April 9, 1965 was a very special date: That day the Milwaukee—soon to be Atlanta—Braves played the Detroit Tigers in an exhibition game that was the first event ever staged at Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium. History credits one Chester Rosenberg with having been the first customer to pass through the stadium's turnstiles, but you can bet that Pearl Sandow was close behind.
She was also there a year later on opening night, when 50,671 fans came out to cheer the team which by now had become the new Atlanta Braves, only to see them lose to the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2 in 13 innings.
She was there throughout the pennant-winning season of 1969 and the last-place seasons of 1976-79. She was there for the mediocre performances of '80 and '81 and last year's 89 wins and National League West title. As a matter of fact, she's always there. Sandow, "39 and holding interest," as she puts it, has seen 1,338 consecutive Braves home games.
Sandow's love for baseball dates back to 1934, when she started attending Atlanta Cracker minor league games in old Ponce de Leon Park. In 48 years she has missed only one Atlanta baseball game. That was in 1961, when her mother suffered a stroke. But for that, Sandow by now would easily have broken the fan's equivalent of Lou Gehrig's most notable record; he showed up for 2,130 consecutive games.
"Mother worried about that to her dying day," Sandow says. "I told her, 'Mother, if I hadn't missed that one game I never would have been in The Sporting News.' " (Pearl Sandow's absence was so newsworthy that The Sporting News did indeed note it.)
Aisle 105, row 9, seat 1 is her accustomed spot, behind the Braves' dugout, and she even receives mail there, though the Braves office forwards it to her home. "I get mail from players I knew who passed through Atlanta 30 years ago," she says.
In 1975 the Braves gave Sandow a lifetime pass, but she's uncomfortable accepting "charity," so she promptly purchased a season ticket for the seat next to her. "I bought that seat to keep my purse on," she says. "Besides, I don't want someone there talking all the time. I want to watch the game."
Sandow was a head statistician for the U.S. Housing Assistance Bureau and worked for the government for 33 years, or until she qualified for her pension. Then she quit because "work interfered with baseball."
Her home is a veritable baseball museum, a monument to her love for the game. She has 65 autographed baseballs, more than 1,000 photos, of which 300 are autographed, and ticket stubs from the 19 World Series she has attended. Her most difficult undertaking was getting Bobby Thomson to sign a ticket stub. "I was in the Polo Grounds in 1951 when he hit his famous homer off Ralph Branca," she says. "I carried that stub around with me for four years and finally got him to sign it when the Giants were playing an exhibition here in Ponce de Leon Park."
Sandow is the first fan in the park for practically every Braves game. Her hands are folded politely in her lap, and her white hair—her most distinguishing feature—is piled high atop her head, into what she calls a "snow cone." "I come early to watch batting practice," she says. "To me, it's half the fun. Sometimes it's better than the game."