On summer nights when I was a kid, my Pop sat in his recliner on the back porch and listened to the Braves game. In the early years of my life, he’d have the TV set to the game with the sound turned down and a radio playing Skip Caray’s commentary. Once TBS came along, he didn’t have to bother with the radio. The voice of Skip Caray will always equal baseball for me. The “back porch” was actually more of a den–with walls, windows, doors, a gas heater, ceiling fan, recliners, a chest freezer, indoor/outdoor carpet, a wall filled with Grandmama Irene‘s oil paintings, school pictures of six grandchildren–but it had started life as a back porch and you know that’s how it is in the South, we call something by what it was, not what it is. Pop called everybody by a nickname, probably because he had been saddled with “Meredith Gaither Mathews” in 1902 when he was born the baby of six children. His nickname quickly turned to Dick and as he grew older it was Mr. Dick or M. Gaither or Pop. My mother was “Sweet Pea” and my Aunt Dixie was “Babe.” Nicknames were everything and they STUCK. In our town, you could pick your nose in kindergarten and they’d still be calling you Booger at the prom.
Pop’s recliner was the center of our summertime universe. He kept a stack of Louis L’Amour paperbacks on the side table, along with his glasses, a pipe rack, a packet of Levi Garrett tobacco and in later years, a remote and the phone. If he was working on a chaw, he didn’t talk, but he’d nod at you and wave so you knew you were loved. If the game was on, he didn’t move from that chair except to get up every now and then and spit out the door. I wouldn’t be surprised if that oak tree by the back porch steps sprouted tobacco shoots one of these days because that was the only place he was allowed to spit tobacco. Oh, and we all know that tobacco products are bad for you. Pop died at the tender age of 103. For his funeral, my mom sent flowers with a Braves hat included in the spray.
Speaking of funerals, this side note will give you some hint of Pop’s devotion to the Braves. When Grandmama Irene wrote out the instructions for her funeral on a yellow legal pad and dropped them off at the Wade H. Gilbert Funeral Home, she included this note: “If I die during baseball season, please schedule my funeral around the Braves game. I would like for Dick to be there.” She has never been one to let things slip and I assume they are still of file with 20 years worth of addenda.
I enjoyed throwing the ball around and I probably have a dusty cracked glove somewhere in the house, but I’ve never become a fan of baseball. I’ve only been to two professional baseball games in my life and my favorite part was the $7 beer and the roasted peanuts. I just never know where to LOOK in baseball. Too many people all spread out. When it comes to watching sports, football makes me holler, basketball keeps my attention, soccer makes me tense, golf makes me feel lower middle class, and baseball mostly reminds me of Pop.
But I woke up today thinking about baseball because I have been obsessing about “hits” of my own. I’ve only been blogging for a couple of months and I’m thrilled with the progress I’ve made, but I keep looking for more hits (my word for the number of views this site gets). I chase my tail wondering if I should write different topics, change the background, increase my marketing, tweak the tags or edit the slugs. Some days, I hit one out of the park (like with that panties thing), or a solid double (like teaching my daughter the A word). Some posts are bunts, some are walks and some are “a high fly ball to left field and it’s three and out for the Braves.”
Who was the greatest Brave ever? Hammerin’ Hank, since we use nicknames on Pop’s back porch. Hank Aaron was in his heyday on those summer nights when I sat on the scratchy carpet and listened to the game with Pop. Even I know that Hank Aaron hit 755 home runs (and I think those steroid freaks shouldn’t count in the record books so I don’t know where the current “record” stands). But Hammerin’ Hank also struck out 1,383 times…almost twice as much. You strike out when you’re TRYING for a home run and all that energy doesn’t go in the right direction at the right moment. Hank Aaron had 3,771 hits over his career. He just kept swinging. He generated 2,297 runs for his teams. When he came up for nomination into the Hall of Fame, he was a shoo in with almost 98% of the vote on the first ballot. Yes, sir, hold the door open for him and walk right through.
So the lesson I learned today from Hammerin’ Hank is that a career is about pursuing something you love, not just about the times you hit it out of the park. I don’t have to be the best every day to get joy from what I do.
Now, this is the part that made me cry. As much as I remember about Hank Aaron, I didn’t recall his number. This is a picture of the jersey he was wearing when he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. Guess how old I am this year? Forty four. Yeah, it’s been a long time since those summer nights on the back porch. Pop has been gone for seven years and his recliner is still there. I miss him so much, but this is my place to write about him. And that makes me feel solidly on base.