At the time of this writing, I’ve been married over 21 years. I bought this hat in college, prior to getting married, meaning that I’ve owned it for more than 21 years. As you can see, it’s been worn a couple times.
The bill shows signs of wear. A frayed edge; exposed guts; sweat rings; a faded autograph. There’s paint on it. The blues are muted and the whites definitely aren’t white when you set it next to something that is.
I don’t wear it that much anymore. Sometimes I’ll pull it out of the closet and toss it on backwards. The barrelled curve of the bill isn’t as trendy as it used to be, but more than that, it’s a little hard to finagle when wearing with my glasses. I’ve mowed in it. I’ve surfed in it. I’ve rescued it just before sinking to the bottom of the lake on a summer day. I’ve worn it to baseball games. I’ve tucked it under my leg while riding my motorcycle knowing that when I took my helmet off I would want something to hide the craziness of helmet-hair.
On the back, it has a ‘1974’ embroidered on it. It’s a commemorative hat. April 8, 1974 was the day that Hank Aaron hit career home run number 715, passing the mark set by Babe Ruth. Hammerin’ Hanks record (755) stood for another 30 years (and if you ask some purists, still stands today).
The lower case ‘a’ on the front is a throwback to the one worn by the Atlanta Braves in the 70’s. Today’s version is a capital ‘A’, sometimes combined with a tomahawk.
There’s controversy with the name. There’s precedence for change. The Football Team went first and then the Guardians. One has to wonder how much longer before the Braves become the Vipers, or the Pine Trees, or the all encompassing Team of Baseball Players.
My home state(s) didn’t have a professional baseball team growing up. We got one in an expansion era when I was in high school.
Funny side note, my cousin and I got tickets one time to go see the Rockies play in April. It was probably their first or second season to play. We got up early, made the 4-ish hour drive over to Denver, found the stadium, parked, got inside, grabbed our hot dogs, found our seats, and promptly waited in the snow for an hour before they postponed the game to a later date in the season. I was part of what was probably the first “snowout” in the Colorado Rockies franchise history.
Even though they came to my state, I didn’t really ever have many ties to the home team.
I already had a team.
I have no idea how Ted Turner is as a person. I vaguely recall stories of his ex-wife being “un-American” and if you Google him today, he’s got some controversial viewpoints of his own. His personal interests are of little consequence to me mostly, but I am grateful for his contribution to my life in one area.
For a time, Ted owned a medium-sized-market franchise baseball team called the Atlanta Braves. That in itself probably wouldn’t have too much impact on my life if he hadn’t also been the founder of a small cable TV channel called WTBS.
In the plains of eastern New Mexico and on the western slope of Colorado, we might have had a shortage of professional baseball teams but we had TV and access to a random cable network called TBS. And with TBS, we had baseball.
Real baseball. Live games. Skip Carey. 7th inning stretches. Dale Murphy. Take Me Out To The Ballgame. Intentional walks. Steve Avery. And so much more.
Leroy Thomas moved to Portales, New Mexico nearly two decades before I was born. From what I’ve seen with my own eyes, he’s been a small business owner; a preacher of the Word; a civically-minded stalwart in his community; a family man; a lover of grand kids; a lender of hands, feet, advice, love, and money; and I’m grateful for all of these things and for the example he’s set for generations. He’s far greater than even what I’ve seen with my eyes though.
I know him as Ponga. And today, the thing that I’m really grateful for, is my grandfather’s love for — and the introduction to — the Atlanta Braves.
It’s been a quarter of a century since the Braves had won the World Series. But this morning, they get to reset that clock again. It took them 6 games and unfortunately they didn’t even get to do it on their own field, but they are champs once more. Quite frankly, from a talent standpoint, they shouldn’t be the champs. They aren’t a group of mashers nor are they a set of 4 top aces that go 8-innings deep each outing. They’re not quite misfits but as Joe Buck told us 312 times, they’re mostly newbies around each other, only coming together in their final form at the trading deadline.
But they’re Ponga’s team. And by proxy — starting somewhere around the age of 2 or 3 — they became my team.
Ask many Braves fans and I bet they’ll tell you a similar story. The Braves were all we had. And for this short while, we get to tell you the story again.
I haven’t called him yet but I have no doubt that Ponga was watching last night. Unfortunately his eyesight isn’t what it used to be but I know he enjoyed it. The home runs, the double plays, the non-challenge in the first inning of game 6; I know he was as plugged in as I was.
“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.”
– Terence Mann
This morning I pulled my old hat out of the closet and carried it with me to work. Today it’s been on my desk, on my head, waived in the air at my luncheon, and prompted smiles from many. And I’m happy that it still fits.
So, lets cheers to old hats. And shared interests. And legacies. And baseball.