Careful, Kid. They’ll Break Your Heart.
There’s been no joy in Atlanta lately
I’ve been a Braves fan for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is the Braves winning the 1995 World Series. That’s a pretty good first memory. Unfortunately, it hasn’t happened again since.
I still clearly remember the final out of the 1999 World Series when we were swept by the Yankees. I still remember crying myself to sleep that night.
Because the Braves haven’t won it all since I was five years old, every season since has ended in heartbreak in some form or fashion. We’ve lost in the playoffs, and we haven’t even made the playoffs five times in my life. For most teams, that’s not that unusual. For me, I grew up pretty much expecting success. I didn’t know anything different.
We haven’t won a playoff series since 2001. In 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2010, and 2012 we lost in the first round. Every year I’ve been hopeful, every year I’ve felt like my heart was ripped out. I know some folks don’t understand why its such a big deal. After all, its just a game, right? Yeah, its a game. But its so much more for me and countless others I know.
“Baseball is not necessarily an obsessive-compulsive disorder, like washing your hands 100 times a day, but it’s beginning to seem that way. We’re reaching the point where you can be a truly dedicated, state-of-the-art fan or you can have a life. Take your pick.” ~Thomas Boswell, Washington Post, 13 April 1990
Now, I’m biased, but I think baseball is in a league of its own. A baseball fan lives and dies with every pitch over a 162 game season. We pour over numbers and spreadsheets (that might just be me) to gain an insight on the game within the game. We even sometimes name our kids after the players we grew up watching (that’ll be a fun conversation with my future wife). We view the months of November-February as just filler until the next ballgame. No other sport can say that.
A huge portion of my life has revolved around baseball. I’ve even had jobs relating to the game. I’ve certainly spent a lot of money on the game. I’ve played the game. And I’ve watched the game. A lot.
When I really think about it, I’ve experienced more heartbreaking games than not in my Braves life. I’ve been to my fair share of potentially great games, but they don’t always turn out the way I want.
The 2010 National League Division Series was particularly rough. It had been a magical season with Bobby Cox coming up on retirement. I got to go to a ton of games that year, including the last six regular season games. We just barely got into the playoffs for the first time since 2005 when we clinched the Wild Card on the last day of the season. It seemed like we just might have a storybook ending to Bobby Cox’s career.
It would take 11 wins in the 2010 Postseason to win the World Series for number 6, Bobby Cox
We’d open the 2010 NLDS on the road in San Francisco. Game 1 was a rough 1-0 loss. The only run was scored after Buster Posey was incorrectly called safe stealing second in the fourth inning. He’d go on to score on a single. The game was stolen from us thanks to an umpire. However, that game has given Braves fans the phrase “Posey was out.” I love to say that.
Posey was out.
Game two was awesome. I started the night at Taco Mac in Kennesaw, Georgia with my new roommate watching the game. After two innings we were down 4-0. At some point Steven and I decided to leave in an effort to change things up. He’s not one to subscribe to baseball superstition, but I certainly am. And hey, it worked. We were listening on the radio in a truck when Rick Ankiel hit a bomb into the San Francisco bay in the top of the 11th to put us in the lead 5-4 and ultimately win the game.
Game 3 and 4 would be in Atlanta and I had bought tickets weeks ago for these potential games. Game three was on Sunday night and would pretty much be the most emotionally draining game I’ve ever been to. The Giants took an early 1-0 lead after Brooks Conrad dropped an easy popup to second. That was already his second error of the young game.
Everything in the playoffs is intense – even a one run lead seems insurmountable sometimes. Then, the genius of Bobby Cox struck again. He sent Eric Hinske to the plate with one on in the bottom of the eighth inning. ‘Ske hit a slider just over the right field wall at the foul pole putting the Braves up 2-1 and making Turner Field go insane. I could feel the concrete under my feet shaking and I couldn’t hear the girl screaming next to me. Watch his homer here. Seriously, watch it. But the Baseball Gods wouldn’t smile on us for long. One out away from victory, rookie closer Craig Kimbrel gave up a single with one on and was relieved by Michael Dunn, who allowed the tying run to score.
Peter Moylan came on to try and get the final out and send the game tied to the bottom of the ninth. He induced an easy grounder to the second sacker, Brooks Conrad. I really don’t know what happened to him, but it was painful to watch as the ball skipped between his legs which allowed the Giants to take the lead. Many of the over 53,000 in attendance booed, I didn’t. I think I was mainly in shock. We had been one strike away from winning…and now we were losing. I felt awful for Brooksie, he had just set a Division Series record with three errors. “I wish I could just dig a hole and go sleep in there.”
Game four. It wasn’t quite as rough of a loss as game three was, but it was tough because it was Bobby’s last. After the final out in the 3-2 game he briefly came out of the dugout to chants of “Bobby! Bobby!” from the Braves faithful. That was the first time I’d ever shed a tear in Turner Field.
Something had to be done, so I wore a full Braves uniform to Game Four. BP jersey, Kyle Davies’ old game used Rome Braves pants, stirrups and all.
Everybody knows by now the story of the 2011 Braves and their epic collapse, so I won’t get too deep into it. But I was lucky enough to go to the last game, a must-win tilt against the Phillies on September 28. Before the ballgame I got to meet bullpen coach and former catcher Eddie Perez, and he tossed me the ball Tim Hudson used to warm up with. Up 3-2, our unstoppable closer Kimbrel, now in his Sophomore season, came in to close it out in the ninth. Once again, he’d blow it. We’d go on to lose in 13 innings. I sat in the stands by myself after the final out as the fans around me cleared out. I was in shock and heartbroken, as I had just witnessed the end of the worst collapse in baseball history. As a young Phillies fan walked by me and smirked I just looked at him and said, “Careful kid. They’ll break your heart.”
Last night we once again lost a heartbreaker to end our season. This time it was in the newly established Wild Card game. A one and done, winner take all game. Baseball isn’t meant to be played in a one game “series.” Anything can happen, and it seemed it all did. Bad defense and the worst misapplication of a rule I’ve ever seen cost us the game. Fans in attendance last night were roundly criticized after a 19 minute delay because of littering the field with trash in frustration. I really can’t blame the people. I hate that it happened, but I can fully sympathize. Its tough being an Atlanta Braves fan these days.
The legendary Larry Wayne Jones, Jr. I hate that we couldn’t win one more for the Chipper.
Despite all the heartbreak I’ve experienced in my 22 years as a Braves fan, I still love them like crazy. Baseball is still a major part of my life, and it always will be. I’ll always put on shirts with a tomahawk on them with pride, and I’ll never stop the Chop. I just can’t wait until we can jump around and cry tears of joy as World Champions – just like we got to do that one time when I was a kid. It will happen one day. Until then I’ll keep chopping and I’ll keep cheering. We pride ourselves on excellence and that’s what makes days like yesterday hurt so badly, but boy will it feel great when we win it all.
I just thank God that He loves me and didn’t make me a Cubs fan.