bomb for the Braves in the second game; that Jim Hardin pitched a complete game for the Braves to win the second one; that I got a chance to see Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski, and Willie Stargell all play; Pittsburgh catcher Milt May pick up five hits in the second game; among many other things.
“Uncle Johnny” had purchased us tickets in right field, probably four or five rows deep. I have kept many ticket stubs and press passes over the years, but those alas are not to be found. The best I can recall they cost $3 each.
While I was a massive Braves fan, when Stargell — the big left-handed slugger of the Pirates came to the plate — I stood up hoping for a home run ball to no avail.
I’m not sure how early we got to the game, but of this you can rest assured, we didn’t leave until well after the last out.
I soaked in every pitch, every out, every error, every hit, every sound, every smell, and every moment of that game — the residue of which remains with me today.
That experience so overwhelmed me that that just over three months later — on Oct. 21, 1972 — I convinced my father to take me to my first college football game, a 26-7 Mississippi State win over the University of Southern Mississippi.
The first college game I ever “covered” was at the tender age of 18 when USM defeated Memphis 14-12 on Nov. 20, 1976 in Hattiesburg.
While I wasn’t able to attend a Braves game in 1973, I managed to “talk” myself into a week-long “vacation” at “Uncle Johnny’s and Aunt Nena’s” during the summer of 1974.
In a six-day span I got a chance to the see the Braves beat the Padres 1-0 and the Dodgers 10-0, while losing to the Giants 6-3. There was only one reason why we didn’t go to more games — “Uncle Johnny” did have to go to work after all.
I’ve taken both of my boys — Ryan and Bradley – to numerous sporting events over the years, many as a result of my profession as a sports journalist and my wife’s as a coach.
Two years ago Ryan and I were able to be there as fans when the Braves clinched the NL East title with a 6-0 win over the Giants. Attending the game with us were Tom Anderson and Richard Anderson, “Uncle Johnny’s” son and brother.
Bradley, who now lives in Charlotte, and I are planning to meet up in Atlanta in late September to catch a couple games. Perhaps, should the Braves catch fire, we will be there when they clinch the NL East title once again.
I am anxiously awaiting the release of the 2022 MLB schedule, which is expected to occur sometime in early to mid-September.
I will quickly look to see where the Braves play on July 7, 2022. I’m a little concerned the Braves will either be off, because it's a Thursday, or be playing on the road.
But if not, I will certainly be making plans to be at Truist Park on that date to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the day that “Uncle Johnny” introduced me to the joys of seeing Major League Baseball in person. And hopefully I will be surrounded by both my family and some of his.
Until next week, be blessed and Play Ball!!!
Austin Bishop, AKA The Old Sports Dude, has been covering high school, college, amateur and professional sports since 1975. He is currently pastor of Great Commission Assembly of God in Philadelphia, Miss. He may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.