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Opening night evokes memories
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Forsyth County News
Opening Night! Fenway Park! Red Sox! Yankees!

A rousing beginning to a new baseball season. More additions to the memories that make baseball unique among our pastimes.

Sunday night was the Red Sox 99th home opener at Fenway Park. It’s almost impossible to grasp that concept. Josh Beckett stood upon the same mound as Smokey Joe Wood and Babe Ruth. Jacoby Ellsbury protected the Green Monster just as Theodore Samuel Williams used to.

And there was Derek Jeter leading his Yankees into the hostile Fenway mayhem, just as Joltin’ Joe and The Mick once did.

That’s baseball. And that’s what led me through another Opening Night tradition: retrieving the signed baseball from the 1982 Braves Old Timer’s game for a stroll down baseball’s Memory Lane.

Brooks Robinson’s name caught my eye first. Mr. Oriole. Number 5. Hall of Famer. 23 seasons, all with Baltimore. The best fielding third baseman of all time. Those who saw it will never forget how he single-handedly diffused the Big Red Machine in the 1970 World Series.

“I just happened to be in the right spot in that Series,” Robinson wrote at “I tell people that I played 23 seasons, and I never did have five games in a row like I did in that World Series. As an infielder, you can go a week or two and never get a chance to do something spectacular. In that Series, every game I had a chance to do something outstanding defensively. And I was hitting well, too. It was a once in a lifetime five-game series for me, and it just happened to be in a World Series.”

Beyond that, the Orioles were my granddad’s favorite team, and Brooks was his favorite player. Those generational threads are also what baseball is all about.

But who was Brooks’ favorite player? “My all-time favorite certainly was Stan Musial, who I grew up idolizing,” Robinson wrote.

“I grew up in Little Rock, and the Cardinals played an exhibition game there every year. Cardinal games were the only ones we got on the radio. Stan Musial was my all-time favorite, and getting to play against him in spring training and the All-Star Game made that just even better.”

Stan the Man also signed my baseball. Mr. Cardinal, number 6, another Hall of Famer, one of the greatest hitters who ever swung a bat. 22 seasons, all with the Cards.

I thought I knew Musial was a great hitter, but I didn’t know that he led the league in doubles 8 times in his first 12 seasons. He also led the league in both runs scored and runs batted in, once doing so in the same season.

And that great nickname, bestowed upon Musial by a boisterous Brooklyn fan after he had spent a doubleheader destroying Dodger pitching, was the ultimate compliment. As Musial strolled to the plate for his final at bat that day in Ebbets Field, the fan yelled, “Here comes dat man again!”
So perfect that it stuck forever.

Musial got to play at Fenway during the 1946 World Series, won by teammate Enos Slaughter, another Hall of Famer who also signed the ball.
The culmination of that Series was forever etched into Red Sox lore just as the Baseball Encyclopedia described it: “Pesky hesitated throwing the ball in after Walker’s double in the eighth, and Slaughter raced home from first with the deciding run.”

And where did Yankee catcher Jorge Posada deposit the first home run of the new season Sunday night? Right into the screen of the Pesky Pole, named in honor of the very same second baseman and long time Sox coach, Johnny Pesky.

Stan the Man and Country Slaughter both played against another Hall of Famer who signed the ball, Ralph Kiner. When he joined them in 1946, the Pirates were every bit as woeful as they are today.

They finished as high as fourth in the eight team league only once during Kiner’s first seven seasons, and finished last three times. Yet Kiner led the league in home runs all seven seasons.

As the Pirates only attraction, Kiner felt he was due a raise after the ‘52 season. His general manager, Branch Rickey, thought otherwise, uttering the famous line, “We could’ve finished last without you.”

Back problems forced an early end to Kiner’s playing career, but he became well-known to a later generation of fans as the long-time voice of the New York Mets. Those Mets often finished last without him, but his mike-side gaffes often made those putrid Mets bearable. Among his best efforts, all well-documented, are these:

“Sunday is Mother’s Day at Big Shea, so to all you Moms out there, happy birthday!”

“The Mets have gotten their leadoff batter on only once this inning.”

“There’s a lot of heredity in that family.”

“Solo homers usually come with no one on base.”

“All of his saves have come in relief appearances.”

Just a baseball. Just a game. Just a lifetime of memories.