The waiting room had a nice window looking out on the office buildings and strip shopping centers of the Cumberland business district. Peering out with my blurry, dilating eyes, I glimpsed the Braves' SunTrust Park, rising beyond chain stores such as Old Navy and Best Buy. That brought back memories of seeing a Braves game in late September, and how the splendid Ronald Acuna channeled the joy of the young Willie Mays.
Returning to my seat, I mentioned the stadium to another fellow sitting there. That began a conversation about baseball.
While my companion didn't look that old, he recalled his childhood in New York City when the Giants and Dodgers played there as well as the Yankees. With a soft New York accent, he recalled that one of his brothers loved the Yankees and another the New York Giants, while he was a Dodgers fan.
Chuckling at the long passage of time, he remembered changing his allegiance to the Boston Braves when they received Pafko, his favorite player, from the Dodgers in a trade. We both expressed our admiration for the old Milwaukee Braves and their splendid outfield, led by Henry Aaron.
Surprised that I remembered Pafko, he reminisced futher about the great days of New York baseball, when fans debated who was the best catcher, the Giants' Wes Westrum, the Yankees' Yogi Berra or the Dodgers' Roy Campanella. He shook his head when I mentioned that I'd heard of arguments about who was the best center fielder, Duke Snider, Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle. "That would cause fights," he said.
When his name was called, he smiled before departing. "Thanks for bringing back memories," he said.
I hadn't wanted to dredge up old Brooklyn Dodgers anguish by telling him why I remembered Andy Pafko. Pafko was playing left field for the Dodgers when Bobby Thomson hit his "shot heard around the world" to win the 1951 National League pennant for the New York Giants.
A famous photo, a copy of which I used to have, shows Pafko forlornly looking up at the Polo Grounds' left field wall just after Thomson's home run streaked over it.
I first heard of Pafko when I read Don DeLillo's short story "Pafko at the Wall" in Harper's magazine. Later, that was the first chapter of DeLillo's novel "Underground." DeLillo's account of Thomson's home run, focusing on Giants radio announcer Russ Hodges' call and descriptions of the Polo Grounds crowd, including regular fans and celebrities like Frank Sinatra, sets in motion the epic novel's themes of chance and fate, the vagaries of fame, and how history intersects with individual lives.
The Cubs had traded Pafko to the Dodgers, although Pafko was a popular all-star who led the Cubs' 1945 pennant-winning team. Trading Pafko was the true curse of the Cubs, not the silly goat.