CHARLOTTE, NC, July 24, 2014 — Forty-five years ago today the first men to walk on the moon landed the Eagle back on Earth.
It was a major technological achievement that every American could be proud of. With all the negativity swirling about the current political environment, it is difficult to recall that pride when Americans were actually proud of our accomplishments.
Neil Armstrong’s story is one that is typically American: a story about national pride spirit that defines our country. It is about who we are and what we do best.
In the late 1950s, the Russians sent a satellite into space called Sputnik. That moment signaled a race to the heavens between the United States and the Soviet Union that would intensify over the next decade.
The international competition grew even stronger when President John F. Kennedy claimed that we would put a man on the moon by the end of 60s. The gauntlet had been thrown. The gloves were off. It was the ultimate quest to see which nation would become the first to step on a heavenly body other than our own.
Alan Shepherd became the first American into space. John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth. Then, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became not only the first American, but also the first person, to walk on the moon.
Eleven astronauts followed. All of them Americans. No other nation has ever accomplished that task. Kennedy’s dream and America’s challenge had become a reality.
Other than the awareness throughout the United States that, if successful, sometime during the afternoon of July 20th an American spacecraft would land on the surface of the moon, it 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 there was a full schedule of major league baseball games all across the country.
In Atlanta, the Braves were playing the San Diego Padres. It was a typical Sunday afternoon for the Braves with a modest crowd of a little more than 12,000 fans rooting for their team that was then in the thick of the pennant race.
Atlanta scored a run in the first inning, which, as it turned out, was all they would need even though they added three more in the third before building up a 10-0 heading into the eighth inning.
It was the sort of game that only a Braves fan, or a die-hard baseball lover, could enjoy. The drama had long since abated and the only thing in doubt was whether Braves pitcher, Pat Jarvis, would get a complete game shutout.
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 about the progress of Apollo 11.
“One hour until touchdown,” they said.
Then, “Thirty minutes before landing.”
Then five and, finally, at 4:17 in the afternoon Eastern Time, the message flashed, “The Eagle has landed!”
The game was in the top of the eighth inning. The Padres were at bat and Pat Jarvis was still on the mound for the Braves. He picked up the resin 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 like 100,000 instead.
Then something serendipitous happened. Something that could not be scripted or planned. Something that arose from the heart and erupted in the soul. Something unforgettable that lives within a person 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. Removing his cap, Jarvis placed it over his heart. His 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. No planning. No bands waiting for a ceremony. It was completely unrehearsed and natural. Suddenly the organist played God Bless America and the small, but vocal, crowd and the players sang in unison.
Approximately six hours later, Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon with “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
But it was that brief moment of pride during the course of an ordinary baseball game that made an extraordinary event that remains forever etched in my heart.
For this was a story about a country unlike any other. This was not about waving a foam finger in the air and boasting of being number one. This was not bluster. This was deeper. It was about success. It was about American spirit and what can be accomplished when we utilize our resources to achieve.
This was about a country that went shooting for the stars and the first men to make a small step toward that goal. An American story at an American game when Neil Armstrong and the United States were the first to walk in the heavens.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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