As a die-hard Alabama football fan living in Alabama, I have had little time to follow the offseason activities of the Atlanta Braves. I try to check on them a couple of times per week, hoping against hope that I get the dream headline "Braves Deal Franceour to Pittsburgh for Player To Be Named Later." No such luck. Anyway, I did find some troubling news the other day. Let me tell you why I am troubled.
I am 29 years old. My earliest memories of the Braves are the Rick Mahler/Andres Thomas/Glenn Hubbard/Claudell Washington days. Dale Murphy was a hero. Bob Horner was, well, Bob Horner. The teams those days were tough to watch, but I did not care, I loved them.
Back then, the "Superstation" TBS aired every game in Birmingham. I learned the game of baseball watching the Braves go 70-92 every year. To this day, the Braves are the only professional team in any sport that I really care about.
John Smoltz was one of a small number of guys who changed the face of the franchise. He was everything you could ask for, at least from a number three guy in the rotation for many years. He threw hard. He struck guys out. He got fired up.
As he got older and the core of the team that started winning division titles began to slowly drift away, Smoltzy was the constant. His slider and split-finger became devastating additions to his potent fastball. He became a strong number two, and then he became an ace. Eventually, he became a shut-down closer.
All the while, the guy was as good off of the field. He was incredibly intelligent, could give a great interview, and did endless charity work both in Atlanta and back in his home state of Michigan.
In a lot of ways, Smoltz was to Atlanta fans what Brett Favre was to the Green Bay faithful. Thinking of him wearing someone else's jersey simply did not compute. In my mind, he would throw his last pitch at Turner Field. I feared that had happened already. In fact, when he went down again last year, I just figured that it was time.
He had put together a wonderful career, a Hall of Fame career, according to most. If he retired now, not many would blame him. He most certainly has a career in some broadcast booth in the years to come. I even imagined him as the color guy along with Chip Carey during Braves games for years to come.
I was not surprised when I read that the Braves were trying to find a way out of paying him the 12-plus million he would be guaranteed to pitch this year. His recent arm troubles have put his status in jeopardy. There is no denying that.
Smoltz, as he has every right to do, is listening to other offers. As many as seven teams have shown interest. This was painful information to digest. But that wasn't the worst of it.
Two of the teams showing interest are Boston and the New York Mets. This makes sense. These are two of the wealthier franchises in baseball, much more equipped to take a high-priced risk than Atlanta. But, come on, the Mets?
Braves people despise the Mets. This has become a bigger problem in recent years as New York has passed Atlanta in the division. Braves fans watch as New York shells out giant contracts to the biggest-named free agents. I can not imagine John Smoltz in a Mets uniform. It was bad enough with Glavine.
And Boston? What I've come to realize is that outside of their own mammoth legion of fans, everybody hates the Red Sox. They, like the Yankees, have priced the majority of that league into submission. They are part of the reason that small market teams have little to no chance anymore.
Personally, I do not hold any ill will toward them, as they play in the American League, but I don't want those people cheering for Smoltz. Something just seems wrong about it. Nauseating.
Why does it seem less painful to me to see him in Detroit? L.A.? Cleveland? Anywhere else? I have come to grips with supporting a losing team again. I am dealing with that. And I am not making a plea for the Braves to sign Smoltz again. I am simply venting my depression of seeing a childhood hero in the uniform of a rival, or the uniform of the baseball equivalent of Wal-Mart.
I did not understand the big deal in Green Bay when the Favre saga unfolded. I understand it now. I would love to see Smoltzy retire as a Brave. If that can't happen I wish him the best of luck. I will just choose not to watch.
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