Baseball Ink

Baseball The Way It Was Meant To Be

The Home of the Braves

by Bruce Marshall

I don't have to tell you Milwaukee County Stadium has been torn down to make way for a new baseball field. If you're a fan, you've already gone through the mourning and the gut-wrenching realization that nothing lasts forever.

The demolition of stadiums is happening more and more around the United States every year, but this particular one affects me because Milwaukee County Stadium was not just the park of my youth but the epicenter of my fondest memories. And while the team that has played at MCS for the last 30 years is not the team I grew up with, the field is where I first learned to like and respect my father and the game of baseball.

In the 1950's we followed the Milwaukee Braves daily. My father would rush home from downtown Milwaukee where he worked, gather me up, and we would board a bus to County Stadium so we could arrive in time for batting practice. We never failed to watch the warm-ups of both teams, then get a hot dog and a Coke for dinner. By then, we were more than ready for the game. This happened 40 or 50 times a summer during the nine years we lived in Milwaukee. My dad and I must have set some sort of record for our loyalty.

It was an exciting time to be a Braves fan. Team greats like Frank Torre, Red Schoendienst, Joe Adcock, Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews and, of course, Hank Aaron dazzled us with their mastery of the game. I knew their names and batting averages by the time I was seven years old, but I didn't know that the last line of the National Anthem was "the home of the brave."

I was convinced it was "the home of the Braves," and even argued this with friends and family with certainty.

The memorable games and performances my dad and I witnessed were awe inspiring and defined a part of my life forever: Harvey Haddix pitching 12 perfect innings against the Braves only to lose, or Willie Mays hitting four home runs in a single game. We were witness to such history-making plays, the like of which have yet to be repeated.

But the best memory of all was witnessing the Braves winning the World Series in 1957 against the hated Yankees. Victory sent Milwaukee into a frenzy I'll not soon forget. It was a wonderful time to be a kid, and I reveled in the magic.

But these men and events were not only memories that defined me as a young man. They framed the relationship I had with my father. The shared experiences gave us a bond that would not be broken until he died in 1983. Even after his death, I was able to go back occasionally to Milwaukee County Stadium to remember many of our happiest days.

Now that is being taken away, too.

I know life moves on, I just don't like where it takes me sometimes. Today's game of baseball is very different, as are the players. In many ways they seem more talented. They are—without a doubt—bigger, stronger and faster than the players I watched as a youngster. However, there is an air of detachment in today's hitters, pitchers and fielders that men of my age resent. The players seem to be running a business—a big business at that. They want many guarantees.

Given such a mindset, they frequently take no risks on the field, making the game too predictable for my taste. The beauty of the game has been diminished, because beauty, in my mind, cannot be created without risk.

I know I am not alone when I write that the experiences I shared with my father at Milwaukee County Stadium won't ever be diminished. Men of my age all over the United States shared similar experiences with their dads, the only differences being the baseball parks, the players and the performances they witnessed.

We are, in ever-increasing numbers, lamenting the passing of our childhoods, the changes in the game of baseball and the new, sterile parks being built to replace the splendid monuments that housed our glorious experiences on so many hot summer evenings.

It is unfortunate that the old ballparks are going by the wayside, but it is also inevitable. Touch my deepest feelings, and you will discover dismay as I witness the disappearance of our old stadiums. But, understand this, too: These structures may be physically removed, brick by brick, but they can never be erased from our hearts.

Given that certainty, I will mourn Milwaukee County Stadium's demise as I honor the memory of summers with my father. Gone. But never forgotten.