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Darrell Huckaby: Baseball, past and present, is good medicine

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

I'm in Houston this week, getting my quarterly barrage of tests and treatments at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. I am determined to make lemonade out of the lemons I've been handed when I take these trips. What better place to make lemonade than Minute Maid Park? And where better to spend a Memorial Day afternoon than a baseball game?

So, I invited my friend, who is a medical student in Houston, to join me and we took in the ball game. Yes, I know it's really hot in Houston but the Astros play indoors. We sat in air-conditioned comfort and watched most of the 12-inning contest between the Colorado Rockies and the Houston Astros. It wasn't Braves-Mets or Yankees-Red Sox, but it was a fine day at the ball park.

The Astros do Memorial Day right and they brought in veterans from each branch of the service from every conflict going back to World War II and gave the crowd many opportunities to show our appreciation. It was a nice four hours and a grand way to get my mind off the reason for my visit.

Baseball is a pretty slow-paced game compared to, say, football or basketball or just about any other game. There was plenty of opportunity and plenty of chance for me to tell my young friend stories of baseball seasons gone by back when the game was still more of a game, at least in appearance, than a multi-billion dollar industry.

I didn't recognize the name of a single player on either team. When I was 10 years old, I could tell you the starting lineup and pitching rotation of every team in both Major Leagues.

And there were two distinct leagues back then, too. This Monday, though, both teams used a designated hitter -- in a National League stadium. Except I was told that the Astros aren't in the National League this year. Heresy, I tell you. Heresy.

After I had finished boring my buddy with tales of Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese and the Baseball Game of the Week, and relived the trips I used to take with my dad to Ponce De Leon Park across from Sears-Roebuck, in Atlanta, we got around to the Atlanta Braves -- the old Braves, that played in the stadium known as the Launching Pad.

I saw the first game in the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, an exhibition between the Braves and the Detroit Tigers. Rico Carty was one of the stars and after the game we went down and stood outside the clubhouse until the players came out. I don't think you can do that anymore. We got autographs from Henry Aaron and Eddie Matthews and Frank Boling. You're a real Braves fan if you know what position Frank Boling played.

I was also at the final game played in the old park. It was a World Series contest between the Braves and the New York Yankees. I believe David Justice made the final out in a Braves loss. I could be wrong about that. My memory isn't what it once was.

Nonetheless, I bent my companion's ear with stories of Felix "The Cat" Millan and Ralph "Road Runner" Garr and young Bob Didier with the big mitt who caught Phil Niekro, among others, during the Braves' first championship run in 1969. I was a senior in high school and Wallace Christian and I stormed the field when the Braves clinched. Wallace sprained his ankle jumping over the right field wall into the bullpen. You can't storm the field anymore, either.

I couldn't talk about the old days without mentioning Miss Pearl Sandow, who attended every professional baseball game played in Atlanta -- Crackers and Braves -- except one, between 1934 and 1989. Not even the great Walter Banks saw as many games as Miss Pearl.

The there was Chief Knockahoma -- Levi Walker --who held court in front of his tepee for a number of years. The Chief used to sprint out to his position when the Braves took the field in the early days and he could really run for a guy who had a bigger belly than I have. Fireworks would shoot out of the top of his tent when the Braves homered and the thing caught on fire one day.

Those were the days.

Baseball is still appealing, especially when there is a good team to watch, and I hope to get up to Turner Field during the next home stand. Meanwhile, I am just thankful that I had a chance to see a new ball park with an old friend before getting down to the business of fighting cancer.

By the way, the Astros beat the Rockies on Monday, 3-2 in 12 innings. My doctors and my prayer warriors and I are winning that other battle, too. Thank God for M.D. Anderson, where they are making cancer history -- 365 days a year.Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at dhuck008@gmail.com. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.