Most of the time people expect to see my brother with a grungy baseball hat on since he plays.
But this time was different.
Sweat stained and dingy, my grandfather’s Atlanta Braves cap sat on my brother’s knee as we made the quick, five-minute drive to Berry Funeral Home in south Knoxville, Tenn. earlier this summer.
People who knew Bob Greene, or in my vernacular, “Granddaddy,” knew he all but breathed baseball. He played, but he enjoyed coaching even more. And he had the results to show for it.
Nearly 150 kids earned collegiate scholarships after playing for him and 16 went to the big leagues. I’ve been told he stole all the good players in Knoxville, but I prefer to think it was his baseball smarts and charm that won kids over to play for Coach Greene.
That charm carried over to the announcer’s booth, where he was revered as “the voice of South Young.” He was inducted into the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame and was awarded an honorary position in the TSSAA Hall of Fame.
As granddaddy’s only son, my father also caught the baseball bug. He was a catcher for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He spotted for granddaddy’s football broadcasts and even called some baseball games of his own at Tennessee Wesleyan College.
Now, my brother Nathan is slated to be a catcher for the Milligan Buffaloes at Milligan College in East Tennessee, marking the third generation of Greenes to continue a baseball career.
While I never played baseball beyond the front yard, you can see that it’s probably Granddaddy’s fault that I’m involved in sports journalism.
So as fate would have it, my last memory of my grandfather is of him talking about … you guessed it: baseball.
The conversation took many paths, from how Nathan was going to love life at Milligan and how hard he had worked to get there to how miraculous it was that the Braves were first in their division, yet couldn’t play small ball to save their lives. And from how we really liked this Evan Gattis kid – he was a utility man who could hit – to how the Upton brothers were a waste of money and Uggla wasn’t far behind. Bluntly put, we loved the Braves, but they’d be perfect if we were coaching them.
These past few years, it pained Granddaddy that he couldn’t make many of Nate’s games, but he always eagerly awaited a phone call with all the stats and explicit descriptions of Nate’s defensive and offensive situations.
This summer, Nate helped ensure that Granddaddy would have the best seat in the house at all of his games, home or away, by taking my grandfather’s Braves cap to the funeral home to be laid in his casket.
It was almost too perfect of a story line.
I discovered that afternoon that that dingy hat was more than just a finishing touch on a uniform. It symbolized a culmination of stories of men and women whose lives were made better by knowing Granddaddy. His coaching created an air of discipline and maturity beyond the diamond.
Perhaps, what that hat symbolized most was the unification of a family and community, where we were all MVP’s in the life of our favorite skipper, Bob Greene.
Vision Sports Editor Katie Greene is a senior mass communication major.