August 12, 1994 (or A Love/Hate Affair Between The Game and a Kid Raised on Nintendo)

I suppose August 12, 1994 was the culmination, but it wasn’t the inception.  Then, I can only speak for myself.  And while hindsight provides clarity for fuzzy memories, there is no way I was actively cognizant of the impact the day had for me.  Just twelve days before my 12th birthday, I was nearly as many from my admission into the 7th grade - Junior High School seemed a different world, but in Rogersville, Alabama, it was no more than 100 yards from the room in which I learned to read (though I kinda already knew how) and count (though I clearly remember stopping at 300, simply because I was bored).

By 7th Grade, I had mostly given up on playing sports.  I’d pick them up again in high school, when my body had grown less awkward and I figured out that girls liked football.  But in 1994, I had accepted the reality that “Right-Center Field” was not a position and that everyone didn’t bat. Oh, I’d try out for the basketball team every year, but they clearly saw no value in the 0.2 points per game I could potentially add.  But baseball?  I had completely given up on it.  I no longer cared to play - I barely cared to watch.

I was raised on the Braves.  That’s what my maternal grandfather watched.  That’s what my dad watched.  And it brought us together.  I was raised on Bo Jackson and Jose Canseco.  I was raised on endless evenings of RBI Baseball, and my dad swearing today that he was letting me win.  (Whatever, bro.  Just because I enforced a handicap allowing me to play with the American League All-Stars and you, yourself, could not also choose an All-Star team, doesn’t mean you were “letting me win.”)

When Auburn University named Terry Bowden its football coach after the 1992 season - that, I suppose was the inception, one of those small moments that passes unaffecting, but shapes the way things become.  I had become slightly disenchanted by the team I had grown up rooting for (my parents’ alma mater) in the decline of Pat Dye’s career (at one point, roughly at the age of 10, fighting through tears to inform my parents I was going to start rooting for Alabama.  Thank goodness they found a way to talk me out of that mess, right?). Alabama was the reigning national champion, which was tough to deal with in small town Alabama for the other 10% (really, isn’t that percentage generous?). 

Meanwhile, one of my childhood idols, Joe Montana, was being kicked out of the door in San Francisco.  I suppose it makes sense as an adult, but I’ve still never forgiven Steve Young.  And when the Dallas Cowboys defeated the 49ers in the 1993 (1992 season) NFC Championship Game, I vowed to root for this new guy, Troy Aikman, in the Super Bowl.  He didn’t let me down, and his team had forever won a fan.

Of course, Auburn would finish the 1993 season 11-0 and the Cowboys would finish it with their second straight Super Bowl victory.  While I still watched baseball, football had taken over and America’s favorite pastime was on life support.

1994 may have been the most important year in my generation’s lifetime.  The world was growing up, but it was as awkward as my 12-year-old frame.  Bill Clinton held his first state of the union address as president.  Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed by Tonya Harding’s ex-husband (January 6).  Lorena Bobbitt castrated her husband (January 21).  A massive Southern tornado outbreak became its most fatal when 22 people were killed in a Piedmont, Alabama church (March 27).  Michael Jordan was assigned to AA Birmingham (March 31). Kurt Cobain was found dead, a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head (April 8).  Nelson Mandela was inaugurated South Africa’s first black president (May 10).  Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were murdered (June 12).  O.J. Simpson took a ride (June 17).  Colombian soccer player Andres Escobar was murdered (July 2).  Alabamian Heather Whitestone was named Miss America (September 17).  Ronald Reagan came forward with his Alzheimer’s diagnosis (November 5).  George Foreman became the oldest heavyweight champion in boxing history by knocking out Michael Moorer (November 5).  The NFL announced the Jacksonville Jaguars would become their 30th franchise (November 30).  The first version of Netscape Navigator was released (December 15).  Whitewater began (December 19).

And on August 12, Major League Baseball went on strike.  The Montreal Expos had the league’s lowest payroll, but its best record (74-40).  They sat six games ahead of my Atlanta Braves in the division.  An emerging childhood hero, Frank Thomas, would be named the season’s MVP.  But I no longer cared.

I know I don’t speak for my generation, but for those among the group, I’m sure you can understand the sentiment.  Twelve-years-old is impressionable, man.  That summer between 6th and 7th grade is one that shapes you, one where you begin to realize who you are and who you want to be.

On that same day, Woodstock ‘94 began in New York, commemorating the 25th anniversary of its older, but equally stoned sibling.  It’s an event that symbolized what was becoming the new love of my life - the love filling baseball’s void.  Rock and roll.

I had no previous taste.  I had gotten my first Sony Discman just a couple of years prior (which, as I remember, set my folks back $200 or so - it was my end of the school year gift for “getting good grades”). My first two cd’s were Garth Brooks’ Ropin’ the Wind and MC Hammer’s Too Legit to Quit.  I had always just sort of liked what my parents listened to - which was a rough amalgamation of Huey Lewis and the News, Van Halen, The Eagles, Jim Croce, Creedence Clearwater Revival and every country artist that propped the meteoric rise of country radio in the early 90’s (but heavily weighted by George Strait and Garth Brooks).

But something new was going on in 1994.  And while I was again not cognizant of it at the time, it was really pretty special.  Music was getting good.  New wave was long gone, in large part because of the band that would change my life by year’s end (R.E.M.).  Grunge was holding its wake - the last celebration of Kurt Cobain’s life - and it was evolving into something new.  And some of the most memorable albums of my generation - whether its better identified with X or Y, or if it has now become “The Obama Generation” - were being released.  Almost daily.  They were all the albums we still listen to - the albums that have connotation for a generation raised on the internet and steroids.  And below I have compiled a brief (I use that term loosely, because I know how much I cut out, but I’m also aware of the final product’s length) list of the albums released in 1994.  There are some inclusions that appear massively displaced - but they were also massive records.  While we may view them in hindsight as cheese, they were huge when I was 12.  Something, while we were actively unaware, was happening.

Jan. 25 - Alice in Chains - Jar of Flies

Feb. 1 - Green Day - Dookie

Feb. 2 - Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

Feb. 7 - Cake - Motorcade of Generosity

Mar. 1 - Beck - Mellow Gold

Mar. 8 - Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral

Mar. 8 - Soundgarden - Superunknown

Mar. 22 - Our Lady Peace - Naveed

April 8 - The Offspring - Smash

April 12 - Hole - Live Through This

April 26 - Live - Throwing Copper

April 26 - Outkast - Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik

May 10 - Weezer - Weezer (The Blue Album)

June 7 - Stone Temple Pilots - Purple

June 14 - Aaliyah - Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number

July 5 - Hootie & the Blowfish - Cracked Rear View

July 11 - The Rolling Stones - Voodoo Lounge

July 12 - 311 - Grassroots

July 13 - The Lion King - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

July 19 - Marilyn Manson - Portrait of an American Family

July 19 - NOFX - Punk in Drublic

Aug. 16 - Barenaked Ladies - Maybe You Should Drive

Aug. 23 - Jeff Buckley - Grace

Aug. 30 - Oasis - Definately Maybe

Aug. 30 - Usher - Usher

Aug. 30 - Boyz II Men - II

Sept. 13 - Blues Traveler - Four

Sept. 13 - Guttermouth - Friendly People

Sept. 13 - Notorious B.I.G. - Ready to Die

Sept. 27 - Dave Matthews Band - Under the Table and Dreaming

Oct. 3 - Cranberries - No Need to Argue

Oct. 4 - Mighty Mighty Bosstones - Question the Answers

Oct. 4 - Smashing Pumpkins - Pisces Iscariot

Oct. 14 - Page and Plant - No Quarter

Oct. 18 - Bon Jovi - Cross Road

Oct. 25 - Madonna - Bedtime Stories

Nov. 1 - Aerosmith - Big Ones

Nov. 1 - The Black Crowes - Amorica

Nov. 1 - Nirvana - MTV Unplugged in New York

Nov. 1 - Tom Petty - Wildflowers

Nov. 8 - The Eagles - Hell Freezes Over

Nov. 15 - TLC - CrazySexyCool

Nov. 29 - Mary J. Blige - My Life

Dec. 5 - Pearl Jam - Vitalogy

Dec. 13 - Garth Brooks - The Hits

There are surely instances in which a record seems out of place on this list.  I get that.  But they were included because of their enormity at the time (see Hootie & the Blowfish and The Eagles).  And I am aware that Aerosmith’s Big Ones and Garth Brooks’ The Hits are, as implied, hits packages.  But everyone had those records.  And I included the Brooks collection because, for me, it was more than a “hits package.”  It was a wrap on a period of my youth in which I merely listened to what my parents liked.  And it was tied with a bow - in a Greatest Hits package.

I’m also aware that some of these records would take a few years to have an impact on me - most coming from the punk or “skate-punk” genre.  Notably, Guttermouth, NOFX, Mighty Mighty Bosstones and 311 jump to mind.

And I’m even more aware that I have excluded three records which shaped my youth - intentionally.  On February 17, Blink 182 released their first notable record, “Cheshire Cat.”  While it certainly falls in the category of “something I didn’t discover until later,” it was a record that I wore out for the duration of high school.  It was balanced in heavy rotation with a May 23rd release, The Beastie Boys - “Ill Communication.”  Every song.  Every lyric.  Those records were high school - the education I was getting after hours.

And on September 27, 1994, a little band from Athens, Georgia named R.E.M. released “Monster.”  Critics weren’t big fans, but it was my formal introduction to the greatest American rock band to ever record.  I couldn’t get enough.  I bought the cassette.  I bought the CD.  I had the poster on my wall.  Soon enough, I had devoured the entire catalog, which had originally opened the day I was born with the August 24, 1982 release of the “Chronic Town” EP. 

So while Major Leaguers had decided they no longer wanted to work, I was beginning to buy baggier jeans and hide my record collection from my parents.  Sure, I celebrated the 1995 World Series victory for the Braves.  I’m fairly certain we were among the thousands trying to get tickets via phone, and I know the Sports Illustrated cover still hangs on my wall.  But my passion for the game was gone, a passion which left entirely during the steroids era as the nation was captivated by a home run race between two men that will never see the Hall of Fame.  It was football and rock and roll that were vying for my attention, while the NBA trailed - but not by much.

But a funny thing happened.  I’ll guess it was the Spring of 2006.  I was asked to be the baseball public address announcer for what we were then unaware would be Birmingham Southern’s last season at the Division I level.  Coach Brian Shoop (now at UAB) and his ace Brandon Hynick would lead the Panthers to another terrific season as protesters demanded answers for President David Pollick’s decision to drop all athletic programs to the Division III level.  But while that controversy was swirling around me, I remembered something that had lost me for the better part of the decade - I loved this game. 

It wasn’t long before I was contributing the same “talents” to the Chicago White Sox AA affiliate, the Birmingham Barons, and UAB’s baseball program, as well.  I fell in love with the game all over again, as it became a living (and it wasn’t digging ditches).

In 2010, I have seen nearly 100 baseball games at the high school, Division III, Division I, AA and Major League levels. I saw Coach Shoop earn his 800th career victory.  I saw Hynick throw for the Barons.  I saw Birmingham Southern win a conference title for which they weren’t eligible.  I saw my alma mater host an NCAA Regional, and though they didn’t survive, their first appearance in the postseason since 2005 brought new hope.  I saw Steven Strasburg’s fourth career start.  And I watched Auburn graduate Tim Hudson take the kid down.  On October 2, I will join a sure sellout Turner Field crowd to thank Bobby Cox for the memories.

Last April, I had the opportunity to take my grandfather to his first game at the Ted.  He is 83, but for three hours he was a kid again.  In the end, I’m fairly certain its those moments that are most irreplaceable - the moments we will take with us forever.  The generation gap stretched immeasurable miles, but baseball has never changed.

I’ve again reached a point where the game matters to me.  In August.  In September.  Long after the football fan in me once cared. 

I love this game.  Again.