Atlanta Braves

It’s just a game. I keep telling myself that because I know it’s true.

Dear Atlanta Braves,

Beloved team. I love you. My eyes light up whenever someone mentions your name. It doesn’t matter where I am. When someone says “Braves,” I get excited and fall into a heated discussion about the importance of relief pitching, even if I happen to be, for example, taking communion.

But it’s only a game, I know this. I really do.

It’s a silly sport played by grown men swinging hickory sticks at five-ounce balls. There’s no real meaning to it. It’s not important in the large scheme of life. In fact, it’s ridiculous when you think about it.

I mean if alien visitors came to earth and saw thousands of crazed fans at a championship playoff, hollering and screaming as though the fate of the Free World depended on a lefty-lefty matchup, the aliens would be rolling on the floor, peeing their space-pants with laughter. Then they would zap us all with their electromagnetic death rays and turn Yankee Field into a huge septic tank for their spaceships.

I would enjoy that.

I was a toddler when my father taught me the rules of the sport. We were in the backyard. I had a glove. He had a glove. He pitched underhand. I missed the ball and got a bloody lip.

My mother became so upset with him that she used a stream of four-letter words not found in the Bible. Then she threatened to lodge the baseball in a place of my father’s body that I won’t name here.

But he wasn’t sorry. Because he couldn’t wait to teach me to play. To him, glove control was as important as learning to feed myself, respecting my elders, or successfully opening a beer bottle using a vehicle door handle.

When I finally caught the ball, my father got so excited that he swung me around and said, “Wasn’t that fun?” Then, if memory serves me correctly, I made a pile of major “fun” in my diaper.

Forevermore, I would associate ”fun” with a game involving nine men on a field, running bases, making double plays, and digging their underpants from their personal regions on national television.

The year after my father died, I was finished with baseball. At least I thought I was. But one night, my friend’s father was watching the Braves play in the World Series from a portable television in his garage. There were four other boys there. And a few other fathers.

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t interested in the game. I didn’t care who won because I had already lost everything in life.

Still, in that dank little garage, during game six of the Series, my attitude changed.

For a few hours I was alive again. Real life didn’t exist. I wasn’t the child of a dead man. I was part of something bigger than myself. I was cheering for something. We were cheering.

When they won against Cleveland, grown men leapt from their lawn chairs and hurled them into the air in a fit of pure joy. Then everyone mass-hugged. Men and boys jumped up and down, holding each other.

I rode my bike home that night and felt my grief more sharply than ever. I laid in bed, staring at a popcorn ceiling and I don’t know why, but I cried.

And that’s why I’m writing you, Braves. You don’t know me, and you’ll probably never read this, but I have to say it. You are my link to those men who came before me.

Scores do not matter. You are the game my people play upon scalped fields, schoolyards, parking lots, and parks. That’s what you are.

Tonight, I watched you blow any chances of getting to the World Series. And sure, it was a hard loss. I was staring at the television with a lump in my throat. You went down in the first inning and it wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was about as pretty as watching a maggot get knocked off a gut wagon.

My phone was blowing up. It vibrated so much that it rattled off the coffee table. I was getting texts from friends, old coworkers, family. My mother texted to see if I was still breathing.

The truth is, I’m doing great. Because you’ll never have any idea how much life you gave back to a big, awkward, grown-up kid like me.

You’ll never know what it means to sit in a ballpark and do the tomahawk-chop with 42,000 fans, a wife beside me, a bunch of semi-drunk strangers, and a plastic helmet-full of nachos in my lap that taste like reconstituted buffalo chips.

You’ll never know how much I look forward to hearing the broadcast voice of Chip Caray, or how hard I pull for Freddie Freeman. Or how when my wife and I say grace at supper she mentions Bobby Cox and his family in her prayers. And Brian Snitker.

You bring back the greatest parts of my childhood, with none of the pain. You are proof that boy can remain a boy forever. You remind me that even though good men lose, it doesn’t make them losers.

I know. It’s only a game.

But when the Braves play it, it becomes the best damn game there ever was.

32 comments

  1. Sandi. - October 10, 2019 6:24 am

    I’m an Atlanta Braves fan, too, but not as devoted to the team as you are, Sean. Please mail a copy of this wonderful post to the Braves’ management, coaches and players so they can see in print what a morale booster you are. Maybe one of your readers knows an address to which you can send it.

    Reply
  2. carn1256 - October 10, 2019 7:06 am

    Dear Sean, I thought of you throughout the series between your beloved Braves and the Cardinals, and I know tonight was a tough one. I’m a Padres fan, have been for 60 years, and they’ve broken my heart each and every one of those years. So I hurt for you right now. But as you say, it’s the best damn game there ever was, and hope springs eternal every March. At least we’ve been spared the specter of a Dodgers/Yankees World Series. Play Ball!

    Reply
  3. GEORGE FISHER (HM) - October 10, 2019 7:22 am

    Amen. Thanks for this. This is why we chop!

    Reply
  4. Elizabeth - October 10, 2019 10:21 am

    Couldn’t have said it better!

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  5. Pat Settle - October 10, 2019 10:27 am

    Now this was one of your great ones!

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  6. Gary - October 10, 2019 10:54 am

    Sad to say but I stopped watching baseball and all other sports when the players’ personal lives overshadowed their skills on the playing field.

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  7. Annak - October 10, 2019 11:26 am

    It was a tough one. But true Braves fans are are nothing if not resilient, and we feel worse for our guys who played so hard this year than we do for our chances at the pennant and World Series. Yes, Chop On!

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  8. Melissa C Williams - October 10, 2019 11:33 am

    My late father was adopted. His adoptive parents were from the UK. His father told him that to be an American, you had to learn baseball. The Cardinals were his team till we moved to Atlanta in 1966. His father died when he was 16. He was an Episcopal minister. He would have talked baseball with you while giving you communion. When the stadium was almost empty, Ernie Johnson would spot him and say hello on the air. He always kept score. Members of the congregation at the Cathedral of St. Philip swore the sermons got shorter when the Braves had a Sunday afternoon home game. He would have loved reading this!! He passed in 2016 at the age of 94 still loving the Braves.

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  9. Shannon Sligar - October 10, 2019 11:48 am

    Perfect!

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  10. Dee - October 10, 2019 11:49 am

    Beautiful column, Sean. Baseball is like a religion in my house. My grandfather Bob Hasty pitched for the Philadelphia Athletics for 5 years, 1919-1924, and for years afterwards he played on minor league teams, or company teams. I grew up going to Braves games at the old Fulton County Stadium. My grandparents went to spring training every year. My grandmother could call anything as well as an umpire and [in those pre-instant replay days] she was always right. Papa died when I was 9 and for a long time afterwards baseball watching was just painful. Then I moved here to Atlanta and got excited about it again. I went to one of the last games played at the old Fulton County Stadium and cried through most of the game. Baseball is one of the main things that’s great about being American. I hate that the Braves blew it but you know what? There’s always next year. Chop on!

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  11. Naomi - October 10, 2019 11:54 am

    In 1991, my daughter got married on Oct. 26, the last day of the World Series when the Atlanta Braves was playing. It was also the opening day of hunting season and all of the men in her new husband’s family were hunters. Before the end of the reception, everybody started leaving and I was left all alone to clean up the reception hall.

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  12. Ginger - October 10, 2019 11:55 am

    It was so hard to watch because of the men who played so hard, so well, who played like little boys, punching each other, throwing popcorn at the ace as he is interviewed, putting up the umbrella, keeping on keeping on and coming back in the eighth or ninth. It broke my heart for them and for their managers: Brian, Wash, and the others. I know it’s just a game, but…….like with you, it is a tie to my past, a husband now gone, who loved it, and a son who played it well.It’s just a game, and there’s always next year, and so I chop on.

    Reply
  13. Suzanne Mattson - October 10, 2019 12:36 pm

    Hi Sean
    How can these replies be dated and timed two hours from now? I’m in SW Florida and it’s 8:35 am but these responses have time stamps of two hours from now.
    Are these real responses?
    Suzanne

    Reply
  14. Bill - October 10, 2019 12:38 pm

    Sean, When that awful first inning erupted, I thought of you. I knew that was a very painful experience, or worse. I think your column speaks for a lot of fans, and will help ease the pain by sharing it. I think everyone in the South adopted the Braves when they moved to Atlanta. We finally had a major league baseball team! We also have seen a lot of heartbreak. But next year will be different. Just wait and see!

    Reply
  15. Edna B. - October 10, 2019 1:00 pm

    I’m a Red Sox fan. This year I did not get to watch very much baseball because of my health issues, but there’s next Spring. Win or lose, we cheer our teams on. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  16. Amy Wade Johnson - October 10, 2019 1:02 pm

    This is such an amazing read. Thank you for the reminder. It took the sting out of the hurt this morning. I love my boys and will be chopping on in 2020. Counting down the days!!

    Reply
  17. Leslie Pletta-Smith - October 10, 2019 2:26 pm

    Yes, that was an UGLY loss but I too will always be a Braves fan. You can’t call yourself a true fan if you only root for a team in the good times. Go Braves! We’ll get ‘em next year!

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  18. Ann - October 10, 2019 2:29 pm

    Yes! A thousand times, YES! If you aren’t a fan the day after, then you weren’t really a fan the day before.
    Go Braves!!!

    Reply
  19. Betty - October 10, 2019 3:24 pm

    I grew up in WI before Milwaukee had a professional team so the Cubs were my team. You know how long they went without winning a World Series. I had given up watching baseball after I got married but when they made it to the World Series & were behind I watched every game & was so thrilled when they won. I did cheer for the Braves when they were in Milwaukee & may start watching baseball again next year & will be cheering for them…but also for my beloved Cubs.

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  20. Beverly h - October 10, 2019 4:29 pm

    My heart is broken. I’ve loved them for years and this season was great. But, this shouldn’t have happened. Thank you.

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  21. Linda Moon - October 10, 2019 4:42 pm

    Thinking of relief pitching during Communion is a digression of Mighty proportions in the big scheme of life. Diversions and digressions from real life matter.They make me laugh, especially when I’m reading some of your posts. I like rolling-on-the-floor laughter, but not the space-pants kind. Boys who remain boys forever are the best and most challenging of all grown adult men. I should know…I’m married to one. He and the son are often out and about doing things that an old man ought not to be doing (even as I’m writing this). Your dad lost a huge battle, you lost him, but he’s never, ever, nor will be for All Eternity In Holy Communion, a loser. It’s not just a Braves game, and you are wise enough to know why, Dear Sean!

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  22. Chris Russ - October 10, 2019 7:29 pm

    Sean, I needed this after last night. I’m 31 and have been watching the Braves do this my entire life. I love the braves with all my heart. If I had to pick a favorite team across any sport it would be the Braves no question. So just like every year I am now swearing off baseball forever. But I always change my mind around spring training lol. It is the best game there is and I still get excited every year. So hey just wait until next year, its gonna be our year for sure this time lol.

    Reply
  23. Harriet - October 10, 2019 7:40 pm

    I’m at the orthopedic surgeons in Atlanta. A doctor walked by and the lady sitting next to me leaned over and says “that’s the Braves orthopedic doctor. He prays with each person before surgery”
    I thought that was cool.

    Reply
  24. Sara Taylor - October 10, 2019 7:57 pm

    Amen, proud of all these guys!

    Reply
  25. T.C. - October 10, 2019 8:10 pm

    I was really bummed after such a great year, for it to end like it did last night. Then the Dodgers lose out as well, and I thought how sick their fans must feel today also.
    As we all know “That’s Baseball”. As aggravating as it is, it is still a sport like no other !

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  26. Kathy White - October 10, 2019 11:58 pm

    Melissa C. Williams. What a poignant story of your father. I loved every printed word. Thank you for sharing “a beautiful memory”.

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  27. Sandra Epperson - October 11, 2019 2:11 pm

    Amen. I thought my heart would break but my good friend sent this to me and I can breathe again!

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  28. Estelle - October 12, 2019 5:32 am

    It only hurts because you love the game of baseball and the memories that go with it. There is always next year.

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  29. Norm - October 12, 2019 2:48 pm

    As a lifelong Dodger friend let me thank you for sharing this and reminding us all that baseball is a game to enjoy and cherish with friends and family.

    Reply
  30. Peter I Heyer - October 13, 2019 1:58 am

    Sean, you just get it!
    Thank you.
    Peter

    Reply
  31. Shelton A. - October 13, 2019 7:33 pm

    Chip, Ernie, and fans in the stands. My #2 team after the Yanks.

    Reply
  32. Carol - October 13, 2019 10:19 pm

    Sean. Have you heard Their taking the tommyhawk away and no whooping. What is going on. ??
    We can’t be Indian Braves anymore ‘??
    HELP !!
    Love ya !

    Reply

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