The Brieske family, including brothers John, Jim and Robbie, first moved to Atlanta in 1969 and settled on Harrington Drive where their mother still lives. The brothers, who are now 48, 47 and 46 respectively, took a deep interest in playing baseball during the summer at nearby Medlock Park. Today, that tradition continues with Nathan Brieske, who is eight and plays in the Summer Sandlot Pinto League.
Each of the three brothers has their own memories of their baseball-filled summers growing up, but they all recall feeling a sense of safety and freedom that allowed them to enjoy days at the park.
“We lived about a mile from the ballpark, and that’s just the place you went every weekend. ... All summer long it was between going there, then going swimming or playing ball on the fields as pickup games and then also watching your friends’ older brothers play. Everyone went there, even if they weren’t playing. It was kind of a big deal,” John said.
“That was true of a lot of families back then that you could send your kids off in the morning, and literally we wouldn’t come home until dinner whether we had baseball games or not. … We never checked in at home, our parents knew where we were as long as we were together. We had total freedom down there, spent all our time down there and we felt completely safe,” Robbie said.
Especially on Saturday mornings, the brothers would grab their gear and head to the park around 10am, stay until about 6pm each day, whether to play organized league games, play pickup games, watch games, swim at the pool or just relax.
The brothers followed Peachtree Creek from their neighborhood to the park, which was a convenient way to get there and home for dinner.
All three brothers recall a deal the park had in which kids who retrieved foul balls could take them to the concession stand and redeem them for a free Coke. Robbie said he can still remember the smells of food wafting from the concession stand on those summer days.
“We’d watch each other’s games, we’d go support each other, we’d rag on each other when we weren’t doing well,” he said.
John and Jim usually played on the same team in the same age group, while Robbie usually was an age group below them. In 1976, all three brothers, playing in three different leagues at the time, made the All-Star team, according to John. He remembers one time when he hit a home run while Jim was on base. He also recalls another baseball memory that shows the somewhat nuanced spirit of brotherhood.
“This is kind of horrible, actually. When my brother Rob, the youngest, was a catcher, Jim and I had these little water guns and we squirted him while he was catching through the fence. He wasn’t too happy about that. Of course, he finally told the umpire and he shooed us off,” he said.
“This was a neighborhood that was full of boys, so it was a vibrant park and a lot of things were going on, lot of very involved parents, and I guess we played from about age eight to about age 14. You just sort of wandered from field to field as you grew up. I remember the big thing is, when you were 14 years old, you could finally wear metal spikes, which nobody can wear anymore,” Jim said.
In a neighborhood of boys, it was easy to organize pickup games. Kids nearby would hear a game starting and run over to join the fun. John remembers modifying game rules if there weren’t enough players, though: playing six-on-six instead of nine-on-nine, only using some parts of the field and so on.
“You played tons of ball that way,” John said.
Robbie said that he still stays in touch with some of the people he played with at Medlock. “We’ve all kind of connected on that way and got to know each other’s families through baseball,” he said.
In addition to the organized baseball leagues through Druid Hills Youth Sports, at that time Medlock Park also hosted a football program, the North Decatur Rebels. According to John, this was made possible because the park was laid out differently and one field was long enough that it had enough room to be used for football.
While Medlock Park has changed over the years and expanded their fields, John said that one field in the middle of the park, which is today used for 11- and 12-year-olds and located next to the batting cages, has always been in the same location. He and his brothers spent a lot of time on that field as kids because it was used by two age groups at that time.
Though the Brieske brothers’ Medlock baseball days ended around age 14, all three still have baseball connections today. John coaches his son’s 18-and-over men’s league team as well as playing with Jim on a men’s softball league at . He has also worked with Nathan on his hitting skills.
Robbie’s 10-year-old son played travel ball for a few years, but he found the demanding schedule “just insane,” so he is returning to the local leagues in Snellville.
Jim is an assistant coach on Nathan’s Sandlot team, the Fighting Okras. He often gives the young players homework by telling them to watch three innings of any baseball game, no matter the team, to see how the professionals do it, his wife Cindy said.
Nathan, who attends along with his equally athletic 10-year-old sister Georgia, swims, runs and plays soccer in addition to baseball. Because he enjoys playing so many different sports, and because he is young, Cindy and Jim like the Summer Sandlot setup.
Sandlot games do not have a fixed roster. If kids don’t show up for a game for whatever reason, like if they’re out of town on a vacation, coaches can call up kids on the other Sandlot teams until they have a complete roster for that night. Practices are optional as well.
In a recent game against another Sandlot team, the Popsicles, Nathan played many different positions during the six-inning game: catcher, left field, shortstop and third base. According to Georgia, his favorite position is shortstop. He scored two runs and made a good save while on third. Although the Popsicles triumphed 15-11 in their first win of the season, the Okra played well too.
Cindy and Jim said they both recognized Nathan’s passion for baseball very early in his life.
“Ever since he was a little kid, he’s been fascinated with baseball. When they were in diapers, they were going to Braves games,” Jim said about Nathan and Georgia.
Cindy recalled Nathan coming home from half-day preschool and pre-K days begging her to pitch for him in the backyard. Eventually the family bought a pitching machine to make things easier.
Nathan also took to watching baseball on TV and would try to decipher the baseball scores on the sports pages before he could read, Cindy said.
This summer, Nathan has been doing very well on the Okras, and Jim is happy with his production and his role on the team.
“Nathan’s done well, he’s hit the ball real well, and the best thing, I think, about him is that he’s been a leader for his team and helped guys out on the field. …He’s been a good example for everybody else,” Jim said.
He has hit three home runs so far, including two in one game.
“That was pretty cool. He was on it that day. …The two that he hit that day were bombs. One of the dads, who’s a coach on the other team and whose kid goes to school with Nathan, he’s a big baseball fan and he said ‘I didn’t watch the first one, but I admired the second one.’ It was pretty deep,” Jim said.
Nathan’s uncles are also proud to see him carrying on the Brieske baseball tradition.
“It’s kind of cool to know that he’s down there playing. …We’re real proud of him. I know that he’s really got a love for the game, and that’s sort of blossomed in the last two years or so,” John said.
For the Brieskes, memories of summers spent playing baseball continue to live on.
“When I’m in the neighborhood, if I see my mom or something, oftentimes I’ll just drive by and just go take a look [at the park], just remember, and it’s got a lot of great memories for those of us who played there,” John said.