Opening Day, no matter what the weather, is a signal that winter is truly over, and the joyous days of summer are on their way. For me, baseball is a sport meant to be imbibed in one particular way: radio. Don’t get me wrong—going to a ball game in person is a great experience. Everyone should go see a real MLB game in person at least once in their life. But listening to the Atlanta Braves on the radio is the pinnacle of sports.
I love the Braves because of my mom. I don’t know how my mom became a Braves fan. But from the time I was pretty little, she tuned in to our local (Greenville, SC) station on the Braves radio network for almost every game in the season. When I was very young, I just tuned out the noise. But as I got older, I began to listen and follow the game. By the time I was a teenager, I was a diehard Braves fan. Yes, yes, I joined the club in the good years—Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Chipper Jones—but I wasn’t a fairweather fan. (Witness: I still love my Braves, even though the glory days have been a bit elusive for the past decade.)
There’s nothing quite like straining to keep your pinky on the stereo while stretching as tall as you can, making a human antenna to get the broadcast on a bad radio day. Or trying desperately to find another station to listen to the game when the normal station inexplicably broadcasts the Clemson game instead. As I began to love the Braves more and more, these sort of frustrations became part of the joy of being a part of the Braves radio network rather than a deterrent.
When I was in junior high, I used to go with my mom to church choir practice, which was at 4:15 on Sundays. Most days I’d just sit in the sanctuary while they rehearsed. But some Sundays, the Braves game would be in the later innings when we arrived at church (if it had started at 1:05 or so). On those days, I’d sit in the sweltering car and listen to the game, hoping it would wrap up before the heat in the car became too much to bear. On very rare occasions, even Mom would stay in the car to listen, though under almost any other circumstance it would be totally unacceptable to be late to choir practice. Enduring the heat made me feel like a true fan.
In my childhood, it was a rare treat to watch the Braves on TV when they were on the FOX Saturday game of the week. But I was usually glad to return to the radio broadcast for the next game: the FOX commentators just didn’t stack up to Joe, Don, Pete, and Skip. My experience with the players was always mediated through the Braves radio commentators—the players themselves were virtual strangers. I barely even recognized their faces or their swings. But I loved them no less for their distance.
Radio commentators are a little like historians. They introduce their listeners to people they don’t know (and will never meet) by giving rich description of the events, context for the players’ actions and attitudes, and background information about every aspect of their professional lives, plus a frequent dose of humor. Commentators have unique voices that become familiar and beloved, but the best ones focus their broadcast on the players and the sport, not themselves. So here’s to you, Skip, Don, Pete, Joe, and now Jim (and others), and go Braves!