Confessions of an ex-baseball fan
Like Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, I was asleep when Barry Bonds hit his 756th career homer earlier this week to break Aaron’s 33-year-old record.I told myself I ought to catch baseball history in the making, but that string of West Coast games just wasn’t conducive to pulling me out of my long retirement as a baseball fan. Someday, when Bonds’ record is poised to be broken, and everyone remembers what they were doing when he broke it, I’ll remember that it was past my bedtime.Or, maybe, no one outside of San Francisco will care what they were doing. Somehow, I remember sensing that the entire country was plugged into Aaron’s chase to break Babe Ruth’s old record, but from this little corner of the world, I don’t really know if Bonds’ feat held the same interest, whether one considers his accomplishment tainted or not.It certainly didn’t interest me all that much. You see, I’ve retired as a baseball fan. Check that – I was not so much a baseball fan as a Milwaukee Brewers fan, and there’s nothing more challenging than being a Brewers fan.But all the headlines about Bonds brought back memories of the Brewers, where Aaron finished out his career and where, as a teenager, I saw Aaron bang a few out of the old Milwaukee County Stadium.There was no major league team in Denver when I was a kid in the Front Range suburbs, but my family’s arrival in the ‘burbs of Milwaukee in 1970 happened to coincide with the return of baseball there. My dad took my brother and me to the first game we had ever seen when Bud Selig (the baseball commissioner who wasn’t in the stands for Bonds this week) brought the Seattle Pilots to Milwaukee, where they became the Brewers.The Brewers struggled while Aaron hammered away at Ruth’s record in Atlanta after the Braves left Milwaukee in 1965. There are still Milwaukeans who are bitter about that one, by the way. I knew nothing of this travesty when I arrived, but I was quickly schooled in Milwaukee’s baseball history.I remember being in school in the spring of 1974, when teachers would let someone play a transistor radio turned down low in the classroom when the Braves had an afternoon game, and turn it up when Aaron was up to bat. This baseball fanaticism was all relatively new to me, but for my friends, the former Milwaukee Brave who was about to break Babe Ruth’s record was a big deal. When he came back to Milwaukee to finish his career and hit the final home run tally that Bonds has now surpassed, it was also a big deal.All this came flooding back to me this week and I started feeling old. I have co-workers who think of Aaron’s feat as ancient history, much as Ruth’s playing days were to me. They weren’t born yet when Aaron hit the record-breaking homer in ’74.I’m guessing some of them weren’t even alive in 1982, when the Brewers made their one and only (so far) appearance in a World Series, losing in a heart-wrenching seven games to the Cardinals. I remember a town gripped in pennant fever as that race to win the American League went down to the wire. The world stopped in Wisconsin when the Brewers were playing. Harvey’s Wallbangers, we called that home-run hitting team under manager Harvey Kuenn.It’ll be 25 years this fall since the Brew Crew made that one and only trip to the Series and I could probably still rattle off that team’s lineup. Everyone knew their names, their faces. I’ve never cried over the fortunes of any team I ever played for, but that loss in Game 7 of the Series reduced me to tears.Ten years later, I was in the stands for Robin Yount’s 3,000 hit. There were so many flashbulbs popping, the event could probably be seen from outer space. He played his entire career with the Brewers, starting at shortstop as a teenager, and was my favorite player.When I moved back to Colorado, I quit following the Brewers and don’t know a thing about them anymore, except I hear they’re in the National League now. Somehow, the Bonds thing brought back my memories of loving baseball.I hope baseball, with all the talk of steroid-tainted records, corked bats, player strikes, enormous salaries and whatever else is going on in a sport that I don’t pay any attention to anymore, still produces heroes for kids. Maybe Bonds is one of them. I sort of hope so.Janet Urquhart still has some Brewers memorabilia, including a ticket stub from Game 5 of the 1982 World Series, packed away somewhere. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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