I have been a Braves fan since I was a young girl, back when you could walk up to the window at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium and buy a ticket 5 minutes before the start of the game and make it to your seat on field level before the first pitch was thrown. Back when a paper bag was part of the game day attire. Back when there were more empty seats than full.
The draw for me was the concession stand and Chief Noc-a-homa, not the game. Chief Noc-a-homa tried his best to keep the crowd in the game, without much success. I watched him, and since he had come to our school, I felt a connection with his drumming and dancing. When I did take a moment to watch the field, it was individual players that caught my attention rather than the team as a whole. Phil Niekro, Dale Murphy, and of course Hank Aaron. The night of Hank Aaron’s big home run we were not at the ballpark, but driving on I-85. I remember thinking that since he had hit it “out of the park” it might come down in front of our car on the highway as we drove by the stadium. If only childhood dreams came true. Hank will be missed, but I think he is smiling down on us.
Truth be told, I didn’t understand the nuances of the game until the worst to first year in 1991. I only knew you had to score more runs. That meant getting more hits which was something we didn’t do very well for a long time. Then, when I was much older, and still a fan, we started winning. It was a new sensation to be cheering for a winning team. I began to see the importance of every pitch and the battle that takes place between each hitter and the pitcher. It fascinated me to learn so much more about this game I had grown up attending.
In Atlanta we are especially used to our hopes being dashed, over and over again, by team after team. The yearly expectations are always high…this is the year…we hope. We are always full of anticipation. If you could bottle the optimism of Atlanta fans you could run this country for years. We believe. It is our mantra. Just believe! We believed in 91 and 92, only to have our hopes deferred. But we kept believing and in 95, the Young Guns finally brought home the championship.
Braves fever was in full swing. It felt good to be a Braves fan. It felt like I knew every player personally, and that somehow, I was a winner by association. We were all caught up in it and the unity of the city was palpable. We had a pep in our step and smiles on our faces. There was good will and good moods everywhere. It was a corporate serotonin boost which lasted a year.
We just knew there would be a repeat because…we are Braves fans and we have optimism forever. But, again in 96 and then in 99 we lost in the championship series. The magic was gone. We continued to get into the playoffs, but each year we choked. That familiar disappointment shrouding me each year, to the point I lost interest and in the midst of raising children, I didn’t have time for hope deferred.
This year began like all the others. Watching with expectation. But we didn’t do that well, and it appeared we were out of it already, in the first half of the season. I quit paying attention. Then all of a sudden, we were in it. I wasn’t sure how that happened since I hadn’t been watching. Hope flickered anew. The familiar feelings of belief flooded my heart. Each game was an event. Each pitch a battle. Each home run a victory of sorts. All the elements that make for great ball were in place. All players doing their part. The conversations switched from vaccinations and death tolls to the Braves. The red and blue became purple for a season of hope. We had something to believe in. Something to unite us. The anticipation grew at each level. I extended my bedtime to watch the late games, not wanting to miss out. Wanting to be a part of this amazing ride.
In game 6, it appeared we had won it. Yet, as an Atlanta fan we all know that appearances can be fleeting and fortunes can shift in short order. I held my breath. We were all collectively holding our breath until that ball hit Freddy’s glove and we knew he had it. Then the pandemonium of relief hit as we all, in unison, released our fears and embraced the truth that we were World Series Champions! It was euphoric. Once again, the unity, the camaraderie, the sheer joy of being champions overtook all else. And for now, I am content to ride the wave for a while…holding onto this hope and belief that has infused me with a bit of life after the past couple of years of pandemic funk. I call it the Braves Bubble, and I want to live in it.