Game 24: Target Field, Minnesota

Did you know Ted Williams played ball in Minnesota?

I didn’t until this past week when @Baseball_Photos tweeted this picture on Monday evening. I would’ve found out sooner or later, I suppose; I have The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. This rotten seminary reading keeps getting in the way. (Just kidding. I love it…occasionally.)

ted-williams-millers-rare-photo1At age 19, Ted Williams (right) spent the entire 1938 season playing for the Minneapolis Millers, the Boston Red Sox AA affiliate. In his year in Minnesota, he hit .366 and slugged .701. As the youngest guy on the team, led the team in every offensive statistical category: games played (148) hits (193), doubles (30), triples (9), homers (43), and at 6′ 3″, 205 lbs, he led the team in those categories as well.

Willie Mays (35 games in 1951) and Carl Yastrzemski (1960) spent time in in a Millers uniform before their pro debut as well. The Millers have their roots as far back as 1885 as a part of the Western League.

On the other side of the Mississippi were their rivals: the St. Paul Saints.

The Saints arrived in St. Paul in 1894 when Charles Comiskey bought the team and moved them over from Souix City, Iowa. They joined the Western League as well and the Minneapolis/St. Paul rivalry was established. But following the 1899 season, Comiskey’s club joined the newly formed American League, and moved the club away to become – you guessed it – the Chicago White Sox.

In 1902, both the Millers and Saints became charter members of the minor league American Association. By the late 30’s the Saints would become affiliates for the White Sox and later the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. Roy Campanella, Lefty Gomez and Don Zimmer were a few of the players to come through St. Paul during those years.

The East-West rivalry between the two ball clubs ran for 59 years between 1902 and 1960. Both teams won multiple league championships. In fact, Minneapolis and St. Paul had the two highest overall winning percentages over that 59 year span:

The played 22 games against one another every season. Sometimes on major summer holidays – Labor Day and Fourth of July, for example – the teams would play home and away doubleheaders. They would play in the morning at one ballpark, and then the fans and players would travel by streetcar to the other side of the river for an afternoon game in the other team’s park.

As expected, the two cities grew to hate one another. Violence would break out in the cities following these ballgames (1923 was apparently the worst of the brawls) The cities kept trying to 1-Up one anthers buildings. In fact, in the 1950s, both cities built brand new ballparks – separately – in hopes of reeling in a Major League team. There are even rumors that they would kidnap census takers so that the other city wouldn’t overtake the  other in population.

In 1960, both the Saints* and the Millers packed up and left town. The Millers became the Seattle Rainiers, and the Saints became the Omaha Dodgers.

* – The Saints returned to St. Paul in 1993 and are there today as a part of an independent league. They’re owned by Mike Veeck (son of Bill Veeck) and BILL MURRAY!!!!!

Why the moves? Because the MLB had just awarded the area with their first Major League ball club: the Washington Senators were moving from D.C. to become the Minnesota Twins.

Technically, it was the Millers who had reeled in the big tuna. The team settled on the Minneapolis side, but without the Saints, St. Paul was going to have to root from across the river. And by the late 1960s, significant healing had taken place between the two.

The team name itself was an intentional move to unite the two groups. It isn’t the “Minneapolis Twins,” but the “Minnesota Twins” – in fact, they wanted to call them the Twin City Twins, but that was too repetitive so they included the whole state. They commissioned a freelance illustrator from St. Paul named Ray Barton to create the team logo for which he got paid a whopping $15.

Target-Field-St-Paul-Minnie-HandsToday, that logo is featured prominently at Target Field. In straight away center field, a giant state of Minnesota borders two goofy looking men and a river with a bridge over it. The men are both wearing baseball uniforms – one with an “M” on the sleeve and one with an “S” and a “P” and a “T” on the chest – and they’re reaching across the river and shaking hands. They’re the real Twins – Minnie and Paul – the two cities united together by this new team.

Now, I’m not going to act like the arrival of Major League Baseball has completely reconciled the ill will on both sides of the Mississippi. There is still significant social segregation. There are strong tribal identities as well. But the arrival of the Twins truly united a previously hostile relationship. Regardless which side of the Mississippi someone lives on, they can come together and cheer for their Minnesota Twins.

The entire Twins franchise is founded on principles of reconciliation and hospitality to one another. How about that? I think I’ll center on that for my book. I’ve already got a good start here.

Baseball. Bringing people together. Cities, even.

Okay. Moving on. Let’s talk about Target Field.

IMG_9344It was built in 2010, and is basically perfect. It features tons of sandstone: the exterior, the section faces inside the park, even the top of the dugouts. It has oversized statues of five Twins greats at each of the gates to the park. Harmon Killebrew extends his gorgeous swing in front of Gate 3. Kirby Pucket celebrates his 1991 World Series walk off HR in front of Gate 34. Kent Hrbek stands outside of Gate 14. Rod Carew has his bat cocked awkwardly outside Gate 29. And Tony Oliva swings outside Gate 6.

Gates 3, 6, 14, 29 and 34? Weird. Those are all retired Twins numbers. Hmm.

“Wait, what about Bert Blyleven?! Where’s his statue? His number is retired too!” His wasn’t retired until 2011, the year after Target Field was built. But his #28 is out beyond left field with the others. (Circle me, Bert!)

The final retired number: 10, worn by Tom Kelly who – despite his overall poor winning percentage (1140-1244, .485) – managed the Twins to World Series championships twice (’87 & ’91) in his 16 years with the team (1986-2001).

There’s a giant Gold Glove outside the park as well. Fans get to climb up on to it and get their picture taken. There’s plaque of all the past Twins Gold Glove winners with it.

The Twins haven’t had many Gold Glovers, but the ones they have won it a bunch. They have 41 total GGs over their 53 years as a franchise, 30 of which are from 5 guys: Jim Kaat (won 11 GGs with the Twins), Torii Hunter (7), Kirby Puckett (5), Gary Gaetti (4), and Joe Mauer (3).

Target Field seats 42,000, but it feels like way less. The ballpark feels very intimate. The lower sections extend much further back than the upper decks, which are basically just stacked on top of each other up high and very shallow. I heard that the ballpark was constructed within 4 city blocks, a 2-by-2 square, so everything feels squeezed in on top of the action. Not in a bad way at all, but in a comfortably communal way.

That Minnie & Paul logo in centerfield is awesome too. It does all sorts of light up dancing moves when the Twins do different things on the field. It goes bizerk when they hit a homer. a line traces the MN border when a run is scored. It blinks when the pitchers strike someone out or throw a scoreless frame too.

And when the Twins win – as they did on Wednesday night when I was there – the T and the S blink off and on so it flashes TWINS, WIN, TWINS, WIN.*

* – Ever noticed how the letters W-I-N are the only letters underlined in the Twins logo? So subtle. So brilliant.

I went to the game with my friends Jourdan and Jeff. Jourdan interned for me at Jacob’s Well a couple years ago, and Jeff, her husband, is a pastor at a church called Mosaic in East St. Paul. The mission for their church centers on hospitality: Stranger, Guest, Host. Extending themselves out of the church and into the community around them. I’m sensing a theme here.

I want to write something about lakes and mosquitos and snow somewhere in here too, but I’ve already spent too much time on this post. Time to get to the game wrap.

IMG_9333

Game Notes:

The Twins were playing the White Sox, and John Danks got spanked. As I wrote in my pre-trip post on Tuesday, the Twins have historically owned Danks – Joe Mauer especially. In fact, basically everyone but Kurt Suzuki bats really well off the Sox lefty, which would explain why Suzuki sat out that night.

The Twins lit Danks up, as expected, for 7 runs on 11 hits in 4.2 innings. The guy was absolute meat and the Twins hit the ball hard all night. The bullpen wasn’t much better for the rest of the game either. Overall: Twins scored 11 runs on 19 hits which meant Twins fans saved 19 cents per gallon at SuperAmerica gas stations on Thursday. Sweet.

Eduardo Nunez went 4-6 and was a HR short of the cycle. Kennys Vargas hit a 429 ft bomb to LF. The other Eduardo (Escobar) went 3-4 with a triple and a walk. Minnesota batted around in the 5th inning – the inning that chased Danks from the game – and my scoresheet ended up looking all messy and gross.

Of course, that could’ve also been because of the rain that kept rolling in and out. It caused one short rain delay at one point lasting maybe 15 minutes. I continue to have really good luck when it comes to weather on this Ballpark Tour.

Trevor May got his first career win. Previously he was 0-4 in as many starts with an ERA over 10. He was working great through three innings but started laboring a bit in the fourth and fifth. He gave up 3 runs in 5 innings, but after the Twins batted around, those runs pretty much didn’t matter anymore. Twins win. 11-4. That logo was extremely busy.

Twenty-four down. Six to go.

Up Next: Tampa Bay Rays.

-apc.

Talking Baseball & Spirituality with Giants’ LHP Jeremy Affeldt

0834130513While I was in San Francisco over the weekend, I got to connect with Jeremy Affeldt of the San Francisco Giants.

Affeldt signed with the Kansas City Royals out of high school and debuted in 2002. He has since spent time with the Rockies, Reds and Giants. He’s a two-time World Series champion with San Francisco in 2010 and 2012, and earned the Setup Man of the Year award in 2009 after posting a 1.73 ERA in 74 relief appearances.

Affeldt has a book titled, “To Stir a Movement: Life, Justice, and Major League Baseball“. He’s passionate about his faith and is an advocate against human trafficking and is very involved in other justice movements such as Something to Eat through Youthfront.

He agreed to meet me on the field a few hours before game time to discuss his experience of God in his journey as an MLB pitcher over the past 12+ seasons.

I’ve transcribed essentially the entire interview – the dude is a quote factory, and I felt like rather than finding just the best bits, I’d just share the whole thing. So here’s the bulk of what he had to say about Christianity, faith, calling, failure, morality and being the “aroma of Christ” in the game he gets paid to play.

On finding God through struggles early in his career…

One of the sad things about Christianity for me that I see a lot among church goers, or avid church goers, is that they get into this cookie cutter type God – you do this, this and this, you’ll get this – and I don’t believe in that god. I think that’s why Jesus came down and disrupted society, because it wasn’t cookie cutter religion that he was after.

I’ve experienced that in baseball.

Different areas of my journey I’ve experienced different ways of seeing, feeling or needing God. I think in Kansas City I went through a lot of pain, when it came to the injuries, but in addition to the weird injuries, I wasn’t doing very well. And that pressure of trying to be a major league athlete, trying to establish yourself in baseball as a young player without any kind of security because I was a year-to-year guy, I was young, I could get sent down – so trying to lean on God that way and also getting hurt, and not playing well. So it was a very insecure time in my journey with Jesus.

I knew for a fact he existed. I loved him. And frustrated with him feeling that maybe at some times he didn’t care about my career. Knowing that I got to the big leagues at a very early age, so it’s almost like, “Man, you’ve given me this ability, you’ve opened certain doors, being able to experience something that 99% of the people in the world don’t get to experience”, but then feeling like he didn’t care at the same time, and i grew to hate the game.

I started seeing God as – “look, I worship you, I praise you, I tithe, I do all these things right, yet I don’t succeed in baseball.” I had a cookie cutter type God, right? I make these sacrifices for you, then you get the clean slate, type deal, right?

Then you’d see ballplayers that weren’t believers doing so well, then you’re like, we’ll why do they get to be good?

So you get to that jealousy, envy stage in your faith of what I hear a lot in those TV evangelist-type scenarios where you accept Christ you’re going to get healthy and rich and all of a sudden that doesn’t happen and it’s a big let down…Do I believe he’s a God of wealth? Yes. Do I believe he’s a God of healing? Yes. But it doesn’t always work that way.

So I really starting hating baseball. Getting frustrated with God and not understanding. I would spend hours in the prayer room yearning for understanding of what he was asking of me.

I look back and I actually think he enjoyed that.

“Think about how many hours you’re spending with me, getting to try to understand me, you’re trying to know me, and would you have gotten there if we didn’t walk this path?” And I don’t know if I would’ve. If I had walked into the big leagues and had instant success, maybe I wouldn’t’ve understood pain and perplexity.

Maybe because he loved me so much that he allowed for that to take place.

IMG_2383

On discovering his purpose as a Major League Baseball player…

I went into an area of not understanding who I was as an athlete.

Right after I got traded [to the Rockies in 2006], and into the offseason, it was like I casted a fleece saying, “If you want me to play this game, then I need to know why I’m here. What is my purpose in baseball? If all it is is to entertain people, then this is a shallow life. And I am not enjoying it. There’s got to be something more than this.”

This is where he started to take me into the place where I am now…this “love your neighbor as yourself” mentality. Understanding the platform which I’ve given you, to promote the Gospel.

People who sit in these seats will judge you whether you give up a hit or not or whether you hold a game or literally lose a game. So there’s no act of Gospel promotion, really, from that mound – maybe from action, how I do stuff on the mound – but even that I don’t necessarily buy into.

I remember seeing a girl who was very poor, and she was living on the streets – she was a street kid…I walked down on the street and that’s where I was asking God to show me, and I remember this young lady – she had a split lip and a black eye, here clothes were torn – probably not feeling very comfortable as a woman in her skin at the time because I don’t think she was treated well the night before.

That journey of seeing that girl and me going in and asking if she wanted something to eat and being able to provide that for her – seeing what that meant and the joy I experienced from looking into those eyes and saying, “I want to help you,” and her looking back saying, “You know I exist?” – there is where I started to find it.

I find this in baseball too, but the media doesn’t help at all in this area.

They put us as these supernatural, superhero-type people – our life is here [at the ballpark], and in our nice cars and our nice homes – and everybody else are just these…peasants. And some players do that – but I want those people to know, I put my pants on the same way you do: one leg at a time. And I get up. I have bad days. we exist in the same world, but sometimes they don’t think we do.

But I think God wanted people to understand that you always need to be aware of the least of these.

When Jesus walked the earth, he could’ve walked the same way – I am the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, I’m the child of the Most High God, I come from something way better than this. He could’ve acted like the high priests – you’re not holy enough to be around me – but he didn’t. He hung out with the people who were in pain and poverty, and the sick and in need of emotional and physical help.

He wanted to create an atmosphere of safety and trust, and he did that. And that’s where I want to be. I think I entered into that journey finding that God.

In Kansas City, I needed the God of comfort. I was going through pain and frustration, and I met him.

And all of a sudden I got promoted and all of a sudden I’m in the World Series, and I’m enjoying the game again. Suddenly, there was this whole different level of wanting to quit the game and hate the game, to being one of the top left-handed relievers in the game – and God said, “Yeah, and I needed you to understand that so you can use that platform  going go give you to help people, not a platform so that people can worship you.”

And I think that’s what he had to take me through and that’s the face of God that I met – a humbling God, but a God that made me understand, it’s not you that got you here, and it’s not about you that you are here – it’s about me.

It’s very hard int his game to see that because naturally in my flesh – you step out there, your name gets announced, and you get booed or cheered, but either way you’re getting it for who you are as a baseball player. And in some way shape or form, the pride will start to get to you. You boast in that. I’ve been there where when I go home, I’m just dad. I’m just Jeremy the Husband.

I mean, when I get home, she’s not going to ask for my autograph. It’s not happening. She’s not going to treat me like that! I even went through a time when I wasn’t getting the same respect at home as felt I was on the field.

You are not here for you.

On experiencing successes and failures…

Baseball. It is a game of failure. It is who fails the least that does well in this game. You have to learn how to fail, you have to be okay with failure.

Well, problem is, as athletes, we’re not okay with failure. We have a hard time with failure. We go out there and give up a lead and we end up becoming the loser, and everyone thinks we stink. We just have one bad day, or maybe its not even in our control. I can’t control where they hit the ground ball, it just happened – you’re frustrated, you lose, but some fans will be like, “well, you didn’t pitch well.”

No, I did pitch well, just – why can’t I succeed every time?

You start to base your days, or your trust in God, on your wins and losses – your success or not. You trust in me as God, but you don’t trust me as God. You don’t trust me with your life. Do you trust in the identity of who you are?

When God says that because you believe in Jesus you are holy and righteous, do you live out of that identity? Or do you live out the identity of you are going to be happy as long as everything is great?

Do you trust in the fact that whether the circumstances are not necessarily what you’re asking for, do you believe that I am God, and that you can trust me, and that you are holy and righteous, and I’m for you and not against you, and I’ve already written the Story and you’re living it, but don’t think I’ve all of a sudden given up or that I don’t love you, or that you’re not doing something right – maybe you didn’t pray enough or you didn’t read your Bible enough – because you’re not doing good enough.

And I think that’s now the journey I’m in now with God.

No, I am good enough. Because of Jesus.

It’s not about how much Bible verses I memorize, or how much I pray, or did I give up a hit and say “shit” in the game and “oh my gosh I cussed! Is God gonna…”

He doesn’t look at you like that! He might convict you at times, but the conviction is because he is reminding you that your identity is holy and righteous.

Live out of that identity. Do not live out of your flesh.

When things don’t go right, it’s not because God is punishing you. He doesn’t do that! You’re holy and righteous and you’re forgiven by the Almighty God. You live out of that. so when things don’t go right – that’s where you have to lean more, not pull away from, run to – just lean and trust that he’s God. Find the joy in Him.

On why he continues to play the game…

I’m probably at the latter part of my career.

Now, it’s not about the amount of money, or the security – all the things I worried about in Kansas City and Colorado – now it’s about, do I want to play this game anymore? Now, if I don’t do well, it’s like, I’ll just go home; I don’t need the game anymore. I want to be with my three sons and my wife and have a normal life. I don’t want to deal with the media calling me out for not doing good, or people booing me – I’m over that.

So now, God is saying, “No, you have two years left on your contract, I have you here for a reason. Understand that. Don’t sit there and think, ‘I don’t really need to be here anymore.’”

He says, “No, you stay. and you stay not for those reasons. You stay because I’ve called you to be a holy and righteous servant of mine in this game that is far from holy and far from righteous. This game is the furthest thing from a moral heaven that you will ever find.”

IMG_2392

On the morality of the game, and interacting with teammates…

The morality of the game is very very tough, and that’s where I think the cookie cutter God, again, does not make sense in baseball.

If I live in church society, go to a church, work in a church, live in a church, office in a church, and everywhere I look someone is reading a Bible, or praying or having a bible study and everyone is saying the same things – blessed! – they gotta be holy, and the live in that culture.

But this here, you walk in, and I cannot whip open a Bible and start quoting Scripture and expect any of these guys that don’t believe in God to feel comfortable enough to walk up to me and want a dialogue. They’re not going to walk up to somebody and say, “Hey, I see you’re reading your Bible. Tell me more about that.” No, they’re going to say, “You are a wacko man.” Or, “Here we go. We got another Bible thumper on the team. Another guy who – when I get back with a girl to the hotel or I come back from the bar drunk – is going to sit in the hotel and judge me.” They don’t want to feel that way. They don’t want to feel judged.

My view of spirituality in the game, when it comes to the morality of the game, when i look at Scripture, Jesus never gave his opinion unless he was asked for it. He didn’t walk in and say, “You’re wrong, and you’re wrong, and you’re wrong.” Jesus never just walked into a situation and just gave his own opinion, and I try to do the same thing in my clubhouse.

Do I go out and get drunk with the guys? No. Why? Because I don’t believe that drunkenness is good. I believe that drunkenness s a sin. I’m a holy and righteous person and I live out of that identity. Now, do I go and grab a beer with them? Yes. Why? I like the taste of beer, for one, but two – I can just have a conversation with these guys. We go out to dinner, we have a few beers, they decide they want to go out to a strip club or something, I go back to my room.

If they ask me, “Jeremy, why don’t you go out to the strip club with us? Well, are you asking you my opinion? Well then here’s my opinion.

I don’t walk up to them and say, “Hey, I want to talk to about where you guys went last night.” By just my actions alone they’ll see it. That’s my promotion of Jesus Christ.

You have guys that don’t want to believe in God, but when they’re struggling all of a sudden it becomes, “Uh, so I have a question about God.” They know who to come to, because they come to the guy – I’ve had teammates that always want to shout out stuff, but they usually don’t want to go to those guys for any advice about Jesus, because they don’t  really respect them.

I’m going to simply love you as my neighbor. Do I agree with your morals? Nope. Do I agree with your actions? No. Do I agree with the words you use? No. But I still love you. And I’m going to continue to love you. And I don’t believe that I save you.

I’m not going to be the one to change your morals. When you become a believer in Christ, the Holy Spirit changes your morals.

I’m only someone that’s just reflecting the Kingdom of God. I’m only going to be what I believe I’m called to be in my identity – a holy and righteous person. Will I act out of my flesh? Yes. Because Jesus didn’t die for my flesh, he died for my spirit.

I’m going to promote that, but I’m not going to be perfect, I am a saint that sins. But I believe my actions are going to see and feel the aroma of Christ. And that’s who we are, and that’s how you have to be in baseball.

On being the aroma of Christ…

A lot of times I’ll have conversations with people from church culture and they’ll say, “No, no. You can’t be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus.”

I’m far from ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I just don’t think I have to whip out the Bible and quote verses to a guy who will look back and say, “Well, that’s great. But I don’t believe in the Bible.” They’ll look at me and say, “Well that’s a verse you live by, but considering that I don’t believe in God or the Bible – why should I listen to you?”

If all I’ve got to go on is me quoting verses, then no one is ever going to want to listen to you, but if they see my actions, and they see that real joy that I carry, eventually they’ll come up to you and they’re going to be asking, “Now where do you get these thoughts from? And I can tell them about God.”

We finished the conversation, and I told Jeremy that I felt like I’d just gone to church. Incredible guy with an incredible passion for Jesus and his journey with him. What a joy to dialogue with him about his faith and baseball.

IMG_2400

Thanks, Jeremy, for being generous with your time and hanging with me a bit this week. Looking forward to seeing you in Kansas City when the Giants come to town in August.

* – By the way, this post is coming soon. I learned today that transcribing an interview is not a quick process. Play. Type. Pause. Rewind. Play. Edit. Pause Rewind. Repeat. It should be posted tomorrow.

-apc.

Game 4: Turner Field, Atlanta

Welcome to Braves Country.

The first stop on The Smorgasbord Tour: Atlanta. I’ve been to ATL twice in the past for youth ministry conferences, but I had never been to a Braves game before. I went to a Hawks game once – I was one of about 57 people there – but Turner Field was going to be a new experience for me.

I flew in on Saturday night, hopped on the MARTA and met up with my new friend, Wally, on the north side of the city. Wally is the father of one of my seminary friends, and as I was raising support for this project, she sent him the information and he quickly contacted me asking if I had a place to stay while I was in Atlanta. I’m thankful to have gotten to spend the weekend with him.

Spending time in Wally’s condo was like walking through a museum. He is extremely interested in his family heritage and owns countless antique items that each have a special story and memory behind them.

He showed me his Cardinals scorecard from a game he went to at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis when he was a kid. It is framed next to a photo of he and his siblings at the game. When his grandmother died, he asked if he could have her old antique bed. He has a framed receipt listing all the things his grandparents bought at the store on their wedding day. Wally restores old photographs and has an image of his grandfather’s one-room schoolhouse class from the early 1900s. Everywhere I looked I found another antique, and every antique had a family story.

This past December, Wally’s wife, Lynda, passed away due to non-smokers lung cancer. Understandably, it’s been a difficult few months for him. He has spent some time away from work traveling to visit his daughter in Kansas City, his brother in St. Louis and some friends in Tennessee. He’s been back home for about a week now, and everywhere he looks he’s reminded of the past 40 years of life with his wife.

Wally is exploring who he is and what he is going to be about now that Lynda is gone. “My life is like a whiteboard now,” he said this weekend, “and the great thing about whiteboards is that you can erase them and start over whenever you want to.”

He’s exploring his identity, asking questions about himself and his life he hasn’t asked for years. He’s trying new things and new experiences, which is the reason he was so excited to put me up for the past two nights and join me for the Braves game yesterday afternoon.

But before the game, we were headed to All Saints Episcopal Church for worship.

Palm Sunday in an Episcopal Church was a very unique worship experience. Lots of Scripture readings. Lots of call and response. A beautiful choir with a processional and recessional that bookended the service. Everything was ordered and deliberate. They even incorporated intentional segments of silence into the liturgy, which is an option I think lots of churches might benefit from exploring.

I think this is a major part of why baseball can seems so spiritual. There is an order of events in place: batting practice, announcing the starting lineups, the ceremonial “first pitch”, the National Anthem, yelling, “Play Ball!”, the 7th inning stretch, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and sometimes the singing of God Bless America. Baseball is liturgical.

And unlike other sports, there are 17 different breaks in the action for us to process what’s been happening in what we’ve witnessed so far. Time to process the game so far. Time to swap stories and take in the setting. It’s a form of silence that is embedded into the game.

Silence and liturgy are both deeply incorporated into the game of baseball.

Okay moving on to the game.

The Braves are the oldest MLB franchise. They were first the Boston Braves in 1871, then they were the Milwaukee Braves, then in 1966 they became the Atlanta Braves.

The Braves played in old Fulton Country Stadium until the 1996 when the olympics came to Atlanta. They built Turner Field to house the summer events, then converted it to the “Home of the Braves”.

It was a beautiful afternoon for a ballgame – 81 degrees and sunny. My arms managed to get sunburned. I have a calculator watch tan line.

Every Braves employee I met, whether an usher, vendor, or parking lot attendant, had the same thing to say: “Welcome to Braves Country!”

One of my favorite things about ballparks is seeing all the creative ways the club has memorialized it’s past. Since I’d just left Wally’s house a few hours earlier, I was even more attuned to noticing the subtle ways the Braves honored their past.

The parking lot, for example, is where Fulton County Stadium used to sit. They outside wall of the parking lot is the old outfield wall! Such a brilliant move. High five to whoever had that idea.

There are retired numbers and statues of former players all around outside the park. Murphy. Jones. Neikro. Spahn. Aaron.

All around the outfield concourse, they have little signs posted that say “723 feet from home plate” and “581 feet from home plate”. Which is a brilliantly subtle thing that only baseball fans would probably appreciate. The 581 sign was especially cool considering Josh Gibson once hit a ball that far at Yankee Stadium.

But there are two numbers that Braves fans celebrate more than any other: 715 and 14.

This past Tuesday marked the 40th anniversary of “715” – the day Hank Aaron passed Babe Ruth and officially became the home run king. Hank hit 733 homers as a Brave, and 755 in his career. Hank had finished the 1973 season with 713 HRs.

The 14 is more recent: they were division champs 14 consecutive years between 1991 and 2005. Somehow they only managed to win 1 World Series in that span – 1995. Also surprising: somehow the Marlins won it all twice in that span.

Before the game, we hit the Braves HOF and Museum. It was actually a mejor letdown. You’d think the oldest franchise would have the best museum experience, but it was very lackluster. a fake dugout. An old Milwaukee Braves train car. A leaderboard of all the current Braves leaders in every major statistical category. Fake lockers from each of their most successful years.

The franchise records leaderboard, however, was impressive. Some team records are kinda goofy to read. Like that Ricky Nolasco holds half the pitching records for the Marlins. Or Jim Thome holding the Indians home run record. Or that Michael Young leads the Rangers in hits, runs, singles, doubles, triples…and strikeouts. Usually team records are more of a list of players that just wore the uniform the longest. And for younger franchises, that can make the list a bit embarrassing.

But not for the Braves.

Sure, it’s still a list of the longest tenured players. But those players were awesome, and most of the resulting records aren’t going to change…probably ever. A sampling…

  • Innings: Warren Spahn, 5046
  • Wins: Warren Spahn, 356
  • Strikeouts: John Smoltz, 3011
  • Hits: Hank Aaron, 3600
  • Games: Phil Niekro, 740

But one stat that isn’t going to last much longer: most saves. It’s currently held by John Smoltz with 154, but Craig Kimbrel is going to shatter that mark. My prediction: he breaks Smoltz’s record on May 29.

Kimbrel has been amazing in his first 4 years in the league. In 231 appearances he has 139 saves. Some perspective: Mariano Rivera only had 84 saves in 200 appearances in his first 4 years. He’s averaged 46 saves per season, and he strikes out FORTY-THREE PERCENT of the batters he faces. Outrageous.

But we didn’t get to see Kimbrel. Which is about the only disappointment (besides the HOF) from our trip to Turner Field.

photo-16A couple points about food: Atalanta is the home of Waffle House, so naturally there’s one in the left field concourse. But I wasn’t in the mood for a waffle. I opted for the Georgia Dog instead: a foot long hot dog with crunchy cole slaw and sweet sautéed vidalia onions. Holy smokes. absolutely delicious.

I’ve been to a lot of baseball games, and I’ve never seen in-between-inning production brilliance as I did at The Ted. First, in the minutes leading up to the first pitch, they ran the “Oblivious Cam” where they just found people in the ballpark who had no clue they were on the screen and set a timer counting up the amount of time until they noticed. :30…:45…1:00…1:15…and every second the rest of the ballpark laughed louder and louder.

Two other genius moves: The Grounds Crew Inning and the Hug Cam.

Apparently, first baseman Freddie Freeman has a history of hugging everyone. In the dugout, on the field, in the clubhouse – Freeman is a hugger. The Braves marketing department latched onto this and turned it into a brilliant crowd segment. Unlike the Kiss Cam, complete strangers can hug, kids can hug, anyone can hug. No more awkward pairings on the screen. No more “let’s end with an old couple and celebrate their long marriage” sappiness. They ended with a shot of Freddie and one of the Upton brothers (I think) sitting in the dugout. Freeman saw himself on screen, shrugged, and hugged it out with his teammate.

But the best segment: The Grounds Crew Inning.

Set to the tune of the William Tell Overture, when it came time for the grounds crew to run out and smooth over the infield, they sprinted out of the right field tunnel, ran their lap around the infield, set in three new bases, and sprinted back to the tunnel. The camera crew kept cutting from angle to angle in dramatic fashion managing to turn the Crew into the heroes of the moment.

Final piece on Turner before I move on to the game notes: I think it’s super sad that they’re leaving for Cobb County after 2016. The Braves started at The Ted in 1997, which means they’ll have been there less than 20 years.

I just don’t support the idea of baseball being moved to the suburbs. The Braves ran studies on where their primary customers were coming from, and they know they’ll be a success outside the downtown loop. But there’s something beautiful about a crisp clean ballpark among the busy highways and buildings of an urban center. Instead of a beautiful green paradise in the dirty city, it’s reduced to another clean building among the taupe facade of suburbia.

Overall, I loved Turner Field. And I’m glad I got to visit before it isn’t there anymore.

Game Notes:

The Braves destroyed the Nationals, 10-2.

They hit three homers: Justin Upton to CF, Freddie Freeman to RF, and Andrelton Simmons to CF. All three were absolute bombs. Simmons’ was most impressive – it bounced high off batter’s eye above the CF wall. Probably around 430′.

As I mentioned on Twitter yesterday: I’m a huge Andrelton Simmons fan. I’m a sucker for amazing defense, and that’s his primary game. I’m tempted to make an Ozzie Smith comparison, but he has too much power to compare the two on both sides of the ball. I think Simmons is a future Hall of Famer – bold statement in only is second season, but I think he’s only going to get better.

Simmons went 2-5 with a 3B and a HR yesterday.

Aaron Harang started for Atlanta and he continued the dominance he’s displayed so far this season. In 18+ innings, he’s only given up 9 hits. He went 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K yesterday…his worst showing of the year somehow.

Gio Gonzalez, on the other hand gave up 6 runs in the first 2 innings – 3 in each – but stayed in the game through 6 innings. Ross Detwiler came in and gave up 4 runs in the 7th – all unearned due to an Ian Desmond error at SS.

I picked the Nationals to win this division after Medlen went down. It’s early, and the Nationals are now 7-5…but all 5 losses are to the Braves. The Braves bats are hot right now, and if Harang and Santana can continue to give them quality starts, this Braves team might win their second straight NL East pennant.

Four down. Twenty-Six to go.

Up Next: Texas Rangers