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.