Growing up in Birmingham, the Braves were the team to root for thanks to WTBS, even if they were pretty awful when I first started watching in the late 1970’s. I got spoiled in the 1990’s of course, staying up until the wee hours watching the 1991 and ’92 World Series and spending plenty of cash on 1995 World Series memorabilia.
It was thanks to me that the Braves went from worst to first back in 1991, you know. A couple of friends and I went to a Braves-Astros game early that season at the Astrodome when I was still going to school in San Antonio. While there I bought a brand-new Braves fitted cap for the first time, and they went to the World Series. It was quite nasty by the start of the next season wearing it every day, and so I bought a new one for 1992. Same result. I bought a new Braves hat every year through the mid-1990’s, including 1995.
But since moving up to New Jersey — and especially since TBS got rid of the Braves broadcasts — I’ve lost touch with my favorite team even as I’ve become more and more immersed in the Phillies thanks to work. I was fortunate enough to be there as a reporter when they won the World Series in 2008, and I don’t hate the Phils — I just like the Braves a lot more.
I decided to take a more active interest in the Braves again this season and have been doing a lot more reading up on them, even subscribing to a Braves podcast to try and keep better track of the team. The idea of it being Bobby Cox’s last season as coach, combined with the hype over 20-year-old outfielder Jason Heyward and the potential of one of the best pitching staffs in the NL have gotten me pretty excited for the season.
It makes perfect sense that I would find a way to cover just about the only game in our area to have a 5:30 start, thus ensuring that I would miss the Atlanta Braves’ 2010 season opener on ESPN against the Cubs. Needless to say, I was thrilled and crushed when my co-worker texted me just after I arrived at my game to tell me, “Jason hayward just hit one 450 ft. in first atbat.”
As Charlie Brown once opined, “AAUGH!!!!”
Thankfully, we live in the era of the Intertubes and have the ability to record such events for later playback, so I went online after finishing my story and watched the video of his history-making shot (he’s only the fifth player to ever homer in his first AB as a Brave) as the highlight of a 16-5 rout of the Cubbies and once-great pitcher Carlos Zambrano.
The call on Peachtree TV was nothing special (“Welcome to my show!” … Really?), but the video reaffirmed that I was right to reinvest in this team. First of all, I was thrilled to see a standing-room-only crowd at Turner Field. As Chipper Jones said in the postgame, “This has been a place where Cubs fans have felt at home. Today, pregame, I didn’t hear them at all. That’s something that needs to change, because I feel this team is going to be an exciting team all year long and Atlanta needs to embrace it.
“Come out support us and have electricity like today, because when it’s that electric this team is going to take it to another level.”
Even more exciting was that you could hear that crowd as Heyward awaited the 2-0 pitch from Zambrano that he crushed more than 400 feet into the Braves bullpen. The crowd was chanting, “Jason Heyward!” over and over like a bunch of rowdy soccer hooligans. Delicious.
Best of all, Jones was waiting in front of the dugout with open arms to give Heyward a big hug as he returned from his inaugural trip around the bases, which did feel something like a very quick inaugural parade (Heyward practically sprinted around the bases). It’s just the latest example, and first of the new season, of the improved level of team chemistry and camaraderie the players talked about in Spring Training.
I still believe that the Phillies are the team to beat in the NL East; you’d have to be overtly biased not to. But the Braves should give them a run for their money in 2010, and I am more excited than I’ve been in years that this season is finally underway.
I think it’s time to get a new cap.