Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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I awoke on the couch one night this week in time to watch the Colorado Rockies come from behind to defeat the Arizona Diamondbacks in the bottom of the 11th inning. I'm pretty sure I wasn't dreaming all of this up, but I'm quite certain I was groggy.
A pair of rookies named Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Ianetta delivered in the clutch with two outs to shock the rattlesnakes. As I stumbled off to bed, I found myself recalling the Milwaukee Braves and my earliest memories of Major League Baseball (note to my editors: that is not a typo. Before there were the Atlanta Braves, there were the Milwaukee Braves, and before that, the Boston Braves. Who says the Yankees won the Civil War?).
When the alarm went off at 5 the next morning, the Braves were still on my mind, and I stumbled downstairs (Why am I always stumbling?) to the nostalgia closet to dig my first-ever baseball mitt out of a box. It was, and still is, a Hawthorne, a brand that is not as well-known as Mizuno is today. Just so you know, St. Louis Cardinals hall-of-famer Stan Musial put his signature on a Hawthorne glove. Braves second baseman Red Schoendienst, who won a World Series ring in Milwaukee in 1957, also used a Hawthorne.
My glove isn't signed by anyone, but the ink on the heel of the little finger proclaims it to be a professional model, and right there on the well-worn palm, you can still make out the words: "Snag 'em Pocket."
I used to treat that glove like it was my baby, rubbing its pocket with saddle soap and putting it away for the winter with a baseball trapped safely inside by heavy rubber bands.
It's still in pretty good repair. You can see where I've replaced the original rawhide stitching between the fingers of the glove, and I need to find a curved needle so I can install some new rawhide in the eyelets between the thumb and the webbing.
I used the Hawthorne while I played first base for the Vikingtown Motel in Madison, Wis. Later, when I was traded across town to Lund Builders, my parents bought me a beautiful new MacGregor glove more suitable for a right fielder. It cost $12 and bore the signature of Johnny Logan. You remember Johnny Logan, don't you?
I'm sad to say, I never used the Hawthorne again. Still, it remains my first love.
Getting back to the Braves, they moved to Milwaukee in 1953, the year I was born. A year later, a young outfielder named Henry Aaron came to prominence on the shores of Lake Michigan. I didn't know much about the color barrier in baseball during the 1950s. However, I knew that the soft-spoken home run hitter was my hero. I grew up listening to Braves games on a clunky radio with tubes in it, and later with a transistor radio the size of a shoebox pressed to my ear.
I only witnessed one Milwaukee Braves game in person - I was probably about 10 or 11 years old, and I took my Hawthorne with me in hopes of snagging a home run ball off Aaron's bat.
We were seated under the second deck down the first base line - consequently, no balls came my way. Aaron was playing with an injured wrist that series, and the best he could do was stroke a long fly ball to the warning track in center field.
Still, the Braves defeated the Cincinnati Redlegs, 3-2, and I went home happy.
Many years later, as a college boy, I packed some buddies into my folks' station wagon, and we drove to the north side of Chicago to watch Aaron and the Atlanta Braves play the Cubbies one last time. Hammerin' Henry and Rico Carty each had a pair of doubles (Isn't it interesting how we can retain obscure facts, but can't remember our nephews' birthdays?) as the Braves won. Still later, I got my home run ball in Milwaukee County Stadium, but it wasn't off the big stick of No. 44. I was seated in the right field bleachers (where I've always belonged), and Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Cecil Cooper launched one that landed about 10 rows in front of me. There were so few people in attendance that I was able to stroll down and field it on the second hop.
I hope you still have your first baseball glove. But in case you don't, you can find lots of aging beauties in need of a new home for less than $15 on eBay. They make great oven mitts for aging right fielders who are more apt to fetch a casserole out of the oven than they are to snag a fly ball.
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