Los Bravos

Yesterday was the first day of autumn. I was in Chattanooga, in a cheap motel room, watching baseball on a busted motel TV with a messed-up picture. The colors were screwy. The display was tinted radar-screen green so that the players looked like little green Martians in batting helmets.

I was seated on the edge of the bed, a Styrofoam box of takeout food on my lap. A burger. Medium-well. With American cheese. I like my cheese to be patriotic.

The tiny green Atlanta Braves were playing good baseball. Each pivotal moment was narrated by Chip Caray, and he was in good voice that night.

“…A high, fly ball, hit deep toward left center… AND THE BRAVES STRIKE FIRST IN THE FIRST INNING…!”

It was an important game. If these miniature green guys won, they would be champions of their division. Which is a big deal.

Then again, within a world afflicted with COVID, baseball hardly matters. After all, our society is falling apart right now. There are wildfires out west, serial hurricanes in the Gulf, and a globalized pandemic. I just read that the U.S. death tolls are around 200,000.

So baseball seems like an infinitesimal thing to be concerned about this year. In fact, it seems ridiculous.

But not to me. I’ve watched every game. Seen every play. I’ve listened to Chip call each blessed pitch using the anvil tones of a radio evangelist.

Certainly, our sport was a little different this year. The coronavirus regulations made it feel alien. Ball clubs played to vacant stadiums with canned crowd noise. Players weren’t allowed to high-five, spit seeds, chew gum, or adjust personal regions on national television.

Coaches, trainers, and medical staff wore surgical masks and rubber gloves. All umpires, in strict accordance with ridgid Major League Baseball protocol, were required to be legally blind.

But these green-skinned Braves kept playing. I love them for it. And you can’t help who you love. Love is an affliction.

Historically, the Atlanta Braves have been one of those hapless teams you were never sure why you loved. They went through brief winning streaks, and losing streaks that seemed to last until the next Pope installation.

There were seasons of such pitiful agony that our players could often strike out without ever leaving the dugout.

But oh, it was a great time to be a kid. My uncle and my father would take me to the old stadium on Capitol Avenue. We’d watch opposing teams score against us in the triple digits. And I’d suck down a bucket of Coke.

Then my father died.

He ended his own life when it was shaping up to be a good year for Major League Baseball.

He picked a bad year to die. The Braves happened to be in their prime. Bobby Cox was skippering a trio of the greatest starters of my young era. Smoltz, Maddux, and the laid-back Tom Glavine, who was so relaxed on the mound that sometimes he read the newspaper between batters.

But on the day of my father’s end—and I mean the literal day, September 14—baseball ended, too. It was a freakish occurrence, it was the day the World Series got cancelled. The players went on strike.

My father was gone. And so was his game.

And it couldn’t have happened at a worse time. The Braves were poised for possible 24-carat greatness. They were in second place. Six games behind Montreal. Two and a half ahead of Houston for the wild card.

But it hardly mattered now. Nothing mattered. Because life was over. And so, I guessed, was baseball.

Only it wasn’t over. Not my life. And not the game. Stickball is funny that way. It is an endeavor that will always surprise you. Life does the same thing.

The following year, the Braves won the World Series. It was a record season. The three pitchers I told you about became mythological heroes. Greg Maddux won his fourth Cy Young award. John Smoltz led the league in strikeouts and wins. The ever-tranquilized Tom Glavine earned the World Series MVP.

To many, it was the best World Series of all time. They won five Series games by merely one run. The clinching sixth game was a one-hitter, so unfathomably stressful that many of us who watched it still suffer debilitating constipation.

That Series was bittersweet to me. Like taking a shot of vinegar, and chasing it with sugar. All the greatest games are like that. They remind me of my father so much it stings.

Which is why I almost fell away from baseball after my father passed. I almost grew numb to its deeper meaning. But I’m glad I didn’t. Because the sport exalts the mundane, creates beauty out of red dirt, it is an underdog’s game.

Anyway, last night the ball players on my funky-colored motel TV screen were playing a great game. And they were winning. We. We were winning. I watched, sitting cross-legged on the bed, chin resting on my fists, like a kid. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more in-the-moment than I was in that dingy motel.

I’ll spare you any more baseball talk. If you’ve read this far, you’ve had enough already. So I’ll just leave you with Chip Caray’s final call of the game:


I was dabbing my eyes when he said it.

Because I love those little green men.


  1. Sandi. - September 24, 2020 7:27 am

    For as long as I can remember, I’ve also been an Atlanta Braves fan, and the year they won the World Series, 1995, was fantastic and exciting! Back then I knew every player’s name and which position they played. In fact, on the outgoing message on our home answering machine was this recording: “At the beep please state your name, phone number and whether or not you’re an Atlanta Braves fan!”

  2. Annak - September 24, 2020 9:32 am

    There’s just something about our Braves that bridges the seasons and makes us kids again, every year. They sure are one of the brightest parts of an otherwise pretty miserable year. Chop on!

  3. Naomi - September 24, 2020 9:32 am

    My daughter got married on Saturday, Oct. 26, 1991, on the last day of the play-offs for the World Series when the Atlanta Braves was playing. We live in metro Atlanta and everyone was interested in the game; I don’t remember who they were playing, but the Braves won.. It was also the opening day of the deer-hunting season and all of my new son-in-law’s family were deer hunters. During the latter part of their wedding reception, people started leaving and after a while, I looked around and I was the only one there, I had catered their wedding reception and I was left alone to clean up by myself. I was too exhausted by then, so I left and listened to the game on the radio. I had to go back the next day to clean up the reception venue.

  4. Ada - September 24, 2020 10:48 am

    I also love your little green men. I quit watching baseball when the Mets walked off the field this year and when they went on strike, in the 90’s, I was really mad at them. Maybe tonight I’ll watch a game and forgive them and your dad. Your love, like the river, spreads deep and wide.

  5. Jane Elder - September 24, 2020 11:14 am

    Go Braves. I love baseball too.. but my team is the Cards. My grandfather had 8 sons….Sunday afternoon they and one cousin would play against another farmer’s boys. According to my mom her brothers were the best team in Panola IL. One even got an offer from the Cubs. Thanks for the update..

  6. Susan - September 24, 2020 11:40 am

    Only the strongest survive!

  7. Denise Walker - September 24, 2020 12:12 pm

    I’ve been a Braves fan forever! Even BEFORE Smoltz, Glavine and Mad Dog. Still following (not as faithful as then, but following) Nothing like the good old days of baseball. It’s a different world now, but baseball remains a constant.
    Thanks for bringing these memories back.

  8. Johnnie Blackburn - September 24, 2020 12:39 pm

    So, I guess we’ve learned their secret. They shine brightest in the darkest times! Now let’s see if the Tide can get that National Championship this year, somehow!

  9. Jan - September 24, 2020 12:39 pm

    Baseball isn’t my sport. (I love football) You can take a sport which I pay little attention to and create poetry from a game. I love how you love baseball and how you make it a metaphor for life. Thank you, Sean!

  10. Gary - September 24, 2020 12:45 pm

    1966 card carrying member of the Knothole Club…I believe it was 25 cents to get in…we had reserved seats…on the top row of the old Atlanta Fulton County stadium in right field….those were the days.

  11. Connie - September 24, 2020 12:58 pm

    I love baseball and I love the Braves. Win or lose, I’m a fan. I hope you didn’t get much damage from Hurricane Sally. I thought about your family. We got hit hard here in South Alabama, but we will survive. Love and hugs.

  12. Don Gardner, Jr - September 24, 2020 2:23 pm

    Chop On Sean! Love those little green men!

  13. carn1256 - September 24, 2020 3:02 pm

    I share your deep passion for this game Sean, it’s gotten me through some pretty dark times of my own – and heaven knows I’ve needed it during this pandemic. My team for 60 years has been the Padres; breaking my heart more often than not, but still, they’re my guys. I love reading your words about this incredible game, thank you for those. Be well, be safe, and I hope my guys don’t have to face your guys. Please forgive me for rooting for my team, but if we’re out of the running, I promise to pull for yours.

  14. Dawn Bratcher - September 24, 2020 3:40 pm

    Congratulations! Go Bravos!

  15. Bill in Tennessee - September 24, 2020 6:09 pm

    As a southern-born-and-bred male, I find it amazing that I somehow missed the sports gene. Oh I like shooting at the range, the occasional boxing match or mixed martial arts, but team sports were never a “thing” for me. I envy people who do get involved and love the teams and all that, so I’m glad Sean found something to brighten his day. But give me the individual effort, competing against my previous range scores, etc.

  16. Patsy Boshears - September 24, 2020 6:47 pm

    Especially touched by this one! It is amazing how simple things can evoke so much emotion.

  17. Linda Moon - September 24, 2020 7:09 pm

    So, why were you in a CHEAP hotel room in Chattanooga when you could’ve stayed in its HAUNTED hotel? You might have seen Spirits there, not Martians. I love the affliction of love for baseball and for flawed fathers, too. So, it all matters….baseball and those dads of ours who were gone too soon…yours and mine. You are the champion, my friend!

  18. Maria Mullins - September 24, 2020 9:20 pm

    Brought tears. Love your writing! Blessings on you and yours.

  19. Elizabeth - September 24, 2020 11:13 pm

    Every day, when I saw you were writing, I was glad and this is no exception. I used to live a town over in Northern NJ where I currently reside and there was an older gent there who would listen to all the games on his small handheld radio… have you read Gary Schmidt’s YA books? both Wednesday Wars and Okay For Now have baseball in them… Blessings on you and yours!

  20. Melissa Williams - September 24, 2020 11:38 pm

    My father was raised a Cardinals fan. When we moved to Atlanta in 66 he instantly transformed into a Braves fan. He was the Chaplain of the Braves 400 club for a while. I used to go to games with him in the early years because they were so bad I felt sorry for him. Sometimes the stands were so empty that Ernie Johnson would spot him and say hello on the air. Luckily my husband and my grown son still love the Braves. I lost my Dad in late 2016. He was 94. He kept score till the end.💜⚾️

  21. Susan - September 26, 2020 4:57 am

    My maternal grandparents were huge Braves fans. As children, we had to be really quiet during the games. My grandmother had a stroke in her early 70’s and was being moved to a nursing home. Her one requirement being her roommate had to either love the Braves as much as she, or must tolerate her watching every game without disturbing her. Thankfully, her sweet little roommate went right along with her wishes. Your story and love of baseball brought back great memories of days spent with my grandparents. Blessings!

  22. Katherine Young - September 26, 2020 1:31 pm

    I don’t know your hurt, but, I know my pain over my brother’s suicide in 1963 when I was 12. My family was from Birmingham. I am so sorry you lost your father so early in your life, and that his own pain led him to suicide.

  23. AnnMills - October 2, 2020 11:58 pm

    Me, too, Sean. Me, too.


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