Ballad of the Tomahawk Chop

It was the fourth game of the World Series, Braves against the Yanks. I was fifteen, chubby, and redheaded. I was out for my nightly walk, sweating, and breathing heavily beneath the rigors of exercise.

Chubby boys and exercise mix about as well as milk and Mountain Dew.

It was late October. People on nearby porches watched me pass by—like they did every evening—waving hello to the chunky kid doing cardio.

“Hey, Critter,” said Jermaine, who was sitting on the porch with his father, watching the game on a portable television.

Jermaine was my age. His old man played piano at their church. His family called me “Critter” sometimes. I don’t know why.

I waved back. “Hey, Jermaine.”

“You wanna watch the game with us, Critter?” his father asked.

I removed the Sony transistor radio from the pocket of my Husky jeans and waved it. “No thanks, I’m listening to it now.”

He smiled.

And I kept walking.

I passed the porch of Mrs. Renteria, the old woman who prepared hundreds of tamales in her kitchen and carried them to local construction job sites in Igloo coolers, selling them for a dollar a pop. She was raising two granddaughters and a grandson with those tamales. I once ate nineteen in one sitting.


“How about those Braves?” said Mrs. Renteria.

“Vamos, Bravos!” I said, just like she’d taught me.

This brought a grin to the Mexican woman’s antique face.

I passed Mister Alverado’s house. He was in a wheelchair from an accident at a factory. He was listening to the game on a boombox. Mister Alverado raised his Coors as I passed by.

“Them Yank pitchers are killing us,” he shouted. “We need to get this offense going.”

We briefly discussed our mutual hatred for the Bronx Bombers.

And I walked onward.

I went for a lot of walks back then. Because, you see, the doctor told me I was fat. He’d said it outright. Just like that. “You’re fat, son.”

And the doc was right. After my father left this world, I adhered to a strict Pop-Tarts-and-Little Debbie diet. I had gained considerable fluff, which did a number on my self-image.

I went straight home after that doctor visit, looked at my bare torso in the mirror, and I cried in shame because I hated my reflection.

Then I ate three oatmeal creme pies to dull the pain.

After that I started walking. I began leaving the house on foot, under the cover of blackness, so nobody would see my hideous body. I tucked my father’s old mini radio into the pocket of my Sears, Roebuck & Co. jeans, and listened to Braves games as though it were my religion.

One foot in front of the other. Right, left, right. Inhale, exhale, repeat.

I walked until my feet developed blisters. I walked until there were red stains on my Chuck Taylors. I walked until I started to lose weight. Bobby Cox and America’s Team were my cardiovascular companions.

That summer, I became a nightly fixture in that little neighborhood. All the neighbors knew me, since I passed their houses each evening. Over time, I worked my way up to walking four or five miles each night.

That night, however, as the World Series droned through my little speaker, I was walking faster than normal. I was a nervous wreck. The Braves had locked horns with New York in Game Four, and we were losing our butts. It was a bloodbath.

The sad part was that the neighborhood was decked out in Braves paraphernalia. There were tomahawk flags flying from working-class porches. There were handmade posters in front yards which read: “Honk if you love the Atlanta Braves!”

There was a gal down the street who painted a big red sign that read: “Marry Me, David Justice,” even though Justice played for Cleveland that year.

By the final inning of the Series, I ended my walk at Jermaine’s porch, exhausted and sweaty. I watched the final strikeouts with Jermaine and his old man.

“It ain’t looking good for us, Critter,” said Jermaine’s daddy.

It was bad.

The Braves ended up losing, four to one. And after the game ended, I couldn’t help myself, I started crying a little.

You see, sometimes a boy can want something so badly in this life that it breaks his little heart when he doesn’t get it. This is, of course, the primary lesson of being human. Learning how to lose. Learning about failure.

But when you’re fifteen, everything feels raw. And when you’re fifteen and grieving your father, all emotions are ten times more potent.

I wanted Atlanta to win more than anything. I wanted them to win it for me, and for the ghost of my old man. I wanted the Braves to sweep the Series because I wanted to be excited about something again. I wanted to smile.

After the loss, Jermaine’s daddy flipped off the small TV. The world went dark. He looked at two disappointed boys, dressed in Atlanta Braves finery, and he said:

“Aw, cheer up, guys. Maybe next year we’ll get a second chance.”

Well, that was twenty-two years ago. But as of last night, the Atlanta Braves beat the LA Dodgers to become contenders in the next World Series.

And this is that second chance, Critter.


  1. chris - October 25, 2021 6:23 am

    Usually enjoy your writing, but tomahawk chops are kind of racist, don’t you think?

    • Trudy - October 25, 2021 11:18 am

      Lighten up, Chris. We don’t need to scrutinize every comment.
      Go Braves. Chop chop.

      • Sandi. - October 25, 2021 11:55 am

        My thoughts precisely, Trudy! Thank you sincerely for stating what I was also thinking. Negative people have a marked proclivity to laser focus on negative things. The word ‘tomahawk’ is only mentioned in the title, not within Sean’s post itself. Again, sincere thanks for saying something!

    • Susan Kennedy - October 25, 2021 12:51 pm

      Chris, is that really all you got out of this? Please excuse yourself from this great man’s blog. We don’t need you here.
      Go Braves! CHOP CHOP CHOP

    • Lucinda - October 25, 2021 8:37 pm

      Chris, if you find the title to be such indecorous language and missed the beauty of this story, then I feel great sympathy for your lack of understanding.
      Sean, great visual writing on this one. ❤️
      Go Braves!

    • Ellie - November 1, 2021 2:49 am

      I’m with you, Chris. I love Sean’s kind, compassionate writing, but the tomahawk chop is offensive to indigenous people.

      • Rhonda - November 1, 2021 2:08 pm

        Ellie and Chris, that is seriously all y’all got out of this beautiful story?

      • james alfred morgan - November 2, 2021 8:04 pm

        No, it’s not. Many polls have been taken American Indians about this and, in each case, 90+% of respondents either are NOT offended or actually appreciate the use of Indian symbolism. They understand that it honors their traditions and is not a mark of disrespect.

    • Nancy R. Wallace - November 1, 2021 4:44 am

      if you do some research, you’ll find that the Braves are working closely with the Cherokee Tribe to ensure everything is Okay and done respectfully.

  2. Sandi. - October 25, 2021 8:44 am

    I was born in Atlanta, lived and worked there for several years as an adult, but now reside in south Florida. However, you can bet the bank that I’m hoping the Braves win this year’s World Series! It will be exciting to watch the much-anticipated competition. GO BRAVES!

  3. Laura - October 25, 2021 8:53 am

    I grew up in Southern California, was never a baseball fan but was dragged to many a Dodger game. We got free tickets to games for making the high school honor role and my brothers and I would pick the same games to attend so we had enough tickets for our family of 6 to go. I moved to north GA 7 years ago, still don’t care for baseball but I was hoping the Braves would beat the Dodgers, mainly to stick it to MLB for yanking the All Star game out of Atlanta. Now I hope the Braves beat Houston to really rub their noses in it.

  4. oldlibrariansshelf - October 25, 2021 10:57 am

    ” . . . when you’re fifteen, everything feels raw.” Wow! You are a wordsmith AND philosopher.

  5. Suzi - October 25, 2021 11:09 am

    🥂 Here’s to second chances and never loosing hope💛

  6. Bob - October 25, 2021 11:27 am

    Hot damn!

  7. Karen Erwin-Brown - October 25, 2021 11:46 am

    go Braves.

  8. BobbyB - October 25, 2021 11:50 am

    Yank fan, here… but this series I’mwith you, Sean…I’m rootin’ for THE BRAVES👍

  9. John - October 25, 2021 12:47 pm

    Thank you Trudy for expressing my thought too. Tomahawk chop. Racist? Lol!!! Lighten up Chris!

  10. Nancy Crews - October 25, 2021 1:06 pm

    ❤your writing

  11. sandyleo12 - October 25, 2021 1:14 pm

    Really glad Braves prevailed & will be playing in the WS. I’ll be root root rooting for them. But, in my humble opinion ( or IMH0 as the young people say) they need to quit with the war chant & the chop. it’s just not a good look any more. I predict the glare of national attention – especially if Atlanta takes it- will make it end.

    • H. J. Patterson - October 25, 2021 5:22 pm

      Chris and sandyleo12 need a life so try PMSNBC. They’ll feed you lots of crap to get uptight about and you’ll have a new hobby. Otherwise, if the chop bothers you then turn the channel and we won’t comment about how obtuse you are.

    • Susan Kennedy - October 25, 2021 5:36 pm

      sandyle012, if you’re “prediction” is wrong, will this be the last time you mention it???

  12. Paul McCutchen - October 25, 2021 1:21 pm

    I moved to Atlanta over twenty years ago and I follow the Braves. My son came to see me years ago and I got us tickets for the Wednesday afternoon game. Tom Glavin started and John Smoltz finished. A few years later my son told me he didn’t realize what a rare sight that was that two hall of fame pitchers were in the same rotation for a Wednesday afternoon game. Go Braves

  13. Sandy Bowling - October 25, 2021 1:31 pm

    If the Braves win or loose the 2021 Series it is so delightful to revisit the past 45 years being a Braves fan! We have had such good times and hard times. You gotta love those Brave boys!

  14. Shelton A. - October 25, 2021 2:08 pm

    Vamos, Braves!!

  15. terric - October 25, 2021 2:49 pm

    Go Braves, chop chop!!

  16. mollytoddmccgmailcom - October 25, 2021 3:02 pm

    I don’t usually keep up with baseball, but because of your devotion to the Braves, I gave myself a little fist bump (looks kind of silly, but still!…). I lifted them up in a prayer of thanksgiving for making my friend Sean in GA really happy for one night! Go, Braves, go!

  17. Barb Gorvad - October 25, 2021 3:08 pm

    As a lifelong Cubs fan, I understand and feel your pain.

  18. DAVID A WILSON - October 25, 2021 3:24 pm

    As usual: GREAT writing and GREAT lessen!!!!

  19. Janice LeMaster - October 25, 2021 3:36 pm


  20. Pokey Gustafson - October 25, 2021 3:39 pm

    Vamos, Bravos!!❤️

  21. Linda Moon - October 25, 2021 4:25 pm

    “Critter”. The word itself conjures up some disturbing memories and squirrelly visuals for me. But used as your nickname, I love it! And I love your story here of second chances, Writer. I bet there’ll be many more years of good for you and the Braves.

  22. Patricia O Burberry - October 25, 2021 4:48 pm

    It is told so well, that I felt like I was walking along with him, and I got teary eyed at the end. Go Braves I hope we win tomorrow night!

  23. Barbara J Schweck - October 25, 2021 6:40 pm

    Born and lived in Atlanta 67 years. Went to many a Braves game. But the one that I will never forget is when John Smoltz slid into home!!! What a game!! This year I watched every game of the National League Series and totally cried when they won!!! So proud of them!!! So looking forward to the World Series and I do know that it is not really acceptable to tomahawk chop but I do believe it is ingrained in me and I apologize upfront for being a “chopper” during the World Series!!! GOOOOOOO BRAVES!!!!!!!!!

  24. Harriet - October 25, 2021 6:51 pm

    I really hate how one or two comments can ruin the whole story. I love the Tomahawk and I “predict” it will be around forever. Sean Of The South ROCKS!

  25. Walter - October 25, 2021 6:52 pm

    When I was a young man that age I thought that the world series was a contest at the end of the season that was played between the Yankees and the Dodgers. That’s the way it was back then. This year I’ll be rooting for the Braves, Critter!

  26. Harriet - October 25, 2021 7:02 pm

    There’s nothing to apologize for Barbara! Chop on!

  27. Mary Coley - October 25, 2021 7:45 pm

    Great rememberance. Love the story and love that the Braved are back in it. YAHOO! Love all your stories. Thank you.

  28. Stacey Wallace - October 25, 2021 9:30 pm

    Go, Braves!

  29. Alan Brock - October 25, 2021 9:48 pm

    Go Braves!

  30. Mary McNeil - October 25, 2021 9:58 pm

    I am still waiting for the Clevland team to win it for me and the ghost of my old man – who died in 1957. .

  31. MAM - October 25, 2021 10:51 pm

    Sean, you were the first person I thought of when I saw that the Braves had beat LA to make the World Series. I don’t pay much attention to sports, but I saw the headline and thought about how happy you would be. Write on, Sean! (gee, I’m a poet and don’t know it!).

  32. Sawyer - October 26, 2021 12:44 am

    Sean, one of my greatest father son memories was watching the braves win the 95 world series. I was all of 9 years old but it’s one of those things you’ll never forget. Now I have a son who’s the same age I was then, who is just as excited about them finally making as I was at that age. This boy was watching them the day after he was born, in the hospital, in my arms. Just wanted to let you know how excited 2 boys from lower Alabama are!

  33. Karen Snyder - October 26, 2021 4:49 am

    While I have always preferred a good book to most any sporting event, this story struck a chord. Perhaps it’s the universality of those uncomfortable and awkward early teen years, or the near reverence Americans of all walks have always accorded to baseball, or maybe just my enjoyment of one more well-told tale. Go Braves!

  34. Christina - October 26, 2021 6:23 am

    It’s amazing how connected things/we are to one another… you to the Braves because of your dad, your neighbors, your childhood, your body. The beauty of being human together is sharing in the hurts and losses, and celebrating the community connections and the wins. Thanks Sean for sharing yours with us

  35. Nancy M - October 27, 2021 12:55 am

    When the pandemic began I stopped going to the Y and began walking in my neighborhood for exercise. The few neighbors who have front porches don’t sit on them, but I see them and wave as they drive past.
    I’ve lost 15 pounds from walking and eating less, and feel better.

    I’m pulling for the Braves, too!

  36. Sonny M - October 27, 2021 7:26 pm

    Braves all the way!!

  37. Chasity Davis Ritter - October 27, 2021 10:09 pm

    Dear Sean, I go by critter sometimes too. It’s my first initial and last name together. But seeing it in your column of course I feel like you were talking to me. Sometimes I take a day or two to read your columns but when I do I always feel like the timing is right. You ended this by saying last night the Braves beat the Dodgers to play in the World Series. Well also as of last night the 24th a very Brave 11 year boy named Parker Noble got his chance to step out of his life long wheelchair and run for Home in heaven. I’ve mentioned more than a few times the Dream League baseball team my daughter plays on. Parker played on it too and loved it so much that they mentioned it in his obituary. I went to the funeral home to sign his book yesterday and I left my daughters game ball beside him It’s nice to know just as your Braves are getting their second chance now one day we will get a second chance in Heaven where every hit gets to be a HOME run. Fly free Parker

    • Diane Kirby - November 1, 2021 3:06 am

      Oh Chasity….your story made me cry…….usually it’s Sean……

  38. Mary Craig - November 1, 2021 12:50 pm

    I’m in a tough spot. I live in Texas, so genetically I’m wired to root for the Astros, but emotionally I’m rooting for the Braves. I guess it’s a win-win for me because either side winning will make me happy, but I hope your Braves take this.

    • Eve Dear - November 2, 2021 3:19 am

      Well said, Mary! Here I am in TX too, quietly hoping & praying for a Braves win tomorrow night!


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