As men get older, they are afflicted with change. Some become ornery, some insufferable. Others lose the zest for living a full and active life, which is why the model for coping with the inevitable, brought about by the aging process, is the lifestyle of the incomparable Dan Magill.
This past Sunday was an unforgettable day for him. He threw out the first pitch to start a forgettable game between the Braves and the Marlins in searing heat, which makes you appreciate the fact that Magill was excited about being there in the first place.
And he WAS excited. He had been looking forward to this signature moment since he was informed at his 90th birthday party in late January that the Braves had extended an official invitation for him to make the opening toss for a home game.
Over a Miller Lite at the Five and Ten earlier in the summer, he asked. “Who will be my battery mate? Will it be my fellow native Athenian Brian McCann?” He harbored deep affection for that possibility. The week before his big moment, I thought it might be in order to determine the protocol for the first pitch routine. Gus Eurton, the Braves’ Executive Director of Marketing for the Braves, and a Georgia graduate, said that he would note Dan’s request to have McCann catch the ceremonial pitch.
I thought some emotional insurance might be in order and called Brian’s mother, Sherry, long-time nurse at Athens Regional Hospital where both McCann and Magill were born, but at different locations. Sherry said that it would not be likely that McCann, the regular catcher, would be able to catch the ceremonial first pitch. He would be in the bullpen warming up the starting pitcher.
When McCann was injured the weekend prior and was assigned to the Disabled List, it turned out that he was on the premises Sunday in uniform and was available to become Magill’s pre-game battery mate. Magill was overjoyed. Young boy enthusiasm fired the rosy red cheeks of his sanguine complexion.
“Hog diggity dog,” he exclaimed when he heard the news as he was ushered down to the field for his performance. After his ceremonial pitch, Magill walked off the field in conversation with McCann, telling him of his Athens Regional history.
McCann probably has not heard Magill’s delightful commercial which Athens Regional ran during Georgia football games for a couple of seasons. “It’s a fact,” he would say. “I was the first baby born at the Athens Regional Hospital,” and then added to that factoid others about the hospital’s list of achievements and services.
Magill is proud of anybody with any Georgia connection, and he ranks McCann high on his list of heroes. Baseball has always been a favorite game for Magill. He was friends with Ty Cobb, and when Spurgeon Chandler, Bulldog from Carnesville, was the pitching ace of the New York Yankees, Dan took the train to Manhattan to see his friend pitch. “Guess who I sat with?” he would say. “Miss Chesterfield.” Chandler’s wife modeled for Chesterfield cigarettes, and Spurgeon gave Dan a ticket beside his wife for games.
While Magill is not a regular at Turner Field, never does a Braves game take place without his undivided attention. The Braves have many loyal fans, but it is doubtful than any, who has experienced 90 birthdays, are as loyal as Magill.
For those of us who appreciate Magill’s youthful enthusiasm and energy of men twenty years his junior, we glory in his appreciation for life and finding pleasure in a boy’s game. I find it fascinating that a 90 year old man looks on Brian McCann, the Braves 29-year-old catcher as a hero. McCann made Magill’s day, and he will forever be grateful. How nice!
[For 36 years the sideline radio reporter for the Georgia Bulldogs, Loran Smith now covers a bigger sideline of sports personalities and everyday life in his weekly newspaper columns.]