My love for the Atlanta Braves is hereditary. Passed down to me by my parents like my father’s big head and nose hairs and my mom’s clumsiness. My genetic disposition eliminates any possibility of me being a bandwagon fan, meaning I’m a sap – which like my mother’s clumsiness has brought me a great deal of pain over the years.
There are very few things worse than being a diehard fan. Death and taxes are the only things that come to mind when thinking of subjects that inflict greater pain. But I’ve often felt like dying while watching the Braves find new ways to choke with everything on the line and unless the Bravos improve dramatically in 2017, the good residents of Atlanta will be pissed at their taxes going to fund a new stadium where a 60-win team plays.
As soon as I was old enough to understand the game, I was hooked to Atlanta like a fat kid to cake or a gambler to the craps table. I wouldn’t dare turn the TV from TBS during a game, even keeping the dial locked through rain delays … which led me to the wonderful world of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I still carry the disappointment I felt when my parents wouldn’t let me stay up to watch Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series despite my solid arguments of it being an historical moment. Only a diehard can imagine the disappointment I felt when I woke up the next morning to find I’d missed Sid Bream’s miraculous slide that lifted the Braves into the World Series. In my parent’s defense, I was only nine at the time and after having to deal with the grumpiness of a 10-year-old suffering from a lack of sleep, I’ve come to realize my parents didn’t want to deal with my cantankerous self in the morning.
It was impossible not to like the Braves in the 1990s. They were America’s team. I went to see Atlanta play St. Louis in Busch Stadium – a week before the devastating floods – and the stadium was packed with Braves aficionados. It was impossible not to be amazed while watching Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz torture opponents with their four-pitch repertoires. There was no way you could keep your mouth closed while watching Andruw Jones chase down fly balls with the grace of Willie Mays. Watching Chipper Jones just step into the batter’s box provided a greater religious experience than I’ve had in quite a while.
I will always hold a special place in my heart for the Braves as they’re the only team I love that has brought me a championship. In ’95, I was actually able to convince my parents into letting me stay up to watch Game 6 of the World Series and it paid handsome dividends. I never will forget watching Glavine’s Herculean one-hit effort over eight innings, David Justice’s game-winning home run in the sixth and Marquis Grissom’s catch on Carlos Baerga’s fly ball for the third out and title. It was one of the greatest nights of my life, which says a lot, considering I’ve spent countless nights swabbing my ears with Q-tips.
However, in the words of singer-songwriter Sturgill Simpson, “It ain’t all flowers/ sometimes you gotta feel the thorns.” Because of my love for the Braves, I have suffered through a lifetime of losing and disappointment. No matter how good Atlanta was in the regular season, they always lost in the playoffs, seeming to be writing the book on how to choke in the postseason. While I don’t remember my first kiss or the first time I successfully rode a bicycle on two wheels, I vividly recall the Braves loss in the ’91 Series against the Twins – damn you Kent Hrbek – and Atlanta’s defeat the following year at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays. Like any true-blue fan, though, I have stuck with the Bravos despite my suffering.
Like any warm-blooded person, though, there is only so much I can take before asking why I put myself through this. Why do I sink all my beliefs and hopes in a team that repeatedly lets me down?
The pinnacle of my doubt came during the Collapse of 2011 when the Braves became the first team in major league history to squander a lead of at least eight games for a playoff spot in September. I remember feeling confident going into the final game of the season against Philadelphia, even though Atlanta had lost 10 out of their last 15, including a 7-1 dismantling at the hands of the Phillies the night before. Going into the game I remember thinking …
“There’s no way they lose. They’ve got Tim Hudson starting tonight. No way they blow it with Rock on the Hill.”
I never saw it coming. After Philadelphia scored the tying run in the top of the ninth, I was still optimistic the Braves would pull it out. After all, I’m a good person and fan which to quote Buzz Lightyear means I “never give up, never surrender.” The next few innings came and passed, and I sat on the precipice of insanity still believing like Steve Perry that my Bravos were going to pull it out.
Then came the gut punch.
With the game tied at 3 entering the top of the 13th, Scott Linebrink came in to pitch for the Braves. After Domonic Brown struck out to kick off the frame, Brian Schneider walked to put the go-ahead run on first base. Next, Jimmy Rollins flew out to center, and I breathed a sigh of relief. However, Chase Utley came up and knocked a single into shallow right to put runners on the corners.
Hunter Pence was the next batter and he shattered my dreams with a single to right, allowing Schneider to score the go-ahead run. From that point, I knew it was over. David Herndon came on in the bottom of the half and after issuing a one-out walk to Dan Uggla, got Freddie Freeman to ground into a double play, ending the game and sending the rest of my night into a downward spiral. The string of cuss words that came out of my mouth next would have been enough to make Andrew Dice Clay blush, and I’m surprised I didn’t crack my phone as I tossed it across the room. I even did the unthinkable. I took my Braves hat and threw it into the trash can, forever swearing off my team. My passion for Atlanta had become a burden. I’d finally loved the Braves too much.
Stand-up comedian Louis C.K. has a bit where he discusses the stupidity of optimism and the ridiculousness of expecting something good to happen. I should’ve known better, I kept telling myself. After all, this wasn’t the first time the Braves had choked and in my agony, I had an unspeakable thought: Why do I keep loving this team?
And then it hit me. Sports is a metaphor for love. I stick with the Braves, even when they make me dine on my own guts because that’s what love is. Sticking with what or who you love during the good times and the ones where you want to take that love and throw it into the wood chipper. Being a diehard fan is like entering into a marriage. You’re in it for better, for worse, till death do you part. You can’t get a divorce from a sports team, duh, so why not hang in there and be stupid and hope for the best. Like a marriage, you’re also supposed to accept what you love for who it is and in my case, I came to realize I had to accept the Braves for who they are. My lovable losers. I mean if Cubs fans can stick with the Cubbies, then I should be able to accept my Bravos. At least it didn’t take Atlanta 108 years to bring me a World Series title.
Sticking with your team through the hard times makes the sweeter ones that much better. I can imagine for Chicago Cubs fans this year’s World Series title felt like the best makeup sex ever after the anger, pain and cuss words they’ve spent over the last century. And deep down in my heart, I know that when the Braves finally do win their next world championship that my decision to stick with them will be truly an orgasmic experience.