Madison County Opinion...

AUGUST 14, 2002


Column
By Frank Gillespie
The Madison County Journal
August 14, 2002

Frankly Speaking
Remembering
My Uncle Ben
We all come into this world surrounded by voices. Those voices, whether they are from relatives, teachers, ministers or family friends, play a major role in determining the path our lives will take.
As we travel the path of life, those voices gradually fall silent. We measure our own mortality by the fading of those childhood voices.
Last Monday, another voice that has guided my life fell silent. No longer will the ringing telephone bring the greeting, “How you doin’” in that soft southern drawl. No longer will I have an opportunity to swap jokes, re-live family history or entertain requests to use the search engines in my computer to find a precise quote from the bible.
The Reverend Ben Sorrow, my uncle, finally lost his fight with a severe heart condition and died in his favorite chair at his home in Elberton. He had made it clear recently that he was looking forward to giving up this life and joining his Savior in heaven. His last prayer has been answered.
Many of you knew Uncle Ben. He lived all his life in Northeast Georgia, except for the time he spent in the Army during World War Two. His roots are deep in this area. He is the great-grandson of Richard and Lucy Fortson who rest in the Old Cemetery in Danielsville. His grandparents sleep in Franklin and Banks counties, and his parents are in Jackson.
For many years, he pastored various Methodist churches in the area, ranging from Bowman to Madison County to Statham. He was always more of a minister than a preacher. His greatest influence was in the living room or hospital bedroom where his soft voice never failed to build hope, faith and love in his parishioners.
Uncle Ben loved to talk. He had signed up for a special long distance package so that he could make unlimited calls to his wide list of friends and relatives. Monday morning he called several people telling them that he was feeling better following his most recent visit to the hospital, and that he was going for an afternoon visit to a doctor in Athens. Only a couple of hours later, the call came that he had passed on.
Oh, he is still talking I am sure. He is being greeted by old friends and family who were waiting for him. Heaven has a new sparkle, thanks to his friendly greetings, his jokes and tall tales. And when our turn comes to move on, he will likely be the first to greet us.
Meanwhile, the voices that guide my life on earth have again diminished. But I will hear them all again before too long.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His web page can be accessed at www.mcga.net. His e-mail address is frankg@mcga.net.

Column
By Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
August 14, 2002

From the Editor's Desk
So long to the Braves
No, this is not another rant about a possible strike, though I’m still pretty ticked off thinking about it.
No, this is not some age-of-Aquarius-crystal-ball-alignment-of-the-stars kind of thing about when the Braves’ run of dominance will end.
No, this is not even about Atlanta.
This is about the city I was raised in and their inability to keep a baseball team.
The Class A Macon Braves will be no more after this season. They’re packing up and moving to Rome, Georgia, where voters approved a new stadium to lure the team away from the beautiful, but cobwebbed Luther Williams Field in Macon.
You may simply see the cobwebs if you go there. But I have a warm spot for that park built in 1928.
So do many others in Macon. The stands are close to the field and there’s an intimacy between players and fans that you don’t get at a big-league game. A general admission seat is $6. If you want to splurge, a “box seat” where you’re closer to the action is $7. The park is truly old-school in that it lacks the commercialism of Turner Field and other retro parks that are trying to mimic that old feel. There are the business signs in the outfield, but they have a charm — actually, a humility — which is in stark contrast to the CNN-AOL-Time-Warner (let-us-buy-your-attention-with-a-visual-barrage) appeal.
Simply put, there’s a mystique, a history that can’t be faked. I recall hearing the trains rambling by just past the right field fence. I remember the metal loop placed on top of the left field wall, an incentive not for fans, as I recall, but for underpaid players. If a player smashed a home run through that loop, he got a couple hundred extra in his next paycheck.
I know that Pete Rose ran the basepaths on that field before he ever made it to the majors. So did many others, such as current Braves Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Rafael Furcal and Kevin Millwood. In the early ‘80s I saw Macon Redbird Vince Coleman rip a liner back at a pitcher and break his jaw. That same year Coleman stole over 100 bases.
Then there are the more personal memories. For instance, as a little kid, I remember outrunning some bigger kids with a foul ball and finding my dad, feeling safe at last with my only-ever touch of a professional baseball.
So two Saturdays ago, the Mitcham family paid our respects, so to speak. My mom, dad, sister and I went to one last Macon Braves game. (There may be another minor-league team there in the future, but probably never again a Braves’ farm club, like there’s been for the past 11 years.)
We pulled up to the park and the first thing I noticed is a large grammatical error above the stadium’s main entrance.
“Macon Base Ball Park,” it says.
I pictured the editing mark our proofreader would put on the sign, the small half loop to signify that “base” and “ball” should be joined as “baseball.”
But the error stands uncorrected, just like many other problems with the place — the drainage woes in the field, the horrible bathrooms and concession areas, the dilapidated ticket box where I talked to an elderly employee about the city’s lack of commitment to keeping the team.
“Look at this,” he said, noting the eyesore he stood in.
And he was right. His tight accommodations, with the harsh lighting and rickety feel, made me think of the scene in Cool Hand Luke in which Paul Newman is kept in an outhouse holding pen.
Yes, there’s beauty in the 74-year-old park, all that history and so much intimacy with the action.
But the neglect offers a pungency almost as real as the smell of hot dogs, pretzels and popcorn down the steps behind home plate.
“It’s a shame,” the old man said.
And I nodded yes. Then I walked back up to my seat to catch the last three innings. Finally, my dad and I took one final tour of the stands to check out the different vantage points.
I didn’t feel angry or sad.
I just realized that something I enjoyed had come to a close.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.

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