Friday, April 27, 2012



By Doc Lawrence

I just finished John Grisham’s splendid baseball story, Calico Joe. It holds its own with other baseball stories like The Natural. Exciting and melancholy, propelled by Grisham’s storytelling skills make it perfect for a spring afternoon in the park or a vacation day on the beach.

Baseball has no counterpart in my life. It has from childhood been a refuge, often a balm when life started catching up too fast. Heroes weren’t fictional. I could see them on black and white television half the year on Saturday and for 75 cents, could behold the greatest of all minor league teams, the Atlanta Crackers in a venerable stadium on Atlanta’s fabled Ponce de Leon Avenue.


There is one remnant of the old park: an ancient magnolia. The great Eddie Mathews and others hit balls over it in centerfield and the tree became legend. Mindless developers were going to cut it down in the early 1990’s only to be thwarted by children at a local elementary school who threatened to chain themselves to the tree. Public opinion, totally on the kid’s side, scared the thugs off and the tree stands today with a nice plaque explaining its legend.

My grandson pitched his last game yesterday as a soon to graduate senior at Druid Hills High School which sits adjacent to Emory University. I’ve attended his games beginning 12 years ago and was stunned that I will never enjoy this thrill again.

Baseball does that. Rarely are things repeated. It is a dance that imitates life.  Winners and losers are often close friends, and it remains a cerebral game that has a low tolerance for boorishness, bullying and disrespect. My grandson was lucky enough to play on some championship teams, one that went so far as to play in national competition in Cooperstown, New York at Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Over the years his teammates represented the world of diversity, a gift of living and learning in an international community.

Adults offer advice too easily. Be a businessman; get multiple college degrees; choose a high paying career; plan what you want to be ten, twenty years from now; you get out of life what you put into it. As if we really did such things.

Baseball memories are superior to pipe dreams and false hopes. Later on, this freshly minted 18 year-old will comfortably recall many poignant, precious baseball memories, ranking way ahead of the empty lure of fortune and fame in the very troubled world of adulthood. How to face life? I always trusted the grassroots advice from the immortal Satchel Paige: "Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching."

Baseball kept its promise of fresh air, good sportsmanship, fresh cut grass, laughter, cheers and the sounds the ball makes as it slaps into a glove.  All great things come to an end.  It’s like an empty stadium after the fans leave and the lights turn off.

Join me on the first installment of a recent culinary adventure in North Florida and South Georgia: