Boyette has come home to Aiken Standard 1

John Boyette

Play ball!

And with those two sweet words Thursday night, the Major League Baseball season finally started. (Did you see Dr. Fauci’s first pitch at the Nationals game? It’s clear he’s been focusing on the pandemic and not baseball.)

Ever since the coronavirus walloped the U.S. in mid-March, our daily lives have gone topsy-turvy. We’ve yearned for normalcy but haven’t gotten much of late.

Sports, as I’ve mentioned a time or two in this space, serves as a calendar for me. Baseball and the Masters Tournament signal the arrival of spring. Summer means lots of baseball, golf and tennis. Football eventually ushers in cooler weather and fall. And college basketball, college bowl games and the Super Bowl means it’s time for winter.

I remain hopeful that the Masters will be played in November after being pushed back from April. But the double whammy of no baseball for three months really had me down in the dumps.

Long before I picked up a golf club, baseball was my first love. I played in the youth leagues here in Aiken, and I reminisced about those days as I went through Citizens Park on Thursday to get tested for coronavirus. (Thank you Aiken Regional Medical Centers, and the many volunteers, for putting on the free testing.)

The dusty clay diamonds I grew up playing on disappeared a long time ago. The grass on the many manicured fields at Citizens Park is almost as green as what you see at a big-league stadium.

My parents took me to the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to see the Braves play in the early 1970s. I remember two things: The family Oldsmobile overheating on Interstate 20, and how green the grass was when I peeked through the stadium portals and onto the field. I still have the Braves pennant from that trip.

Later in the ‘70s, my family made an almost annual trip to Atlanta. We often went to see the Los Angeles Dodgers play the Braves. Mom had liked the Dodgers back from the Koufax-Drysdale days, and I quickly developed an affinity for the Boys in Blue. As an aspiring infielder, I particularly liked the Dodgers’ record-setting infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell and Ron Cey.

The Braves of that era were, shall we say, forgettable. Pitcher Phil Niekro, and his knuckleball, was the main attraction. The stadium was known as the Launching Pad because of Atlanta’s altitude and the tendency of Braves’ pitchers to serve up home runs.

The Dodgers were in the midst of a glory run with three trips to the World Series in five years. So I’ve been a Dodgers fan for 40-plus years.

I’ve continued to make semi-regular visits to Atlanta to see the Dodgers play through the years, including the past two seasons with my wife. I converted her into a full-blown fan a few years ago, and she now follows them on social media and can recite the lineup as well as any fan. She also recognizes the walk-up music that plays before each hitter comes to the plate.

We went all out for Thursday’s first day of baseball. We both wore Dodgers gear to work, and that night she grilled hot dogs for dinner. I also had some roasted peanuts I had been saving for the occasion. But she wouldn’t let me eat ice cream out of a plastic helmet like they serve at the ballpark.

A few years ago, I splurged and signed up for the MLB package with our satellite TV provider. We can watch almost every Dodgers game, but the drawback is that since they are on the West Coast the games often start at 10 p.m. That’s usually when we start winding down, but we typically watch a few innings before falling asleep.

Each morning we’ll watch the previous game’s highlights as we sip our morning coffee on the back porch. She already knew the outcome from the first game but didn’t let on as we watched the recap on her phone.

The Dodgers haven’t won the World Series since 1988, but we are always hopeful that this will be the year. And so what if it’s only 60 games? I say it will still count.

The games are different with no fans, but teams are adjusting with cardboard cutouts of fans and piped-in crowd noise.

For me, and other boys of summer, it’s better than nothing at all.

Thanks for reading.

John Boyette is executive editor of the Aiken Standard. Reach him at jboyette@aikenstandard.com or 803-644-2364.