The Home Team: Baseball, Boyhood Dreams and Dale Murphy

In a nation filled with disparate views, cultures that vary from region to region, state-to-state, city-to-city and town-to-town, very few things connect Americans in the vast expanse that is our country. However, for all of our differences something has kept our nation connected for over 150 years.

Baseball has remained part of America since it’s birth during the Civil War, through two World Wars, the civil rights struggle and beyond. Just as they did decades ago, fans head to the ballpark to see their hometown team win on a warm, muggy summer night.

As the winter of 2009 began to thaw and baseball players were beginning to toss a ball throughout Florida and Arizona, I couldn’t stop thinking about baseball’s impact on American culture and history. Baseball stretched through such a long part of our national history and was played in far more American cities and towns than any other professional sport. Yet for all the similarities the game offers from town-to-town, like American culture, it couldn’t be more different from one place to the next.

Root For The Home Team is an exploration of exactly that. What is it like to walk into Yankee Stadium, proudly wearing a Yankees hat and rooting like hell for the Bombers? Growing up a fan of another Major League team, I’ve never experienced what those fans feel upon walking through the gates.

My plan was simple, start on a brief tour of Major League parks in the Northeast, walk into the stadium, purchase a baseball cap, hot dog and a beer and be a part of that team. In the process, I would talk with fans, foes, ushers, venders, police officers, team officials, or just about anyone willing to talk to me about what that team means to them. Unfortunately, my 2009 trip never happened, but here we are just two short years later about to embark on a quest that has never been far from my thoughts.

Beginning on August 4, 2011 Will Avery and I will begin a brief 4-city Minor League baseball tour and immerse us into the culture, history and love for each of those teams. We’ll literally “root for the home team” and find out why so many, every summer are drawn to the ballpark.

As I write this, there is a game on in the background, as there is on almost every night during the season. Baseball is a part of me, and just like every fan in the country, I have reasons why I love the game.

Growing up in Daytona Beach, Florida in the 1960s, my dad didn’t have a Major League team nearby. Sure, baseball was broadcast on TV and you could pick up a game on the radio, but it wasn’t until the Braves packed their bags in Milwaukee and traveled south to Atlanta, becoming the first MLB team in region. With the joys of AM radio, my dad could finally listen to, and become a true fan of a major league team. When Ted Turner bought the Braves and made them “America’s Team” by broadcasting them on basic cable, the love grew into an obsession, with my dad staying up well into the night, full well knowing the Braves had already lost, just to watch a replay of that night’s game.

That love for baseball and the Braves was passed down to me when I was just a toddler. During the sweltering Floridian summers of the late 80s, there was hardly a night I can remember where my dad didn’t put on TBS after dinner to watch the game. At the ripe age of 3 I began collecting baseball cards, carefully studying them while Skip Caray’s voice rang in my ears. Like Will, my favorite player was none other than Dale Murphy. The back-to-back 83-83 MVP was my hero, and in the Spring of 1991, my dream came true. Not only was I able to see my first Major League game (a spring training match-up between the Philadelphia Phillies and Baltimore Orioles) but prior to the game I met none other than Dale Murphy.

With a pen and several baseball cards clutched in my hand, I slowly approached my hero. After patiently waiting my turn, I nervously handed Murph the cards and pen. The words we exchanged I can’t remember, but he gladly signed the cards, handed them back and continued signing autographs. However, the good Mr. Murphy forgot one thing….he didn’t give me my pen back. In a moment that would go down in Mendelson-family infamy I raised my voice, loudly asking, “Mr. Murphy, can I have my pen back??”

Murph looked at me, finished signing the autograph with my pen and handed it back. My dad, in stitches couldn’t believe what I had just said. One of his heroes from the storied 1982 NL West Champs has politely signed not one, not two, but three baseball cards for his son and yet after a brief thank you, I demanded the pen. (Authors note: I no longer have the pen, but the cards are safe.)

I can’t tell you who won the game on that windy day in Bradenton, Florida and I can’t tell you why I had no desire to visit the other dugout and bug Cal Ripken Jr. for his autograph. All I wanted out of that game was to meet Murph and with some help from Dad, I did it. My love for baseball was solidified.

That year was magical for Murphy’s former team. The Braves went from worst-to-first and played an incredible 7-game World Series with the Minnesota Twins in what is now considered one of the greatest Series ever played. I’m not sure if I can recall my dad’s disappointment when the Braves lost game 7, but I do remember that he wore out that “1991 National League Champions” t-shirt until it was threadbare. Little did any of us know how many more championship t-shirts, victories and disappointments we’d have over the many games since then. From the Sid Bream slide to that last pop fly Marquis Grissom caught to seal the 1995 World Championship, the Atlanta Braves almost seemed to be another member of my family.

After a few years living in Louisville, KY (and having to catch the Braves solely on TBS, a game or two in Cincinnati and seeing the then Louisville Redbirds) my family and I moved to the Atlanta-metro area in 1998 and bringing with it a dream come true, the ability to see the Braves play in-person. Over the last 13 years I’ve seen countless numbers of ballgames against nearly every team in the National League and several American League teams (thanks to interleague play).  Whether it’s with friends or family, I’ve had so many memories at Turner Field and I can’t wait for the day when I can a family of my own to see America’s Team. From opening days, and steamy July afternoons, bitterly cold early April games and October defeats, my memories at the Ted are endless and I know they’ll continue for years to come.

Now that you know a little bit about my love for baseball, it’s time find out just how other fans feel about their home team. We’re hoping to bring some great adventures on our quest to find out what it means to root for your home team and just how much baseball truly means to American culture and history. Let the journey begin!

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6 responses to this post.

  1. The allure of baseball is rough to explain. It’s not the fastest sport. It doesn’t have the strongest athletes. It’s not violent. It’s not passive. It just is. And if you didn’t grow up with it, if you didn’t have your dad teach you to get down on grounders, then you just don’t get it. It’s kind of like someone trying to learn a language later in life. He can become technically proficient with the tenses, idioms, and irregular verbs; but he’ll always speak with an accent and he’ll never understand the nuances like a native speaker.

    I speak baseball.

    Reply

  2. Beautifully said, Jimmy. Couldn’t agree more with you. Hope you enjoy the blog and stay tuned, there’s plenty more to come.

    Reply

  3. For the life of me, I cannot get into baseball. I’ve tried. Every year on opening day, I tell myself that this will be the year. Within a week, I’m left scratching my head, wondering what it is that keeps people watching. Nonetheless, I appreciate your passion for the sport and I look forward to reading the posts.

    Reply

  4. Good job Joel. You and Will have quite a ride ahead of you. Hopefully I’ll be able to accompany y’all some along the way.

    Reply

    • Thank you! This has been a dream of mine for several years and I’m beyond excited to see this dream realized with one of my closest friends and a fellow baseball fan. Can’t wait to have you along for the ride!

      Reply

  5. […] baseball story is quite different from Joel and Will. I did not grow up in a family where sports were discussed, played, or watched. If I […]

    Reply

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