Flashlight & A Biscuit, No. 5: A god in a Braves uniform

Remembering Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, where giants walked the earth

Welcome to Flashlight & A Biscuit, my Southern sports/culture/food offshoot of my work at Yahoo Sports. Thanks for hanging, and why not subscribe below? It’s free and all.

Happy … Sunday? Is it Sunday? I think it’s Sunday. Anyway, hope you’re hanging in there as best you can with all this … you know.

I’m still working out exactly what the hell I’m doing with this newsletter. So far, I’m neither as targeted as Kevin Kaduk with his brilliant Chicago sports-themed “Midway Minute” or as focused as the confessionals of Will Leitch’s “This Here Newsletter,” both of which you should subscribe to this very minute. My overarching idea is to tell some stories, both personal and historical, about my beloved, infuriating South … and lord knows we could use a little good press since … well, forever.

Basically, I’m trying to build the plane while it’s already in the air. Let’s see how it goes!

Today, a tale of Atlanta-Fulton County stadium, the long-gone, not-much-missed first home of the Atlanta Braves and Falcons. Built in the mid-60s on a chunk of city property that was remote at the time and still forlorn to this day, Atlanta-Fulton was one of those squat, UFO-shaped stadiums that looked like some dated version of The Future ten minutes after it was built, like Tomorrowland or a Jetsons cartoon.

Before the Braves’ decade-plus playoff run that started in 1991, the stadium was a desolate place filled — well, dotted — with Atlantans who had exactly zero experience with generational fandom. They had no expectation that the hometown teams would succeed on any measurable level, and the hometown teams met that expectation, year after .350-winning-percentage year.

And yet, I’m not going to lie: I kind of loved the place.

This was the first pro stadium I ever visited. At my first game, my folks bought me every magical food I asked for — cotton candy, hot dog, Coke, ice cream, on and on — and on the drive home I threw it all up into the floorboard. How do you not love a place that stuffs you with goodness till you puke?

I saw Steve Bartkowski and Dale Murphy there, and probably some out-of-town legends of the day too. I think I saw Pele play soccer there once, but I can’t swear to that. I saw motorcycles jump on dirt piled atop the infield, and I saw infielders botch easy grounders because the field was always a pockmarked, divot-covered mess. I watched all 12 innings of the Braves’ first World Series game there without leaving my seat, just down from a couple wearing then-California Angels caps because they were dilettantes who’d clearly just bought the caps but couldn’t tell one “A” from another.

But the finest night I ever spent at Atlanta-Fulton County came when I made friends with a Braves player … while a game was in progress.

The scenario: Little League Night at the stadium, where all of us tykes in our baggy little uniforms gathered at the stadium to walk around the warning track and wave to our parents from a real baseball field! To this day, when I get out on an actual stadium field, I still look up in the stands with a touch of awe. Back then? It was a transcendent experience.

Once your average pre-dynasty Braves game started, the seat number on your ticket was really more of a suggestion than a mandate. (Before this gets any more treacly, a quote that sums up ‘80s Atlanta and the woeful Braves quite nicely: “The Braves used to be so bad, we used to go to the ballpark just to watch the girls eat hot dogs,” my fellow Atlantan Jeff Foxworthy used to say in his pre-family friendly days.)

Girls were the last thing on my mind when I was roaming the ballpark in my white polyester GIANTS uniform. No, I just wandered around, level to level, row to row, visiting friends, checking out the view. You know how it is. A man’s got to keep moving.

And then I realized I had lost my glove.

Think how you feel when you can’t find your phone. That was me back then, bereft of my Rawlings Mickey Mantle glove. Horrified. Aghast. Terrified of what my mom was going to do to me when she found out. If I got out of this only losing a finger or two, I’d be lucky.

I quickly realized I had left the glove somewhere in one of the dozens of places I’d wandered throughout the stadium. Now, I knew of the concept behind “Lost-and-Found”s, but I didn’t know they actually existed. I reasoned that someone would find my glove, and would presumably take it to be with all the other gloves. And where were all the other gloves?

Why, the dugout, of course.

So I walked with all the naive, boundless, irrational confidence of a seven-year-old straight down to the Braves dugout. Again: while the game was going on. No usher was there to stop me, nobody was sitting in an expensive seat to tell me to get out of the way. I simply walked right down to the dugout, leaned in, and looked down the bench to see if I could spot my mitt. No luck.

While I was looking, though, a Braves player caught sight of me. His name was Brian Asselstine, he was a light-hitting reserve outfielder who played less than 300 games in the majors … and for what he did next, he will always be my favorite ballplayer ever.

“What’s up, kid?” he said, or something like that; my memory that far back is not verbatim.

“I lost my glove,” I said. “Is it here?”

And then — as God is my witness — he actually turned around and looked up and down the bench himself. He took this idiot seven-year-old seriously! In the middle of a game! “Nope, sorry,” he said, coming up empty. “Hope you find it.”

“OK, thank you,” I said, and went off to look elsewhere. And that was it! A perfectly normal interaction that, in present-day terms, would be unthinkable. Nowadays, a kid that tried that would get tackled, if not by stadium security than by the player’s entourage. But that was Braves baseball, baby. (My glove was eventually found; a friend’s mother had helpfully taken it home without notifying us … because we had no cell phones in those dark days.)

It wasn’t until years later that I realized what an odd little story I had. You hear all the time about ballplayers being outright d-bags to little kids, and here was one who’d done the literal exact opposite. I don’t know what happened to Brian Asselstine after that day, and I don’t want to know. I’m sure I could track him down, but why? I’m going to leave that memory as it is, a perfect testament to the overgrown small-town mentality that was Braves baseball at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

Man, I miss that place. A bit.


Other stuff I’ve written lately

Over at Yahoo, I’ve been on the COVID beat aplenty, both inside and outside the sports world. A few recent works:

  • I traveled all over Atlanta Friday to get a sense of what people and businesses think of the governor reopening the state. The ones that are excited to reopen are very excited; everybody else is sticking with Netflix a little longer.

  • The coronavirus shutdown cost an Alaska high school girls’ basketball team a shot at a fourth straight state title. Here’s their story.

  • An entire traveling football team was trapped in Honduras after nations began cancelling their flights. Here’s how they got home, with a little help from the government.

  • For the NFL draft, I talked to Alabama’s Anfernee Jennings, who came within hours of losing his leg due to an injury he suffered against Clemson. But he got better, and this weekend, he got drafted by the Patriots. Not a bad turnaround.

  • There’s a finish line to all this. Somewhere.

Much more to come, and unfortunately, a lot of it’s going to be corona-focused.


Stream this:

Lucinda Williams, “Good Souls Better Angels”

Lucinda Williams is a bona fide legend of the kind of raw, flinty country music that doesn’t end up on awards shows or car commercials. Her voice is weary, the song of a woman who’s heard it all three times and sees right through the lies. Press play up there on “You Can’t Rule Me,” a greasy slice of Buddy Guy-style electric blues, and then go stream the rest of her album. It’ll get your soul right until you can get back out to hear some live music.


Read this:

Point B, Drew Magary

I’ve been a fan of Drew’s work at Deadspin and various other outlets for at least a decade now. His spluttering rage at NFL idiocy, too-serious Christmas catalogs and our general political … situation always seems to sum up the moment with the force of a home run swing. But the guy’s got other gears, too — the tale of how he nearly died, and what came after, is one of the best articles I’ve read in years. And his fiction is always inventive and wry without being too precious or ironic. His latest runs a sci-fi premise — what if we could teleport as easily as we text? — through some recognizably human scenarios like college anxiety and too-earnest young love. Grab a copy for yourself.


Menu of the Week:

Gate City Brewing, Roswell, Ga.

I miss breweries so, so much. Any time anyone bags on millennials, I have to point out that if nothing else, they’ve brought us some damn good food and drink experiences. This joint here, Gate City Brewing, is one of my personal favorites. Takes a lot to make me care about yet another IPA, but their OTP is the truth.


That’ll do it for this week, friends. Unplug more and rage less. Be good and I’ll catch you soon.

-Jay

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