Have you ever hit a baseball?
The sound of the stitched sphere colliding with the sweet spot of a round wooden club resonates with the feel in your hands of an fluid, sweeping rhythm. That is, if you CAN hit the thing, if you don't pop it straight up under which shall purch a salavating infielder, waiting as the world slooows to an agonizing crawl. If you don't foul the ball off your foot and hobble around like a one legged chicken making primitive and profane noises while trying to establish a certain flair and composure as you writhe in pain.
If you are lucky, when that special, somewhat addictive moment comes, the ball will take on "eyes" and "see" its way through the diving infield or find the sacred space known as "the gap" in the outfield. If you are real lucky, it does this when there are two-outs and runners in scoring position. You're standing down there at second base with a run or two driven in, smiling, master of the universe.
The game of baseball is like a cockroach. No matter how many times they (the owners, the players, the media) try to kill the thing, it just keeps going on, getting stronger. There's nothing like it in the world. It is more demanding on its fans than any other sport. Your beloved team can lose seven times in one week. Eight if they play a double-header. Where else can THAT happen?
I remember my first game. It was a Sunday in August 1966. The Atlanta Braves played the New York Mets. As I recall, it was a high scoring affair. The Braves lost. I would come to know that losing feeling a lot following my team throughout my youth. From 1975 to 1990, we were the worst team in baseball. Sure, there were afew good years in there. We won the division in 1982 (as well as in 1969). We were contenders in '83 and '84 (and we were competitive for most of the 1966 - 1974 period). But this was just a carrot on the end of a stick. The reality of the situation was that we lost 90 or more ballgames in 1975,'76,'77 (lost 101), '78, '79, '85, '87 (Glavine's first year), '88 (lost 106), '89, and in 1990.
Today, of course, the Braves are a dynasty, of sorts; even if we have but one World Championship to show for it. Ask the Cubs or the Red Sox how'd they like to have one. Hell, ask anybody. They all want to win and when they've won, they want to win again...and again.
So do the fans. So do I. As many games as I've seen the Braves lose in my lifetime, they could go another ten or twelve years winning their division and going to the NLCS before I can possibly consider the score might be even. So, to everyone who thinks the Braves have won enough and now it's time for another team to dominate baseball, forget it!
The final baseball season of the century ended with a massacre in October. The Atlanta Braves, having fought courageously against the loss of numerous key players all season and against a decidedly pesky and ravenous New York Mets team in a memorable NLCS, were literally butchered by the Franchise of the Century in a most forgettable World Series. The Braves were outperformed in every category by a New York team that was better prepared, played smarter, and was at the top of their game.
Years after the Battle of Gettysburg someone asked Confederate General George Pickett, whose division was slaughtered in his now famous charge upon the solid Yankee center line, why he thought the South had lost the great battle. The General pondered for a moment and replied simply that the Yankees “had something to do with it.”
Those Damnyankees! I got the match-up I’d been hoping for since 1996. If the Braves beat the Yankees in the World Series there is no doubt who the “Team of the ‘90’s” would be. Now, we can all still crow about our dominance of the National League for the length of the decade. But total wins is like being fed prime beef every day, sure the food tastes good, but it’s the SAME taste year in and year out. The post-season is where the “flavor” comes from, with the Series being the true “spice of life.”
In that spice the Braves are decidedly deficient. While they are now a paltry 1 – 4 in recent Series competition, the Yanks 3 – 0 record serves to remind us of how tough a game baseball can be, especially for the fan. Though the Braves have bagged a tremendous amount of glory since 1991, more than any team since the Yankees themselves in the 1950’s, it’s all somehow less than savory because the point of it all is to be World Champions, not to be a winner.
The Braves are not champions. Still, I wouldn’t trade a moment of what this organization has accomplished in the last decade with any other team. The 1999 season gave us a team with more heart than any Braves offering in recent years. They managed to win (and I mean MANAGED – Bobby Cox IS The Manager of the Year) 103 ballgames without their top RBI man or closer from 1998, without their best clutch hitter (Javy Lopez) for the last half of the season, without Rudy Seanez the final couple of months, with a John Smoltz forced to change his delivery due to elbow problems, with Maddux throwing with a broken bone in his pitching wrist, with Glavine having a sub-par year, with Brian Jordan's power stolen from him by a broken hand, and without much speed in the line-up.
What we saw in 1999 was the advent of Chipper Jones as THE premier player in the National League. John Rocker emerged as the newest “young gun,” able to competently close out ballgames. Andruw Jones proved himself to be the best defensive centerfielder since Willie Mays (now if he would just learn to hit .300). Mainly, though, we saw Bobby Cox probably managing at his best. Sure, you can second-guess him all you want, (he left Glavine in too long in game three of the World Series, for example) but I say let’s keep giving him the team and he’ll keep getting into the post-season. If you can do that, you've got a chance...and that's a heck of a lot more than most baseball franchises get on a regular basis. One of these days the Braves will be peaking in October again and when that happens Cox will look like a genius.
I can’t wait ‘til next year!
The Official Atlanta Braves Home Page: The real thing ya'll.
Bob Wolfe's Braves Page: This is the site I would have designed if Bob had not already done it for me. Terrific and in-depth!
Mac Thomason's "The Atlanta Braves and lesser teams:" Some really nice essays on the Braves and the way of life known as "baseball" in general.
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