The Atlanta Braves and My Love of Baseball

NC Nighthawk@NC Nighthawk (my Xbox gamertag)Analyst IFebruary 7, 2009


I’ve been an Atlanta Braves fan for too long: for 33 years. I’ve been through the Hammerin’ Hank seasons and decades of futility through the glory days of 1990s and early 2000s, to the recent seasons and now, the 2009 edition.

For the love of the game of baseball.

I worked for the Atlanta Braves at the then Atlanta Stadium during the summer of 1969, selling cokes, popcorn, ice cream, etc., at the age of 14. The Braves won their division that year but were swept by the Amazin’ Mets.

I’ve attended dozens, if not over a hundred, Braves games over the decades, including about ten at Turner Field.

In the late 1970s and in the 1980s at the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, a fan could buy the cheap general admission seats, then choose a lower level seat (but not behind the plate usually), carry in their own beer in milk jugs, and food in their pockets too.  A fan had all the stretching room in the world and didn’t have to wait for the 7th inning stretch.

The Braves won a division title in 1982, but fell short in post season again—to the Cardinals.

The agony of defeat and the thrill of victory.

Milo Hamilton, Ernie Johnson, Pete Van Wieren, Skip Carey, Chip Carey, and our other beloved announcers and commentators.  Even Larry Munson announced Braves’ games for a season or two.

I know that winning the 1995 World Series was the greatest moment of Atlanta sports history in addition to the Atlanta Braves’ history.

However, my personal favorite win, best memory, and greatest moment, came in 1992 in the NLCS.  You know it by heart.

Remember when Sid Bream was tackled by teammates after scoring the winning run in the 1992 NLCS?  That was fantastic, but the play and action leading up is my favorite moment in team history.

The legendary Skip Caray had the play-by-play:

"Plenty of room in right center. If he hits it there we can dance in the streets. Swung! Line drive left field! One run is in! Here comes Bream! Here's the throw to the plate! He! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win!"

Francisco Cabrera has the winning hit but Sid Bream’s run and barely safe slide was almost a miracle with his badly sore knees.

Six surgeries in one knee and one for the other. His bad knees led to his retirement just two seasons later in 1994.

Remember, it was the then skinny Barry Bonds who made the errant throw and couldn’t throw the slow running Bream out. We know what happened next.

The play traumatized Bonds to the point they he decided he needed to get juiced up in order to throw players out and hit home runs.

Just joking. But we never really know the real truth of what changed Bonds. I detoured down a side street and getting off topic.

Back to our beloved Braves.

For the love of the game of baseball.

I have been a fan of Atlanta since their move from Milwaukee in 1966, when I was 11 years old.  Smoltz is one of my all time favorite Braves along with players such as Hank Aaron and Dale Murphy.

Of course, Smoltz, Glavine, and Maddux were the core of the team for a very long time, including the 1995 World Series Champions. It’s been 14 years ago already? It’s amazing how time flied.

The Atlanta Braves of the 1990s (and early 2000s) are our glory days, 14 straight divisional championships.  I know, only one World Series title when they probably should have had three with two more in 1991 and 1996.

John Smoltz was the heart, soul, and by example leader of the three future hall of fame pitchers.  The data proves it.

Smoltz has a career 15-4 (with four saves) record in the playoffs.  The Braves were 37-51 in playoff games in which Smoltzie did not make an appearance.

John Smoltz was the big-time, prime time player and Mr. October for the Atlanta Braves. 

Yes, we have several post season disappointments, but those long, 162-game regular seasons were each special and glorious to recall.

After Ted Turner sold the team, things gradually went downhill. Bobby Cox is still a great regular season manager but the team always seems to lack just enough talent to return to their level of play during the glory days.

Maddux just retired and while it’s nice to see Glavine still around, he’s aged as well.  Glavine probably also needs to retire soon.

Now with Smoltz gone, and even with Glavine and Chipper Jones still around, it’s way past time for me to say goodbye to those Braves and welcome to our newer and younger players.

I own one Braves replica jersey: No. 29. 

The Braves’ not resigning John Smoltz broke my heart.  I’ve been angry at the team for a long while for not signing Smoltz but I am about finally over it and I am ready to move on.

Atlanta did offer him a contract but Boston offered about $3 million better. MLB is a business and stories do not always have a happy ending for us fans. It’s called reality.

I don’t blame Smoltz for signing for millions of more bucks, for signing with a contender for the World Series, and for other reasons such as the glory of pitching at Fenway Park on a regular basis.  Smoltz will experience cooler summers in Boston.

As I remain a Braves fan, I will also be rooting for John Smoltz and his new team, the Boston Red Sox.  I at least want Smoltz to pitch well, fell good, have fun, and win.  Wouldn’t it be a blast to see Smoltz pitch in one more World Series, although in a Red Sox jersey?  We can only dream it would be against the Braves.

However, Atlanta had a productive off season and signed some significant talent. Braves fans should be optimistic about the 2009 season.  I am.

For the love of the game of baseball.

Atlanta general manager Frank Wren went out and reloaded his starting rotation without giving up any of his best young arms, especially Tommy Hanson, who is regarded as one of the three best prospects in all of baseball. 

First, he traded for Javier Vazquez.  Then, he signed Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami.  Add those three to Jair Jurrjens, Jorge Campillo and Hanson and the Braves now have reason to believe each of their starting pitchers will be healthy enough to take his assigned turn, which is a significant  contrast to last season.

The new ace of the staff is Derek Lowe.  He was widely regarded as the second-best free agent pitcher on the market, right behind Sabathia.  He has averaged 33 starts, 208 innings, a 3.79 ERA, 15 wins, and 129 strikeouts over the last seven seasons.  He’s coming off of a 34 start, 14 win and 201 innings season for the Dodgers.

Javier Vazquez has averaged 32 starts, 206 innings, a 4.32 ERA,  11 to 12 wins, and 183 strikeouts over his eleven seasons.  He is durable and good for seven innings.

Jair Jurrjens seemed to get tired  down the stretch last year and could suffer a sophomore slump after throwing 45 more innings in 2008 than he did in 2007.  He is coming off of a 31 start, 188 innings, 3.68 ERA,  13 win season in 2008.

The Braves’ projected top three starters won’t dominate but they are solid MLB starters. Atlanta’s retooled rotation should provide a lot of innings in 2009, which will rest and keep the bullpen fresh.

While these are still not the glory days again yet, for the love of the game of baseball, for the love of the Braves (even when they anger and frustrate me), I appreciate and enjoy the excitement and hopes of spring training as well as the marathon of the regular season.

For the love of the game of baseball.

If Atlanta is blessed to make the playoffs, then it is icing on the cake.  If the Braves win in the playoffs and make a run to the World Series, then it’s back to glory days!

If my teams tries their best, which often includes errors, mistakes, missteps, and leaving runners on base, I am pleased. 

I like and respect the way Bobby Cox treats and handles his players.  I may not always agree with his decisions or the timing of selecting a relief pitcher, but I know that Cox has the team’s best interests in mind. 

Bobby Cox is a hall of fame manager.

Yes, MLB and the Atlanta Braves have a few issues and things which dishearten me at times, but in the end it’s for the love of the game and fun.  National League baseball is more of a chess match with double switches than American League baseball with the designated hitter.

MLB umpires make their share of miscalls and mistakes, but in all professional sports, in comparison to the officials of the NFL and NBA especially (I don’t watch that much NHL), they are the best and most competent at what they do.

In baseball, at least in the National League, a player must do three things well: catch a baseball, throw a baseball, and hit a baseball.  It helps to run well too. In other sports, a player is so very specialized to perform basically one skill.

Because of its action, drama, predictability, and unpredictability, American football is my favorite sport.

However, as the seasons change, so do the sports seasons.  I am enjoying college hoops; I’m not into the NBA that much.  MLB spring training is around the corner, in a couple of weeks.

For the love of the game of baseball.

I love baseball because of its simplicity, its tradition, and its nuances such as giving signs, giving decoy signs, and stealing signs.

I laughed at the NFL and New England Patriots’ “cheatcam” scam a couple of seasons ago because they were accused of stealing signs or signals from the New York Jets.

I remember thinking that stealing signs happens naturally and continuously in baseball, trying to gain an edge. No whiners and no snitches.

MLB’s 162 game season may be too long and it’s a marathon, but it’s also poetical and artistic.

What an endurance run! Even fantasy baseball wears me out mentally. LOL :-)

MLB is the only sport that does its all-star game correctly: it’s played at mid-season, they do not water down the rules, and the winner helps it’s league’s World Series rep get home field advantage. 

The grand slam, the triple, and the triple play (especially unassisted) are three of the most exciting and dramatic plays in all sports.

I recall one time, in person at a game,  seeing Deion Sanders as a Brave hit a triple.  From the time he rounded first and landed at third (I think it was a stand up triple), he was a blur.

While the home run trot is classic, for me, it depends on the circumstances and drama regarding how exciting it is.

In recent seasons, with more emphasis on power and home runs, the beauty and art of speed has been missing.  We no longer have 100 bases stolen by a player.

I prefer a balance of speed and power in the game of baseball. I appreciate managers who help the team manufacture runs as well as allowing talent produce runs.

Diving catches and spectacular catches at the wall or fence robbing a hitter of a home run always make ESPN Sports Center.

A long, accurate throw from an outfielder towards the plate where the sliding runner is either barely safe or barely out is also terrific to witness, especially with home plate collisions. Outfielder assists is another great baseball stat.

Baseball is a game of precision and passion. It is a game of both strength and grace.

Records, statistics, the arc of a swing, and the contour of a pitch are so unique to baseball on a daily basis.

For all of its problems and issues, baseball remains an entertaining show because it breaks down into so many amazing, easily understood confrontations.

We have match-up city: pitcher vs. batter, fielder vs. ball, slugger vs. slump, teams vs. expectations or even curses. Every game is an interesting narrative and usually with intriguing drams.  The playoffs always magnify these match-ups.

Two of my favorite words of the English language are “Play ball!.”

For the love of the game of baseball.





Quote of the Day:
A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
--Samuel Goldwyn

Proverbs 21:21 “He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.”

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