Mays stole the show at my first MLB game

I had low expectations for the first Major League Baseball game I attended. While I appreciated the sport, it couldn’t promise the action of football or basketball. Still, when the opportunity arose, I didn’t hesitate to add this experience to my list. As it turned out, that game exceeded my expectations — with room to spare.

I was college senior, on the 1969 spring tour of the University of North Carolina Men’s Glee Club, which had evolved from the traditional rah-rah college glee club to a men’s chorale. Our itinerary took us through Atlanta, where some free time was built in.

The San Francisco Giants were in town. A group of us went to the then-four-year-old baseball stadium for the game. We had good seats along the first-base line. When a foul ball disabled a seat on our row, our director joked to the singer sitting nearest, “You should’ve had that.”

Willie Mays came into the game with 299 stolen bases. No one had ever hit 300 homeruns and stolen 300 bases. Mays, of course, had more than 300 HRs by that point, He just needed one more SB to become a group of one.

The first time up, he got on base. I can’t remember now if it was via a hit or a walk. On the first pitch to the next batter, he took off. As the years have passed, the play becomes less and less close in my memory. The game paused while the PA announcer said, “With that steal, Willie Mays becomes the first player in major league history to hit 300 homeruns and steal 300 bases. [Pause] So, Willie, here’s the base.”

A grounds crewman (and they were all men in those days) came running out, pulled up second base and handed it to Mays. Someone came from the Giants’ dugout to get the prize as a new second base was installed. It was the first time — and one of the few ever — I saw a visiting player honored during an athletic contest.

That historic moment made me glad I was there, and there was even more entertainment.

The first time Felix Milan came to bat, he took a pitch to the side of his head. It was obviously an accident. I don’t remember any hint of rancor. He was OK and took his base.

Later in the game, the light-hitting Milan came to bat with the bases loaded. He put it over the fence — one of the total of 22 homers he hit in 5,791 plate appearances in the 1,480 games of his career.

One wonders: If the bean ball had followed the grand slam, might there have been some rancor?

In any case, the game kept me engaged throughout. Instead of the 1-0 or 2-1 score I had expected, Atlanta won something like 8-2.

I’m glad I went

It was a milestone celebration at a church a plane ride away from my home. It’s an outstanding church, and I was part of it a long time ago. The church has long been known for its active involvement in social justice. Sunday morning is big, but it’s a seven-days-a-week church. It contributed to my theological education for two years.

Part of my role was on-the-job training in campus ministry at an adjacent prestigious university. More visible to the congregation was my guitar playing regularly in “folk worship” and occasional other times. One Sunday a month, the Sunday worship service was one I helped plan. Two other musicians — a pianist and an upright bass player — and I led it. I also participated in myriad meetings, retreats and anti-war protests. I think I was a brash enough young adult to speak my mind in most gatherings. Shortly before I completed my degree and moved away from the area, I preached there one Sunday morning. My “License to Preach and Administer the Sacraments” was granted by that congregation.

I enjoyed the recent celebration. It was good to be back in the building. The liturgy and other activities were appropriate and meaningful. As the history of the church was recounted, a good chunk of it was presented by some of the very people with whom I have a history. They covered a lot of that shared history.

At this point, the cynical reader might expect the insertion of a “But.” Not here, though. It’s more of a “That said. . . .”

I went with hope but not delusion. There were several people still in the church that I remembered from my time there. It would’ve been great if many/most (all??) had greeted me like a long-lost friend. Yet I had visited a couple of years ago, and only two of those remembered me. One was someone with whom I had been close. The other was someone I knew, though not as well as a couple of people who seemed to have no recollection of me. I expected it would be the same this time, while holding out hope that the occasion and my being there for much of the day would jog some more memories.

It was as expected. Everyone was friendly and welcoming. The same two seemed to be the only ones who remembered me, though when I spoke to others, I made a point of saying when I had been there.

Countless times, I’ve heard someone say about some service opportunity in which they’ve participated, “I got more from them than they got from me.” I guess I always realized this to be true about my time at this church. I just wish the score hadn’t been so lopsided.

I knew going in that I was at most a blip on the screen in the long history of a church filled with dynamic individuals. I had just thought — wished rather — that the blip were less imperceptible. It wouldn’t be honest not to admit to feeling some disappointment, yet I wasn’t blindsided.

Still, it was good to be in a place with a lot of great memories. To see faces still recognizable despite the years, even if mine wasn’t recognizable to them. To recount the illustrious history of the congregation and to see that the characteristics that drew me to them are still at work today.

I enjoyed the personal memories that flashed through my mind. I was able to share a couple of these verbally with one person or another. Yet feeling more like a welcomed guest than a returning family member, I found I was taking in the festivities primarily from a third-person point of view. I know and appreciate that for many there it was first-person.

To resort to an overused cliche, it was the hand I was dealt. So I played it. I was just glad to be in the game. It was a learning and a growing experience.

Note of possible interest: This is the church to which I referred in “Wearing Your ‘Sunday Best’” when I said, “I was a young adult, in a church where people wore anything from jeans to suits or dressy dresses, when I realized that one of the negative things about Sunday morning in the past had been the hassle of getting dressed up.” For this recent occasion, I was the most dressed up I have ever been in that church building — dress pants, button down shirt and sports jacket, along with my black sneakers and, of course, no tie.