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April 01, 2014 | 12:42 PMEditor’s note: Opening Day is something special in the hearts of boys everywhere. This is a reprinting of a column that was first published Opening Day 2013. The magic is still there.
It was 37 degrees Monday, the first day of April.
Opening Day for the Milwaukee Brewers.
The roof at Miller Park was closed. The heat in the stadium had been on since Thursday. By game time it was 60 degrees inside — 30 degrees higher than it was outside.
As the season warms up, I’ll listen to night games on the radio. I’ll crack open a beer and listen to the play-by-play as the sun sets.
Back, back, back a millennium ago it seems, I listened to games in a different place.
And with a different team playing. The Milwaukee Braves.
I spent hour upon hour throwing a rubber ball against our brick house while the Braves played on a portable radio in the driveway.
Back then, summer vacation couldn’t come fast enough. That’s when my glove was my best friend, fresh and full of summer.
For a lonely, only child this personal baseball game passed for a meditative experience before I had any clue what that was.
The ball pounding against the house over and over again like a mantra muffled the sound of my mother crying in her bedroom.
My father had died a few years before and she had to raise a boy as best she could without a husband or siblings to help her. She did just fine.
As she cried, I slid into a world of imaginary teams and imaginary players. The cries faded into the background.
And when I turned on the radio, they all but disappeared.
The Catholic Mass was broadcast in Sheboygan before night games. It was as close to a religious experience as a boy my age could experience, knowing it was the preamble to “play ball.”
By the time the national anthem came on I was in heaven. It took me years to realize it didn’t end with “home of the Braves.”
Back then, there were players with names like Mickey Mantle, Willy Mays and Stan “The Man” Musial. Names that sound like baseball.
I’d play until it was dark, so dark that I could only catch the ball by following the sound as it ricocheted against the brick wall.
Sometimes the ball would get lost in the grass, where I’d find it again in the morning. I’d pick it up from the dew and start the ritual all over again.
By the time we’d moved from that home a few years later, the Braves had moved to Atlanta, and I was on to other things. I don’t recall my mother crying as much.
When we left, the place where I’d pitched in the backyard was a sandy hole in the ground.
The new owners planted a tree.
I assume it’s still there
They have no way of knowing it, but the tree stands as a quiet memorial to the summers of a boy they never knew.
To Opening Days when a life was just beginning and baseball was a saving grace.
Halverson is Editor and General Manager of the Regional News.