Originally created 04/16/06

Brush with '66 Braves is worth the long wait



Regrets are the natural property of gray hairs.

- Charles Dickens

When birthdays roll around, we are often asked to become reflective and - oddly, I think - to proclaim not our triumphs but our regrets. My standard answer is that I have two.

First, that I did not meet and marry my wife sooner. (This is a regret I suggest all husbands readily announce, not only with confidence, but with enthusiasm.)

The second regret needs a bit more explanation, but here it is.

I have spent the past 40 years wondering what I was thinking the night of April 12, 1966, when I turned down not only a free ticket, but also a free ride to the Braves' first official game in old Atlanta Stadium.

To this day I don't know why.

I loved baseball. I still do. It was, I guess, proof that young men in their middle teens are known for lapses in judgment.

Anyway, last week I tried to make amends.

On Wednesday, the Atlanta Braves celebrated the anniversary of that first night with a luncheon that reunited as many members of the 1966 team as they could find. I took the day off and drove to Atlanta to be there.

It was a delightful trip. The Braves gave us a tour of Turner Field, showing us locker rooms we'll never use and luxury suites we'll never afford.

We got to see the booth where the announcers sit to call the game. We got to sit in their chairs.

We also sat in the dugout, walked around the field and discovered that the Braves clubhouse has an indoor putting green with wallpaper that attempts to make it look like the 16th green at Augusta National Golf Club.

And then we had lunch not only with the 2006 Braves, but with almost two dozen 1966 Braves. They were announced one by one as they entered the room.

Old manager Bobby Bragan, now 88, was there. Hall of Famer Phil Niekro. Rico Carty, Pat Jarvis, Ty Cline, Woody Woodward. In all, about 20 made the lunch.

They are old men now in their 60s and 70s. They grinned at the applauding audience, showing part grateful modesty and part fond memory of a time when applause was an everyday thing.

They sat among the crowd and shared a very nice lunch, and they told us stories of when they were young and we were younger. It was a time when Atlanta was a city of mostly enthusiastic Southerners who knew they were finally big league because they had a Major League Baseball team.

When it was over, any who were asked said they were glad they'd made the trip back.

I was, too.

Better late than never.