I’m not a sportswriter. I’ve already read a few articles about the Braves win last night that are way better than this one is going to be. Real sports fans that know baseball in all its glory. Writers that have touched the infield grass with their bare hands. Some of them played the game at the Major League level. They’ve rubbed shoulders with guys like Hank Aaron and Yogi Berra. I’m not sure I have anything to say that will match that.
But here’s the thing. Baseball doesn’t belong to just those who play the game. It belongs to all of us. We are the shareholders in the greatest game on the planet. This is a game that has an affect on the common man. Men who otherwise spend their days down at the factory. Women who hustle bank accounts for major corporations. Kids who have spent more hours in hospital beds than on the playground. We turn to baseball for the pure joy of it.
Sure, a professional sport like baseball is a money-making machine. The top guys who play the game make more in one night that most of us make in one year. Some of them are spoiled brats. Privileged. We get put out with the greed and the behavior and the glut of money that goes into a game that many of us played as kids.
But we don’t care. We swear off baseball sometimes. We get mad at the whole cotton-picking lot of them. But when your team is winning, when the season turns into unimaginable possibilities, when it looks like your team is going to the show, we dig in and shout at the TV like crazy people.
Braves fans are not unique in the baseball world, but they are special. Like Neil Green of Chatsworth, Georgia. Neil is 70 years old and an absolute nut about the Atlanta Braves. Before the ’95 World Series he mounted a massive tomahawk to the roof of his 1994 truck camper. He rode that truck in the big parade back then, and he’s been riding that truck all over the place ever since.
Through his white Santa-looking beard Neil says, “We traded the All-Star game for the World Series. (raucous laughter) I’ll take that every time.”
Then there’s Miss Bonnie. I was attending an evening event in LaGrange when the Braves were playing the Brewers. This was an outdoor lecture of interest to about 80 folks sitting in folding chairs out on the patio under the nighttime sky. It was a wine glass and sport jacket crowd. I was on the back row in my jeans. This petit and finely dressed little old lady with stark white hair took a seat two chairs down.
She leaned over to my business partner. “I can’t believe they’d have this on a night the Braves are playing.” Diehard baseball fans are insufferable of anything that conflicts with the game.
She pulled out her phone. “I’ve got to keep up with what’s going on. I’ll mute it so it won’t bother you if you don’t mind.”
Mind? Heck no. Just give me updates.
She was carrying a clear plastic purse, like the ones fans are allowed to bring into the ballpark. I imagine that she and that purse have seen a game or two up close and personal. She slipped the phone into the side pouch with the phone facing out, folded it neatly on her lap and pretended to listen to the fella up front.
About halfway through the lecture she did a concealed fist punch. She leaned over. “Braves up three to nothing in the fifth.”
Miss Bonnie made my day.
My buddy Pete called. We played for the Hampton Hawks back in the day. I’m sure you’ve heard of us. We were on the 1969 Hampton All-Star team. Him scooping up throws at first base. Me swiping up grounders at shortstop. We were the Freddie and Dansby of our day.
Pete is a Braves fan. He’s out in Texas for a funeral, but that hasn’t derailed his priorities. I don’t mean any disrespect, but it is the World Series. Most everyone was just sitting around the house visiting. The mood was hushed. Lots of unfamiliar faces. He knew he had to make a move.
“Can we turn on the TV?” His palms were sweating. His heart rate was up.
The response was a room full of blank faces. “Why?”
He just stared them down. “The World Series is on.”
More blank faces. “Oh yeah, the World Series. Who’s playing?”
It’s hard for a true fan to live among the lost and forsaken. Those who don’t get it will never understand those of us who walk around the house in our drawers humming the Chop Chant. When your team is in the thick of October baseball, the normal routine of life just seems to get in the way of baseball.
Sleep-deprived fans make their way through the playoffs like the walking dead. The west coast games are killers. We nod off at work. Our eyes are bloodshot.
The lesser humans express their concern. “Man, you look rough. Your eyes are all glazed over.”
“I was up ‘til after midnight watching the Braves lose game 2.”
But we truck on.
I hate that we didn’t wrap up this title in Atlanta. It would have been sweet for a lot of reasons. But the look on the faces of the Astros fans was priceless. I’ve been there. All Braves fans have been there too many times. The orange towels became crying towels while the Braves dog-piled on the infield like kids in grown men’s skin.
Brian Snitker finally got his ring after 45 years of hard knocks. I was wondering if he’d ever smile. He looked at his wife from up on the platform. “Honey. Honey. We did it.” You bet we did. And I say “we” because we were a part of it.
I love the fact that the game ended with a ground ball to Dansby. He had a couple of crazy errors against him. But in the end he was smooth. He was flawless. Freddie made the scoop and threw his hands in the air about the time I nearly spilled my milk and spat out my oatmeal cream pie. Snacks keep me awake.
Did you see Freeman stuff the ball in his back pocket? That ball is going up on the shelf. A reminder that turnarounds are always possible. A token of the work and effort it takes to win. A lesson in the books of extreme importance. It’s not how you start but how you finish that matters. True in baseball. True in life.
When I laid my head down last night the clock said 12 sharp. I had two thoughts. Beth would have loved this game tonight. She was the kind of fan that would go to a game six months pregnant and have the time of her life.
The second thought. I’m so glad I don’t have to stay up to midnight anymore. This is killing me.