Baseball is a strange and funny game. And in this era October can be the most glorious or cruelest month the game has to offer. A quick look at baseball history shows us that baseball called for teams in two separate leagues to compete over the course of 140 games or so, and for a finale pit the two winners of the leagues against each other. Originally the World Champion of baseball was decided by a 9 game series. The game after all is one of longevity, not one of a specific moment. But just as Bud Selig would have it, baseball now possesses that element in which basic human nature can't get enough of, edge-of-your-seat drama. And needless to say, many, many Octobers have yet to disappoint. So October has become a coin flip, a pariah that laughs at the regular season, that takes the hard work of players, coaches, and front office personal and throws it in the trash. What is a team, a player, a fan to do?
I recently read another fanpost on the site in which a fan chronicled his thoughts and feelings following last season's Wild Card game debacle. And I was encouraged by this post, because it reminded me that baseball is romantic. The games and teams take on personas of their own that create stories you can't help but become involved with. These stories stay with us in memory. Such as the memory of a six year old boy watching David Justice hit a home run in the 1995 World Series, and thinking to himself that he swung so hard he looked as if he had thrown out his shoulder like he was a Titan to the young boy. I remember the first time my father took me to Atlanta Fulton County Stadium and we ate our Varsity from the upper deck. I remember watching a 19 year old Andruw Jones hit two home runs against the Yankees. Baseball is a relationship, and like so many others requires a work and give and take.
My relationship with baseball goes back to the day I was born. Almost a year after I came to this earth residing in the Atlanta area, the Braves drafted Chipper Jones. A name and man synonymous with my view of the game and the team, my team. And because they are my team, I remember the Jim Leyritz moments, the 18 inning affair in Houston, the day the Braves were no longer on TBS and I had long moved out of state. These things too stick with us from this story we call baseball.
At this point you are probably wondering where is he going with this? A memory that sticks out more than the rest. The 2010 Atlanta Braves, Bobby Cox's final season, and a mix match of parts that played their way to a playoff birth for the first time since that dreaded Chris Burke home run in Houston. Specifically I remember Game 2 of the NLDS (what other game is there really to remember except for the Brooks Conrad walk off Grand Slam against the Reds). I sat at home that evening watching: aging Derek Lee play first base, No-knees Troy Glaus enter the game to play third, Rick Ankiel and Melky Cabrera composing 2/3 of the outfield, Chipper Jones sitting helpless with a reconstructed knee, Brooks Conrad as a regular starter, and Kyle Farnsworth being pressed into a high leverage role after Billy Wagner's career ends with a grimace on his face from an oblique strain. And I can't help but think that the Braves have a chance to win. Why? Because I have a relationship with my team, that team. To detail what happened in the last few innings of that game seems miraculous now as I sit here and think about it 3 years removed. Kyle Farnsworth loads the bases with one out and Buster Posey at the plate*, Posey hits a ball to Troy Glaus manning third base, and he inexplicably throws to second base rather than cut down the run at home, but somehow as if by divine intervention the ball is caught at second and delivered on time to first to complete a double play and get out of the inning. When it was do or die, Troy Glaus fielded and started an inning ending double play in the 10th inning where a run scored meant game over. Fast forward to the top of the 11th inning, with one out Rick Ankiel steps to the plate, an outstanding defender with some pop, but little pitch recognition at the plate. I spend the moments during his at-bat arguing with my father about how Ankiel has the ability to get a hold of one. Sure enough Rick Ankiel connects on a 2-2 pitch that flies into McCovey Cove past the right field wall at AT&T Park*. Farnsworth comes out in the bottom half and secures the win.
Now we all know what happened in Game 3 and 4, the Braves hopes killed by a Fat Melky Cabrera groundout to end the Bobby Cox era. However, all I can remember is Game 2. And as I reflect on it now three years later, I am still amazed. It reminds me that baseball is a weird game that sometimes requires a bit of luck. And while the luck may "even out" over the course of an entire season, it becomes magnified during October. That team of old spare parts went out and took that game from the Giants when they had no business doing so. This 2013 Braves team is not that 2010 Braves team. This team is bursting with talent and possesses the ability to change the game at any moment with far greater statistical probability than the past team. Baseball can be a strange game, I often equate that assessment to the scene in the movie Bull Durham where Crash Davis explains the difference between hitting .250 and .300. A dying quail, a groundball with eyes*.
So it is in this spirit that I remind everyone that yes, the Braves have Freddy Garcia as the starting pitcher in an elimination game. And while I may scream and yell, throw things in rage, refuse to continue to watch, and swear off the team forever with every play of the game tonight, I will know a few things deep down where the rational thoughts will hide tonight. Anything can happen over the course of a baseball game, anyone can throw a no-hitter (see Phil Humber), and win or lose the Braves will return next spring and that will make me happy. They are constant in not only my life, but the lives of many beyond this community; they are a distraction from the world, entertaining our brains for pleasure. They are OUR team, whether we play the game or not.
Thanks for reading. Go Braves!!!
*2010 NLDS Game 2 Braves @ Giants scroll to 3:34 and 3:38