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Baseball ties family together

By Doug Gorman

Later this summer my 7-year-old niece Shelby and my 4-year nephew Justin are coming to Atlanta to visit their grandparents, or their nanny and poppie as they like to call them.

Before the week is over, they will probably go to Six Flags, the Stone Mountain laser show, and the Atlanta Zoo.

But the highlight of the week could be the trip to Turner Field to see their first Major League baseball game.

I'm sure we will munch on hot dogs, ice-cold colas and other assortment of goodies.

The game itself will be secondary, except to my brother in law David, who is a huge sports fan.

It won't be the first professional baseball game for Shelby and Justin.

They often go with their Daddy, and their Mommy, Nancy, to the Louisville Riverbats games. The Riverbats are the Triple-A affiliate of the Reds.

The Riverbats play in a modern stadium that looks like a mini-version of Turner Field. They average about 10,000 people to each game. (That means they outdraw the Expos).

But there is something unique about a major league baseball game when you are a child, and I can't wait to see Shelby and Justin experience it, even though I have soured on the game.

I still remember my first major league game. I was about five years old. With my new St. Louis Cardinals cap on my head I couldn't wait to get to my seats.

Dad and I eat hot dogs, Cracker Jacks and ice cream as he took time in his patient way to explain to me the rules of the game.

I'm not sure I really understood it all. I guess I was probably more concerned about getting to the bottom of the Cracker Jack box so I could find the toy surprise.

As a five-year-old I didn't care that Bob Gibson was one of the best pitchers of all time, or if Lou Brock made it to first base, he was more than likely to steal second.

It didn't take long, however, for me to get hooked on baseball.

By the time I was about seven, I was a die-hard fan. I knew the batting averages of all my favorite players, and I had a serious collection of baseball cards.

Back-yard catches with Dad and trips to the ball game became the highlight of my summer.

I'm glad I grew up in an era when baseball was still pure. I never worried about my favorite players getting arrested for drugs, beating their wives, or refusing to play because they had a minor injury.

One of my favorite memories as a young baseball fan was getting the autographs of Dale Murphy and Phil Kniekro outside the old Fulton County Stadium.

The two men spent more than an hour trying to accommodate fans. I don't know if there are too many players who would do that in era of baseball.

Baseball is also no longer the inexpensive family outing it used to be.

Tickets, concessions and souvenirs prices have gone through the roof.

In this case it doesn't matter. The outing will give three generations of my family and chance to bond and watch the Great American Pastime, and that's what is important.

(Doug Gorman is the sports editor of the Daily. His column appears on Fridays. He can be reached at 770-478-5753 Ext. 280. He can be e-mailed to dgorman@news-daily.com.)