04 October 2010

Why I love baseball, and the Braves

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.

~A. Bartlett Giamatti, The Green Fields of the Mind

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Turner Field, Atlanta. Photo taken April 2009 while on vacation with my wife.

One of my favorite things to do is to sit down and watch a baseball game. I don't have any preference as to who is playing, just as long as the game is on and I have nothing to distract me from the perfect afternoon of enjoying the action on the diamond.

I love the strategy involved in a baseball game. I love the one-on-one matchup between pitcher and batter, the excitement of a triple or a stolen base, the sight of a good defensive play, or a nasty slider to freeze a hitter in the batter's box. I love the fact that baseball isn't timed, that it can go on for hours and no one seems to notice or care. I love the emphasis on statistics in baseball. I may not understand all of them, but I love that you can use a set of numbers to compare as many players as you want, and you can determine that player A is better than player B at any facet of the game with a mathematical formula.

I love baseball because my dad loves baseball, and because his dad loves baseball. My dad introduced me to baseball when I was a kid, just like everyone's dad did when they were children. Some of my fondest memories from my childhood revolve around watching the Atlanta Braves with my brother and my dad, and watching those games allowed me to forge a special bond with the Braves and with the game of baseball as a whole.

In 1992, when I was 12 years old, the Atlanta Braves advanced to the World Series after an amazing play at the plate when Sid Bream slid just beneath the catcher's mitt to score the winning run against the Pirates in the NLCS. The Braves lost the World Series to the Blue Jays, but I was hooked on the game, and hooked on the Braves.

I've had two sports heroes in my life*, and both of them played for the Atlanta Braves (David Justice and John Smoltz). I was also a huge fan of Andruw Jones, but by the time he came to Atlanta I was too old to consider him my "hero", but he was my favorite player until the Braves let him go after the 2007 season.

* - Originally, I had three heroes, the third being Roger Clemens. After the whole scandal involving his steroid use -- and his vehement denial of said use even when everyone knew he was guilty -- I formally "misremembered" him, bringing my total back to two. And another interesting side note: if any of you have ever wondered why my screen name is bwsmith25, allow me to explain. The bwsmith part is based on my name, and the number 25 is because of Andruw Jones, who wore #25 for the Braves. So now you know.

When I was a kid playing little league baseball, I wanted to be David Justice. I wore #23, I played outfield, and I pretended I was him in my backyard. The same could be said for John Smoltz. When I played the classic game of "throw the ball up in the air and hit it", I was John Smoltz when I threw it up in the air, and David Justice when I swung the bat, and I would play this game for hours with no interruptions and without a care in the world. It made me feel like I was part of the game, like I had a connection with the players themselves, and it fueled my childhood dreams of making the major leagues when I grew up.*

* - Unfortunately, in real life I suck at baseball. So, I had to let go of the dream and find a day job so I could actually earn a living.

Of course, like every other baseball fan, I have a least favorite team as well. And, I've made it no secret that I absolutely despise the New York Yankees. But, I don't think I've ever discussed why I hate them so much. Well, I have several reasons.

  1. They think they're entitled to everything because they're the Yankees.
  2. They buy their championships with their ridiculously high payroll.
  3. They beat the Braves in the 1996 World Series, when the Braves should have won.*

* - I've hated them ever since.

A lot of you are probably wondering why I'm talking about the Braves so much when I've said before that I like the Red Sox, so allow me to explain that one as well. I do like the Red Sox, but deep down in my soul, I'm a Braves fan. Being a Braves fan is something that goes back generations in my family, and it's something that I grew up with during my childhood. So while I do like the current Red Sox, I've loved the Braves since I was 11 years old, and it's not something that I can just throw away.

And to be honest, when it comes down to the real capital-T Truth of the matter, the sole reason I like the Red Sox is simply because they are the most hated rival of the Yankees, and I absolutely abhor the Yankees. I have several friends who are Red Sox fans, so it makes sense to like them since I share a common hatred of the Yankees with those friends.

To be completely honest,I jumped on the Red Sox bandwagon in 2004 when they were playing the Yankees in the ALCS, and ever since I've kept them as my 2nd favorite (or favorite AL) team and do cheer for them when they play anyone other than Atlanta.*

* - I believe it's perfectly fine to have a favorite NL team and a favorite AL team. I know a lot of people don't like to have more than one team they cheer for in any sport, but I'm not one of those people. In any case I will always cheer for the Braves over the Red Sox, but if the Red Sox are in the playoffs and the Braves aren't, I will cheer for Boston to win just as hard as I would cheer for Atlanta.

So I'm a Braves fan, and I also like the Red Sox. And I don't see anything wrong with that.

But, if you're a Braves fan, then why do you never talk about them?

(I know you're asking yourself that very question, so I might as well answer it for you.)

Primarily because I know that most people don't care about the Braves, and most people don't really know enough about them for me to take the time to discuss them on any of my blogs. I do talk about them with people I interact with in my day-to-day life (mostly my dad, though), but because the Red Sox are a hotter topic of discussion for most people, I chose to discuss them more often than I did the Braves. It might sound weird, but that's my honest reason.

And you know, I've been thinking about this a lot lately, especially since I know that no one who reads my blog really cares about the Panthers, yet I talk about them anyway on my Panthers blog. And, if I can talk about the Panthers even though no one else cares beyond what I say about them, then why can't I do the same thing with the Braves?* So no one else who reads my blog likes them -- so what? I'm going to start talking about them because I like them, and hopefully you will at least appreciate the fact that I'm talking about something that's important to me, and maybe you will even gain some appreciation for the Braves, and adopt them as your playoff team (if your team didn't make the playoffs).

* - No, I'm not starting a Braves blog, though I might do that closer to the start of next season. But, for the time being I'm not going to start another blog, so don't worry.

All I know is this: I love the game of baseball, and there's nothing that Bud Selig can do to take that love away from me. He can try with his ridiculous World Baseball Classic, his "this one counts" crap that has ruined the All-Star Game, and his fake investigation of steroid use, but it doesn't matter. I love the game of baseball. It's deep within my blood, and I can't turn back now even if I wanted to.

The playoffs start this week, and if your favorite team isn't one of the 8 who were fortunate enough to play for a shot at the World Series, I invite you to join the Braves bandwagon, because they're gonna need all the help they can get. And, it's Bobby Cox's last season, so if for nothing else, hop on the bandwagon for his sake.


  1. Well, I for one would say write about whatever you want! I won't, however, be jumping on that Braves bandwagon since my beloved Redlegs are finally in the playoffs...even if it is against the so-called Philly juggernaut.

  2. FWIW, I'm pulling for the Reds to take down the Phillies, and if the Braves would have been eliminated from the WC spot, the Reds would have been my playoff bandwagon team.

  3. BDub - you gotta write what the muse says to write.

    As an aside, On the spot where the Braves used to play in Boston, sits Boston University. I drive by there not infrequently.

  4. Mo -- I'm starting to realize that it's a lot easier to do it that way.

    As for your aside -- that's really cool.