I don’t know when I started loving the Braves.
I guess that it began with Eddie Mathews. When we were kids, Mama and Daddy would pile us all in the station wagon a couple of times a year for a trip over to Lenox Square. I don’t really remember why except that I’m sure it had something to do with Mama and Rich’s Department store.
These trips didn’t hold much interest for me except for the Lenox Hobby Shop. This place was a dream shop for a 10-12 year old boy. I rarely had more than a quarter in my pocket, but boy did I love to walk around this store and daydream. Baseball gloves, bicycles, flexy flyers, models, anything sports or collecting wise, (when sports collecting was still for kids), anything that a kid could want.
In June of 1962 I’d just turned eleven and I had birthday folding money in my pocket to show for it. We made one of our trips to Lenox and I found myself in my favorite store in the unusual position of having money to spend.
Should I add to my stamp collection, buy a butterfly yoyo, or maybe baseball cards? I was eyeballing the Topps cards when I spotted something else. There on a shelf high behind the counter were a group of plastic statues of baseball players. I could tell who they were from a distance: Willie Mays, Al Kaline, Don Drysdale, Roberto Clemente, and Eddie Mathews.
I signaled for assistance and asked the counter guy where Mickey Mantle was. They were sold out of Mantle. How about Whitey Ford? No all they had were the ones on the shelf. I looked them over and tried to think this thing through. Mays was always argued against Mantle as to who was the best player in baseball during my lifetime. If I bought a Mays statue it would certainly be a betrayal of my hero Mantle. Kaline was good but I didn’t care anything about the Detroit Tigers. Drysdale? While Koufax was one of my favorites and I might have taken him if he had been available, I really didn’t want a Dodger. The Dodgers were my big brother Johnny’s favorite team and if I brought home a Dodger statue he would probably figure out some way of bilking me out of it. Clemente had led the Pirates over my Yankees in the World Series and here again to get a Clemente statue would be a betrayal of my Yankees. That left Mathews. I knew that Mathews played third for Milwaukee and was good for 25 homers and 90+ RBI’s every year. I knew that he had played for the Atlanta Crackers. I asked the counter guy if I could have a closer look. I held the statue in my hand and studied it as only an eleven year old on the verge of a major purchase can. I liked the jersey with Braves in script above a large tomahawk and his number 41. Something felt right about it. I asked the guy for a box and Eddie went home with me.
Eddie’s been with me ever since. I had him when I went to the first Atlanta Braves game four years later. I’ve had him for all of the Braves seasons since. As the Braves celebrate their 50 years in Atlanta, I can’t help but think that for me it’s been 54. Thanks to Eddie Mathews and the fact that the Lenox Square Hobby Shop was sold out of Yankees.