Monday, May 9, 2011

Southern Style: Game 12 in Savannah

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.
Given the character of Southern hospitality, it should have come as little surprise that, as I entered Georgia driving north on I-95, I was greeted by official state signs welcoming travelers to Georgia.  What did surprise me was one of the particular signs among the greetings.   It identifies Georgia as “The Home of the 1995 World Series Champions.”  Their victory was a decade and a half ago!  Then Clinton was in his first term, gasoline prices were about $2.00 a gallon nearby, and Hootie and the Blowfish were a hot new group.  Still, Georgia spotlights that passing moment of baseball supremacy.

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.  
While singing about “the twilight’s last gleaming” as dusk descended, two of the bugs darted toward my nose, and I flashed on a story of an operatic tenor who was pestered by a fly during a performance.   While he held a long high note with his mouth agape, the fly helicoptered toward him and hovered momentarily in front of his mouth, wings waving so fast that the pitch of his note changed.  I wondered if gnats could cause the same effect.   Thankfully, I didn’t find out.
Legends ordering legendary chicken and waffles.
Prior to the game, Ben Hill (whose blog “Ben’s Biz” about Minor League Baseball is regularly fascinating and fun) had alerted me to the Sand Gnats’ concessions, which feature the best new ballpark food as featured by NBC.  The item: chicken and waffles.  Since I can’t eat sugar, I had to forego tasting the treat.  But it didn’t escape two of the visiting Lexington Legends relief pitchers who left the locker room to order the fare when the concession stand opened.

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.
As I walked past the Lexington players following the anthem, a couple of them offered congratulations, and I responded that I’d see them again in the Bluegrass in late May.  Then when I took my seat, I greeted Carol Turner, sister of my brother-in-law Paul Turner, the Presiding Justice on California’s Appellate Court.  How’s that for making a Southern shirt-tail connection and trying to angle a good side with the law!

1 comment:

  1. I love the fans over the fans. I still think of that Joba incident whenever I hear the song, "There ain't no bugs on me".

    Travel safely and thank you for the lunch time update.