A few days ago, the New York Mets clinched the National League East title, becoming the first team to win a division with the Atlanta Braves in it, other than the Braves, since 1990 (excluding the strike-shortened 1994 season, of course). This marked the end of the longest streak of consecutive division titles in professional sports. Strangely, as a devout Braves, I am somewhat relieved that the streak is over. I was 15 when the Braves won the first of their 14 straight titles, and the streak has lasted half of my lifetime. I have to say, it’s been exhausting. I still have the scar on the top of my head from October 14, 1992, when Francisco Cabrera’s 2 out single scored David Justice and, just beating out a throw by Barry Bonds, Sid Bream, giving Atlanta a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 7 of the NLCS, sending them to the World Series. I was watching from the bottom bunk of the bunk beds my brother and I shared, and forgetting where I was for a moment, I jumped up, hitting my head on one of the top bunk’s beams. I also remember, as though it were yesterday, the wild celebration my college roomate (also a big Braves fan) and I had on October 28, 1995, when David Justice’s solo home run in the sixth inning of Game 6 against the Cleveland Indians gave the Braves their first World Series title since 1957, and their only title during the streak. But mostly, I remember all of the times I had to turn the TV off in October, because I couldn’t bear to witness anymore postseason disappointment. The Braves annual entrance into the postseason, and eventual loss in the playoffs or World Series, turned Braves games in October into a sort of Pavlovian bell that caused my stomach to turn involuntarily at the thought of postseason losses.
It’s probably true that I’m a bit too attached to the Braves. I have favorite teams in other professional sports leagues, but only the Braves excite any real passion in me have good reasons for being overly attached to the Braves, though. I grew up with them. There are a lot of Braves fans in Middle Tennessee, because they are the closest Major League team, but that’s not why I was a Braves fan from early in my childhood. My father is from Macon, Georgia, and his father was a huge Braves fan. There are pictures of me at a very young age, at my grandparents house in Macon, the house where they raised my father, wearing Braves caps. To this day, when I think of the Braves, I think of playing catch in my grandparents yard with my father or grandfather, wearing one of those caps. My grandfather died a couple years ago, in the middle of the baseball season, when it looked like the Braves might not continue their streak. They did, though, so he died without having to see the streak end.
I’ll always remember him sitting in his recliner, watching the Braves religiously. He was larger than life to me, and that made the Braves larger than life. For years, Dale Murphy was my favorite baseball player, even after he retired, simply because my grandfather loved him so much. It took 2 home runs in the first game of the 1996 World Series by a rookie, Andru Jones, to change that, and then only after I heard the excitement in his voice when my grandfather talked about him. Jones remains my favorite player today, for that reason. He may have to be my favorite player forever, now that I can’t listen to my grandfather talk about new Braves palyers.
So you see, my attachment to the Braves is personal. I was there in the 80s, when the Braves turned losing into an art form, and I stuck by them. Like many other baseball fans, the game, and my team, have never been about winning and losing. They remind me of my childhood, the people I loved then and now, and the fun memories I have of watching and playing baseball with friends and family. To the Braves, then, I say thank you, for 30 years of great memories, and 15 years of great baseball. Maybe we’ll win it all next year, but even if we’re in last place, I’ll still be sitting in front of my TV, watching you play into September, hanging on every ball and strike, and thinking of my dad, and my granddad, my college roomate, and everyone else I’ve shared baseball with. When the game is over, I’ll take my son outside, put on a Braves cap, and we’ll play a little catch, so that when you’ve won 14 straight 20 years from now, he can look back and smile just as I am now. Go Braves!