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A long-ago trip to Hotlanta with Jim and Howard

Back during the 1997 Rowan County American Legion season, either Jim DeHart, Howard Platt or I suggested that the three of us should go to Atlanta (as soon as the Legion season ended) for a long weekend and see a couple of Braves games.

All three of us gave a rousing “Yeah, that would be fun.” But then nothing happened. Sort of like when Andy and Barney were sitting on the front porch after one of Aunt Bee’s Sunday meals and Andy said they should run down to the drugstore and get some ice cream for later. Barney nodded that was a great idea but neither of them budged from their rockers.

The Mayberry episode never told us if that frozen delicacy was ever obtained, however DeHart, Platt and Cline did make the trip south to the Peach State in early August that summer.

We had reserved three rooms in a modest but nice hotel right off Peachtree Street in the heart of the city. Three guys didn’t need the Ritz-Carlton, so rooms with a/c, a shower and a bed would be enough for us. We could save a little money this way.

One of us really didn’t like to spend a lot of money. His identity will be revealed a bit later.

Jim Leyland’s Marlins were in town from Florida for a weekend series. At the time, I would have preferred to see the Braves pulverize someone else, but we drew the Marlins. As it turned out, Leyland’s team caught fire and ended up winning the World Series that fall, the first wild card team in MLB history to do so.

Our first game was a nighter, so the three of us spent much of the afternoon at the hotel resting up from the trip. Then it was off to the park with the tickets Howard had obtained for us.

Upper, upper, upper deck. Row ZZZZ. At least it seemed. We were as far up as the stadium went and as far down the first baseline as we could sit, without falling off the edge.

Jim and I congratulated Howard on his seat selection. “With my binoculars, I can almost see the players’ numbers,” the coach ribbed.

It was way up. It’s amazing we all didn’t have nose bleeds from the thin atmosphere. And the Braves lost.

Jim kidded Howard all weekend about the seats.

Saturday was better. Bob Rathbun had arranged for us to have seats about 8-10 rows up right behind home plate. Uniform numbers came in loud and clear from this location.

So, with an afternoon to kill, we headed to the CNN Center, a nice mall, to pass some time. Included in the building was a multi-plex theatre. So the three of us relaxed in rocking chair comfort and viewed “Air Force One” with Harrison Ford.

We paid the matinee price, which saved us some more money.

As we walked out of the theater after the picture, the coach said, “Now, that was a good movie.” Howard and I agreed. I chose the wrong way to show my enthusiasm, “Yeah, it was OK.”

“OK?” Jim stopped me. “It was a good movie.”

“Yes, coach, I said it was OK. I meant OK to mean good, not so-so. I liked it. I liked it.”

“I hope so. It was a good movie.” He had to get the last word.

(I should point out that we three returned to Atlanta after the 1999 Rowan Legion season. Our movie that year, and it was my choice, was “The Sixth Sense,” the Bruce Willis supernatural thriller. Remember the kid who said “I see dead people” throughout the picture. Howard and I both liked it. Coach said, “That was one of the worst movies I ever saw.” We tried to get him over to our side, but he wouldn’t budge. “That was one of the worst movies I ever saw.” I wondered if he was getting back at me for my lack of praise for his movie two years earlier.)

So, having polished off “Air Force One,” it was time we headed to Turner Field for the Braves and Marlins.

As we stepped outside, the heat and humidity (couldn’t have been less than 114 degrees) about knocked us over. We asked a local the quickest way to Turner Field. “About 4-5 miles straight up this street.”

Great, sounded easy enough. We’ll get a cab and be there in 30 minutes.

“We don’t need a cab. We can walk it,” Jim declared.

“WALK!” Howard and I both stated. “In this heat?”

“I walk 4-5 miles every day with Sam (Moir) back home.” And he did, too. “I’m not paying for a cab when we can walk.” And off he went.

You should be catching on at this point as to which of us didn’t like to spend money.

So for what seemed like a day and a half, we trudged up those steaming sidewalks towards the ball park. Jim often had to hold up so the two out-of-shape kids, 10-plus years younger than he, could catch up.

Then finally, like an oasis in the Sahara, we crested a ridge, and there was Turner Field.

Once in our designated seats, Howard and I decided it was time to tie on the old feed bag.

“I’m fine,” Jim said. “You two go on.”

“Jim, aren’t you going to eat?”

“I’m fine.” Pointing to some sort of satchel he had been carrying all day, “Betty packed me some peanut butter crackers and water.”

We asked him if that was all he was going to eat.

“I’m fine. I’m not going to pay $15 for a hot dog and a coke. Places like this rip you off. You guys can if you want to, but I’m not.”

Howard and I did spend a fortune for our meal, but that “death march” from CNN to the ballpark had done us in. We didn’t mind paying. I even bought the coach a Coke.

“No thanks, he said. I have water.”

“Take it coach, my treat, it’s free.”

He took it. Hate to see a man wash down peanut butter crackers with warm water.

The Braves were victorious that night. I was disappointed that my favorite MLB player, Greg Maddux, hadn’t pitched either game we had witnessed, but it was all still a wonderful trip.

Jim, Howard and I spent a lot of time together during four American Legion summers. All three of us ribbed and kidded the others, but we all knew it was in fun. That’s the kind of relationship it was.

I wouldn’t trade it for a million dollars.

Mike Cline’s website, “Mike Cline’s Then Playing,” documents all the movies shown in Rowan County theaters from 1920 through 1979.

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