Friday, October 5, 2012

Farewell Chipper: Baseball and Memories

I can't claim to be much of a baseball fan anymore. I still play fantasy baseball, and I still check the standings, and every now and then I tune in for fifteen minutes of a game. But the sport is really at the peripheries of my consciousness. I mean, I couldn't even pick out Mike Trout (only the most exciting young baseball player since Doc Gooden) in a police lineup. To channel Rob Lowe's character on Parks and Rec, I literally have not seen one Mike Trout at-bat this year. The season is way too long, the games are way too boring, and besides, there's summer league NBA basketball to watch.

But I've still held onto the Atlanta Braves.

There are some things in life that are way better when they exist in your mind than when you experience them in reality. Baseball is that way for me now. I still root for the Atlanta Braves, but really what I'm doing is making sure that the memories don't die. Because for me, the Atlanta Braves are inseparably intertwined with Grandpa Emory and Grandma Lucy.

My grandma Lucy passed away on my wedding day four years ago, and my grandpa Emory passed away a few months later. When the summer rolls around every year, I think of them, and I think of watching the Atlanta Braves at their little green house on West 4th Street. I think of Glavine and Maddux and Smoltz, and I think of my grandpa sitting on the couch complaining about Jeff Blauser or Ryan Klesko or whoever else happened to be in a slump. I hear my grandma chiding him, reminding my grandpa that Klesko will eventually break out of his 0-20 slide.

I would eat star-shaped chocolates and take it all in.

One player Emory could always count on was Chipper Jones, my favorite Brave. There was nothing special about choosing Chipper as my favorite player when he burst onto the scene in 1995. He had charisma, a cool nickname, and a cool batting stance. In little league, I tried to be like Chipper to the point that I convinced myself that I, too, could be a switch hitter. Without any practice. So I got into the lefty batter's box, waved my bat just like Chipper, and promptly struck out. I stayed on the right side after that. But I did take Chipper's number (10) whenever I could in little league, and I collected his baseball cards, and I looked forward to every single at-bat.

Now, there will be no more at-bats.

I didn't think it would be so difficult to see Chipper walk off the field one last time. I've seen maybe five Braves games this year. It's been years since I intensively followed the Braves. But as the game ended tonight, it felt like an era was ending for me. Chipper Jones was taking his .303 batting average and his .401 on base percentage and his 468 homeruns and leaving. And I would've given anything to have Grandpa Emory and Grandma Lucy in the room during that moment, so I could hear grandpa talk one more time in a reverent tone about what a helleva player Chipper was.

I guess that's why baseball can never truly die for me. I want to keep the Braves in my life, if only because I want to keep Emory and Lucy in my life as much as possible. When my wife and I had our first daughter six months ago, we named her Leighton Lucille, after her grandma. When she gets older, I want to be able to watch a Braves game with her and use the sights and sounds to tell her about her namesake. She'll never get to meet grandma and grandpa, but when she sees the Braves with me, she'll get to see at least a piece of them. She'll get to see at least some small emblem of what they cared about and what they and I shared.

I'm sure when that time comes I'll tell my daughter about Chipper. She probably won't care much. But that's ok, because it's not really about Chipper Jones, or the Atlanta Braves.

The Atlanta Braves are how my daughter will get to meet her grandpa and grandma. Baseball is how I make sure that the memories don't die.

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