Sunday, October 3, 2010

Play (Fall) Ball!


Former Atlanta Braves pitching coach great "Rockin'" Leo Mazzone and me before the start of Bobby Cox's final regular season game today.

Well, it wasn't exactly the poetry I'd hoped for, but a win is a win. The Atlanta Braves faced a determined, red-hot Philadelphia Phillies team today and beat them 8-7. With some help from the San Francisco Giants, Bobby Cox now has one last go at the postseason to cap off his great managerial career.

Now we have to go thank the Giants by beating them in San Francisco
this coming Thursday.

A few games ago Cox got
his 2500th career win, a milestone only three other managers have ever reached in baseball history. But, while posterity might remember that stat more than our by-the-skin-of-our-teeth victory today, I'm sure right now making it to the postseason again means more to Bobby, the team, the Braves fans, and certainly to me.

Jennifer and I were there along with our 'Dillo friends Mark and Eileen, Brian and Diane. You might recall we had it all planned out back in the summer at Swan Cabin. Little did we know then how critical this game would be for the 2010 season.

It was a nail biter. A great game to see live. Turner Field was sold out. (The Braves set a three-game series attendance record for Atlanta this weekend.) The fans were on their feet much of time. The noise rivalled that of a college football game. It was a great deal of fun for the first game I've been to in Atlanta in several seasons.

In recent years, I have been content to check out the Rome Braves for my live baseball experience fix. But, since it was Cox's final season, I really wanted to pay him tribute.

Well, it turns out the the "official" ceremony was held Saturday. But that game really sucked. It was looking like we might be swept by the Phillies for the second consecutive series against them and possibly be eliminated from the play-offs entirely. It was much better to be there today for the win.

Fall is my favorite time of the year. I love the cool, crisp, clear sunny days. The past few days have been exactly that way. Just marvelous weather. And plenty of ball games to go with it.

I'm not talking football here. And not just the Braves either. My daughter's softball team had a great game last Thursday, beating a cross-town rival 4-2 in extra innings. She played a good right field and had two hits, driving in the game-winning run while later coming around to score the insurance run.

As you might know by now, I am a vociferous ball fan. What's the use of going to a game and not yell? Hell, I yell at the TV or radio or internet during a game. I don't throw things as much as I used to though. Growing up I guess.

So, Thursday's game made me a bit hoarse the next day. I had Friday to recover before the big Region softball tournament started on Saturday. Again, she played well, with three doubles and an RBI over two games. So, by the time we went to the Braves game today my voice was not 100%.

It didn't matter. I yelled anyway. The Braves scoring 8 runs was certainly something to holler about. The 53,000-plus other fans there seemed to think so as well. The noise level was, at times, deafening. But, then the Phillies came charging back. They are so hot right now, no lead is safe. Finally, Billy Wagner came in and struck out the last four Philly batters of the game to close the door. Hard. Each strike out was a frenzied affair of celebration.

I like to get to the ball park early. Usually there is plenty of time to walk around the stadium. Take it all in before the rush of the crowd. Not so today. The gates opened at 11 a.m. We were there shortly thereafter and the entrance to Turner Field was already packed with activity.

African percussion music greeted us. It was like a carnival. There was a long line waiting for autographs by noteworthy Braves from past seasons: Javy Lopez, Chris Chambliss, and Pete Smith. While walking around Jennifer and I stumbled upon Leo Mazzone, who was very friendly and chatty. To say the atmosphere was "electric" is not overstating things.

The most notable difference between a minor league game and a major league game is the sheer size and magnitude of things. I love minor league baseball for its purity. When you go to a major league game it is much more of an "event," especially when as much is on the line as it was today.

Turner Field is steeped in baseball history, almost like a museum as you walk to your seats. There are various plaques and displays everywhere, not to mention all the great stuff inside the Braves Museum and Hall of Fame located there. Jennifer insisted that I take her pic (see left) to give some scale to the display honoring Otis Nixon for what every true Braves fan knows as "The Catch."

We met up with our friends outside the isle to our seats which were excellent, located just to the left of the Phillies dugout, with a great view of the field and of the inside of the Braves dugout as well. Out in the grass of center field was a huge No. 6 in honor of Bobby. I was wearing my own Cox jersey in the spirit of the day.

It was still about an hour before the game started. Plenty of time for several beers, lots of conversation, jokes, trivia. Talking to the strangers around us as if we all knew each other. As long as the language is baseball you really don't need to know anything more about your neighbors in the stands. We are all best buddies for the next couple of hours, never to see each other again. It has been that way all my life.

Once the game starts, however, I'm not interested in all the bullshit. I focus. (See pic of me at left. Game face mode "on".) We are here for a reason. I grow quiet unless I need to rant at an umpire or scream in joy at some play. I hate having to explain or discuss anything unless it's between innings. I clap very loud. Jennifer decided to sit next to Brian, who snuck in some rum for her cokes. Diane sat next to me. She's a real trooper and knows how to enjoy a game. Jennifer got pretty wasted, but what's new? :)

I prefer to get a nice beer buzz before the first pitch and then sober up during the game. In today's case the game itself became quite sobering as the Phillies charged back late after being down 8-2. Our mood became dampened a bit when it got to 8-7. But, Wagner got us out of our funk by becoming unhittable, especially in the ninth inning.

When I go to a softball game, my daughter thinks I am obnoxious, although the coaches and players seem to like it. I deliberately try to get into the opposing pitcher's head. Sometimes I succeed. It's fun. I never call out any names or numbers though. I keep the comments to a "general" nature. (Unless the ump can't call strikes.)

When I go to a game in Rome, I'm never out-yelled. Everyone knows I'm there. But, today in Atlanta I yelled as loud as I could and I couldn't even hear myself. It was an ocean of noise and it felt great. Nothing surpasses a packed major league stadium romping and rocking with a bit of momentum behind it. This is, of course, another aspect of baseball. One I haven't really posted about before. The live-in-the-moment-with-the-wicked-crowd aspect.

Being with some of the 'Dillos (we are rarely all in one place) is always fun. But, throw in about 52,994 significant others, a bit of history, winning a game, and making the play-offs kind of takes what happened today way beyond fun. We were high-fiving and high-tening (which is kind of passe, I guess) each other and some of the lesser known fans around us. A memorable day to what I hope is the beginning of a drive to the World Series.

Although to tell you the truth I'm not sure anyone can beat the Phillies. But, who knows? Baseball is a streaky sport. Teams often get hot and cold in the blink of an eye.

My voice is shot. My daughter plays two more tournament games tomorrow night. I'm not sure what her schedule is if her team keeps winning after that. And this coming Thursday it will be time to roar against the Giants. Will my voice be ready? It's a nice problem to have.

It's all about the Fall Ball baby! Woooohooooo!!

Congratulations to Bobby Cox.

The Bravo-Dillos. Jennifer and me in front. Brian, Diane, Eileen, and Mark in back. Across Turner Field is the Chop Shop and several thousand friends for the day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Keith,

How 'bout posting the picture of me next to the simulation of Otis's great catch?

Jen