Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bob Horner, The Braves and Everything

In the mid-1980’s, our neighborhood finally got cable television. For an easily distractible young boy with a marginal work ethic, this event was like a life-altering visitation by a religious deity. TBS and WGN were among the roster of stations that now fed into our boxes thus providing Braves and Cubs games to complement the Mets games that came our way via WWOR.

There was something mesmerizing about the Braves. At home they played in that UFO known as Fulton County Stadium. Away, they played games while clad in awful baby-blue uniforms as worn here by Bob Horner. He looks like a Norse god squeezed into a child’s pajamas. But after 1986, those uniforms would be gone and so would Bob Horner.

In August of 1987, my family moved from New York to Memphis. But a few weeks before leaving, I had the privilege to go see a game at Shea with my friend Cliff and his family. Cliff’s parent’s were German and knew little of baseball and cared even less. But Shea was (unimaginably) the place to be seen in the mid-80’s so they went with me in tow. They sat through the game with patented Germanic stoicism, probably mulling how or why they’d toted along this peculiar skinny boy with the Irish afro who screamed through the game like the worst of their homeland’s deranged bundasliga fans.

I felt I was in for a treat – the championship roster took the field. Hernandez, Strawberry, Carter, Backman, Wilson – even Gooden was on the mound. They were playing the Braves who’d just unveiled their return to traditional uniforms which they still wear to this day.

But the Mets, perhaps still hungover from the World Series they captured nine months earlier, would lose that night 8-3. Clearly they didn’t take this foe seriously, this dog of a team that would become the Team of the Nineties.

Perhaps what I didn’t realize was that the new Braves uniforms were a harbinger, an omen of change that wasn’t simply cosmetic. The Braves were leaving behind the days of powder blue pajamas and with that passing, the Braves were likewise parting with the fruitlessness that had plagued them. In the decades that have followed that night at Shea, the Braves have systematically bullied and flummoxed the Mets with no relief in sight. On occasion, I can resolutely say that the Braves have ruined entire patches of my 20’s and unquestionably done irreparable damage to my nervous system and liver.

But back to that night at Shea - I want to go back to that little boy with the afro and take the seat next to him. I want to look him in the eyes and say – ‘things are going to change’ and not just the fortunes of the Mets. I would tell him that his impending move down to the American South would be a bizarre, trying odyssey. I would tell him that he was leaving childhood for the random and often ridiculous world of adulthood, rife with enigmatic ambitions and problematic relationships. Our conversation would only be broken by the sound of a crack – Dale Murphy at bat, hitting what would be the most amazing line-drive homerun I’ve seen achieved over the vacuous outfield of Shea, as if to usher in the Braves new era of domination, and for me, childhood’s end.

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