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The Last Days of the Diamond and the Plane Ride Home with Dale Murphy

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I attended the last two games of the 'Richmond' Braves at The Diamond last weekend. The Diamond is like a south-central high school stadium with lots of concrete and bleachers with chair backs almost as an afterthought. There is, though, a kind of intimacy to the stadium. Perhaps it's the ridiculously high stands reaching behind you and the clamshell of a roof over your head that makes it seem like you are nestled in a big cozy arm chair... and then the late innings roll around and your rump tells a different story.

The view behind the outfielders is the instantly recognizable double stack of ads so overdone it has become the campy familiarity of all minor league parks. In the moments just before the team takes the field the home team's players pop up from behind the dugout and hurl batting gloves, balls, and fitted hats in the stands (tip: make sure you use two hands to catch any of these items).

The local sausages at the stand under the first base bleachers are the food to be had, though if the line at the funnel cake stand was half its length I would have indulged in one of those. The other food seemed to hold its own in smell and appearance against any major league stadium. I definitely think the team that takes over in Richmond next year will find a supportive and energetic fan base ready and willing to get behind a new baseball club.

The final game was a nice sendoff by the Richmond fans, aided by many former Richmond Braves like Javy Lopez and Dale Murphy. My flight back to Atlanta was the last plane out of Richmond on Monday night, and apparently Lopez and Murph had the same idea.

As I approached the gate of the ASA plane I first noticed Javy, talking to Jorge Julio, who I had recognized earlier at the check in kiosk. I then recognized an older man slumped in his waiting area seat working a crossword puzzle on his computer -- Dale Murphy. I didn't go up to either of them and say hi or anything, I guess it was one of those 'respect personal boundaries' moments.

My friend and I boarded the plane, sitting in seats 15 D and C, and moments later, walking down the aisle with their heads half cocked to avoid dragging on the ceiling were Javy and Murphy; they sat right next to me in 15 A and B. My friend quipped, 'this is like a baseball wet dream for you, isn't it?' Well duh!

Javy moved back a few aisles to sit with Jorge Julio and chat in Spanish the entire flight, and poor Murphy stayed in his coach seat, maxing out every inch of space between seat back and bulkhead which was clearly not designed for his long legs and longer torso.

Murph took a nap for much of the flight. I had a baseball I bought in Richmond and towards the end of the flight I walked back for Javy to sign it -- which he did with a big smile. Murphy eventually woke up and I got him to sign the baseball as well. We struck up a conversation for the last few mintues of the flight, talking about the triple-A team's move to Gwinett, and about Murphy's sons and what they were up to. He seemed especially proud of his son, Shawn, who is a rookie with the Miami Dolphins this year. "He's a linebacker," Murphy said of his son with a proud tone.

I bring up this story about Murph and Javy, in part because, well, I have a blog and I can, but also becuase both of these guys, especially Murphy were such down to Earth fellows. When it came down to it, Murphy was just like any other guy on a plane trying to make it home. And for me, what a ridiculously fitting end to a baseball trip -- flying home with Dale Murphy.