By Mark Nagi

I love baseball.  I love everything about it. I love going to a ballpark, smelling the hot dogs and the beer. I love how the sport is played with breakneck speed at a deliberate pace.

I love the history. I love that Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Mike Trout have all played by basically the same rules. I love the fact that they’ve played the sport for well over a century, yet you can still see something that has never been done.

More than anything… I just love the experience of going to a game. During the pandemic, we all missed out on so many things, including sporting events. So, when the New York Yankees were put on the schedule to play the Atlanta Braves, I knew I had to find a way to make the trip South.

Yes, I am a Yankees fan. Born and bred in upstate New York, I still remember my first game. I went on a bus trip with my Dad when I was eight years old. Mind you this was Ed Koch New York City. My Dad nearly cut off circulation in my wrist holding onto me so tightly to ensure that I wasn’t going to be taken away by any degenerates in the crowd.

Yankee Stadium was a mecca to me. The blue outfield wall. The green grass. The white façade. The Yankees won the game 5-1, with Rudy May credited with the victory. But that result pales in comparison to the memories that were born that afternoon.

In the television show “Friday Night Lights,” running back Tim Riggins would talk about “making memories.” And that’s exactly what baseball has done for me over the past 40 years.  I’ve been to 12 major league parks in my lifetime (the pandemic took away my trip to Pittsburgh for lucky number 13).  I’m hopeful that someday the Major Leagues expand to Nashville, or maybe the Tampa Bay Rays move there, which would allow me easier access to the game. Heck, if the Nashville team was part of the American League’s Eastern Division, I could see my Yankees play 3-4 times a year.

But I digress.

A few years ago, the Braves abandoned Turner Field in downtown Atlanta for the newer, shinier, prettier confines of what is now known as Truist Park. This ballpark was built in the suburbs with hundreds of millions of dollars in public money.

The place is terrific. They’ve built bars, restaurants, and shops around the stadium as well, making a night at the ballpark more than just the game. That said, the taxpayers of Cobb County will be paying this park off for decades.  Studies have shown that cities that pony up the cash for a pro sports team rarely get that return on their investment. All I know is that moving the ballpark North saved me most of the traffic nightmares associated with driving in Atlanta.

So, my girlfriend and I had dinner and drinks outside the ballpark, then planned to walk in a few minutes before the first pitch. The issue? Stubhub was having problems, and the tickets would not load in the app. We eventually got assistance from the ticket office. Still, I miss having an actual ticket to hand to an usher. Times change… and not always for the better.

The game itself was terrific. Home runs. Baserunning blunders. Controversial calls. A raucous crowd with thousands of Yankee fans chants being somewhat drowned out by the booing of Braves fans.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Braves rallied. They loaded the bases with two outs, trailing 5-4. All-Star Freddie Freeman fouled off multiple pitches on a 3-2 count. His fly ball was caught just shy of the warning track, and my Yankees survived. It was their 11th win in a row. This felt like a playoff game, so how about we see these teams meet again in November.

The problem, of course, is now getting home. We had to walk back to the parking garage, maneuvering our way through tens of thousands of fans. Then we had to fight postgame traffic and finally got onto the interstate. Funny how the drive to a game always feels shorter than the drive home.

We got back around 2:45 a.m. I grabbed some sleep, and a few hours later I was on my way to work.

This was the type of trip I’d do as a young man and not think a thing of it. At 48, it’s a little tougher.

But it was all worth it.

Making memories.