There’s no question that Southerners love baseball and SEC football. While Georgians certainly love their Dawgs and long for autumn Saturday triumphs at home between the hedges, they are also perhaps the most passionate Southerners in their devotion to baseball. They relish the epic brilliance of Ty Cobb, whose nickname embraced the state’s identity: The Georgia Peach. And for much of the 90s, they celebrated the success of the Atlanta Braves, who, because of the promotional effectiveness of TBS sports, became known as “America’s Team”
|Savannah's boulevard to the ballpark.|
On toward Savannah I drove, bemused by Georgia being a part of the Braves’ new world. Often portrayed as a city with where hanging moss is thicker than the humidity, Savannah exudes Southern manners and heritage. Yet the Sally League team that finds its home there doesn’t use either images of plantation life or Southern hospitality. Instead, it is aptly adopts the name Sand Gnats.
Shortly before the game began, I watched the visiting players spray themselves with insect repellant. While they bathed their necks and arms with the spray, I vividly recalled Joba Chamberlain’s frustration in the eighth inning in the Yankees’ playoff game in Cleveland in 2007 when midges attacked him on the mound, distracting his focus and allowing the Indians’ resurgence.
|Legends ordering legendary chicken and waffles.|
The grandstands of historic Grayson Stadium, which opened in 1926 and which has felt the cleats of Hall of Famers Ruth, Mantle, and Aaron, are distinguished by the wooden bench seats behind home plate, by the fully screened seating area, and by the overhead fans that whirl as slowly as a Southern drawl. The field also provided a marking that I had never seen in any ballpark. It is customary, of course, to have the distances marked on the fences along the foul lines, power alleys, and centerfield. The Sand Gnats showed a sense of humor by posting the distance from home plate to the backstop by the visitor’s dugout— minus 51 feet!
|The fans for fans behind home plate.|