ATLANTA. What do Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon and baseball have in common? Both represent all things American. America’s first moon landing and baseball, in their own unique ways, typically tell a story about national pride and spirit that defines our country. It’s about who we are and what we do best.
Five decades ago, both that first moon landing and baseball converged in Atlanta, Georgia. That’s when a major international event merged with another unknown, unheralded story to reinforce a truly All-American experience.
The Great Space Race
In the late 1950s, the former Soviet Union launched a satellite called Sputnick into space. That moment signaled that a race to the heavens between the United States and the USSR was on. It only intensified over the next decade.
The international space competition grew even stronger when President John F. Kennedy vowed the US would put a man on the moon by the end of fhe 1960s. The gauntlet had been thrown. The gloves were off. This contest became the ultimate quest to see which nation would become the first to set foot on a heavenly body other than our own.
Alan Shepherd became the first American launched into space in sub-orbital flight. John Glenn then became the first American to orbit the earth. Finally, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became not only the first American, but also the first human, to walk on the moon.
Eleven astronauts followed Armstrong to the moon – all of them Americans. No other nation has ever accomplished that feat. Kennedy’s dream and America’s challenge became a reality.
Other than the awareness throughout the United States that, if the plan was successful, sometime during the afternoon of July 20th an American spacecraft would land on the surface of the moon, July 20, 1969 was a day like any other day. It was a Sunday. People went to church. Others played golf. Families gathered for weekly reunions at lunch. And a full schedule of major league baseball games was on tap, all across the country.
An auspicious day to play baseball
In Atlanta, the Braves prepared to battle the San Diego Padres. This was a typical Sunday afternoon for the Braves. The stadium hosted a modest crowd of a little more than 12,000 fans. They came to root for their team. The Braves, after all, remained in the thick of the pennant race on game day.
Atlanta got on the board first. The Braves scored a run in the first inning, which, as it turned out, was all they would need to win the game. Nonetheless, they added three more in the third before building up a 10-0 lead heading into the eighth inning.
This proved the sort of game that only a Braves fan, or a die-hard baseball lover, could enjoy. By the eighth inning, the real drama had long since abated. The only thing in doubt was whether Braves pitcher, Pat Jarvis, would earn a complete game shutout.
The first moon landing and Atlanta Braves baseball achieve harmonic convergence
But after the first hour of the ball game, the scoreboards around Atlanta Stadium became more interesting to watch than the game. Throughout the afternoon, messages kept flashing across the electronic message boards providing regular updates on the progress of Apollo 11, America’s first attempt to land a man on the moon.
“One hour until touchdown,” the boards flashed.
Then, “Thirty minutes before landing.”
Then five. And, finally, at 4:17 in the afternoon Eastern Time, the long-awaited message flashed.
“The Eagle has landed!”
By that time, the game was in the top of the eighth inning. The Padres were at bat and Pat Jarvis remained on the mound. He picked up the rosin bag, stepped to the rubber and began his wind-up as usual. Suddenly 12,000-plus people spontaneously rose to their feet with a cheer that sounded more like the thunder of 100,000 excited fans.
A spontaneous demonstration of national pride
At that point, something truly serendipitous occurred. Something that cannot be scripted or planned. Something that comes from the heart and erupts in your soul. A special, unforgettable something that lives within you forever.
Jarvis had just brought his leg to his waist as he readied his pitch to the San Diego hitter. And then he stopped. He heard the roar, and he knew what had happened. There was no doubt.
Without hesitation, the Braves pitcher ceased his motion, put his leg down and turned toward the American flag in center field. He removed his cap and placed it over his heart. Jarvis’ teammates on the field spontaneously did the same thing, and the Padres came out of their dugout to stand in a moment of national unity.
There was no pre-game notification that this moment would happen. No planning. No bands waiting for a ceremony. This spontaneous outpouring of national pride, solidarity and emotion was completely unrehearsed and natural. And suddenly, at just the right time the team’s organist sat at the console, launching into “God Bless America.” The small but vocal crowd and the players, coaches and staff on the field joined with the organist and sang this hymn to our Republic in unison.
Approximately six hours later, Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon with his now famous quote:
“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
There is nothing American cannot achieve as long as our people remain united
That brief moment of national pride during the course of an ordinary baseball game almost magically became an extraordinary event that remains forever etched in the heart of those who witnessed it on that memorable July day.
Experiencing the moon landing in the midst of a July Major League Baseball game in Atlanta was a story about a country unlike any other. It wasn’t about waving a foam finger in the air. Or boasting your team was number one. This wasn’t jingoistic bluster. It was far, far deeper. This was all about success, triumph over physical and mental adversity. This confluence of events demonstrated once again the meaning of the American spirit. The true meaning of what a country can accomplish when its people wisely use the human and natural resources at hand to achieve the impossible.
That July 20, 1969, in both Atlanta and on the surface of the moon, was about a country that went shooting for the stars – and succeeded. It was about the first man to make a “small” step toward fulfilling that goal.
Fifty years ago today, during that epic first moon landing voyage, Neil Armstrong took a walk in the heavens. And toward destiny.
Updated and reprinted from an earlier story about walking on the moon, published via CDN in July, 2014.
— Headline image: Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Lunar Module pilot of the first lunar landing mission, poses for a photograph
beside the deployed United States flag during an Apollo 11 Extravehicular Activity (EVA) on the lunar surface.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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