If you love me then let me go: The Death of a Passion

The first reality of being an avid sports fan is you don’t so much pick your teams, they pick you. There’s a moment where your passion is materialized and you get the bug. You are made for life. I can tell you my moments for each of my other sports teams. My two most steadfast, the Islanders and Dolphins, both involved beloved veterans near the end of their run (Mssrs Vanbiesbrouck and Marino respectively) relying on guile more than ‘stuff.’ Guile was the Bravos game, wasn’t it? Some top shelf phenomenal pitching (but seldom gas, just actual PITCHING craftsmanship) from Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, and the fourth ‘ace’ (Avery then Neagle, then Millwood).

The Braves were built on pitching to the park and the fielders who occupied it. And man, did they have some great ones. Blauser, Lemke, Chipper at the hot corner, and the kid from Curacao patrolling center. This was what I was ‘born’ into. A team that would get em over and get em in at the plate with the occasional MAMMO jack into the cheapseats of the Launching Pad. And in the field? That craftsmanship again. Manufacturing outs, pitching to defense and letting the guys with the leather do their jobs. There was the steady backstop, number 8, then number 16 who was the final line protecting the dish. The corner OFers had cannons over the years. Gant. Jordan. Francoeur had a goddamn WMD for an arm (still does). They were ENTERTAINING.

I thought for a long time Andruw Jones was the best defensive player I’d ever see. He was so gifted. 25 played a shallow center, DARING you to hit it over his head. And if you did? he’d get on his horse and go get it. It’s hard to feel bad for Braves fans of my generation. We got our precious team validating World Championship. We got to watch 5 (I do believe Andruw eventually gets in, 10 gold Gloves does that) Hall of Famers. We got to make the whole country Braves Country via the Superstation. But see, that’s the thing.
We were born into this.

This isn’t a case of being unable to tolerate losing (as I wouldn’t still be here or root for my aforementioned NHL/NFL circuses). This is a case of expectation and breached trust. I suppose in many ways this was inevitable when Ted Turner sold the team. The games stopped being on TBS for the masses. Bobby retired and gave the keys to Fredi, his trusted lieutenant (the problem being Gonzalez was a far better Grunt than a General). And the first generation that succeeded ‘the streak’ petered out (exacerbated by rash bad Wren decisions like the Texieria trade and the mismanagement of young assets Jurrjens and Minor and Medlen and Hansen, RIP Tommy) , McCann was their flag bearer, and we were told it was time to cut bait on this beloved franchise cornerstone. He was going to cash out to the AL and we had capable players like the mythical white bear Evan Gattis to take his place behind the dish… so we let Mac go. And it hurt. And we let Hudson go, because the kids were ready to take his place. And it hurt.

Then we turned around, and this bloated team that wasn’t young but was still a 90 win squad decided to shed payroll, to be used to lock up its core. This was great. This was what needed to be done to ensure the next generation of Braves Baseball played the Braves Way.

It was announced that in 2017 the Braves would be moving to Cobb, abandoning the Ted, which was across the parking lot from Fulton County, their home since Milwaukee. They were moving further away from mass transit and out of a stadium that hadn’t even turned 20 at the time of the announcement. It was unprecedented. However, to show their commitment to perennial contention, and the “Braves Way” several homegrown talents were positioned as the faces of the franchise to steer the ship into new times. Teheran, Simmons, Freeman, Kimbrel, Heyward, Wood and Gattis were that core.

Were. As in no longer are.

The onlypure power bat who couldn’t flash leather, Gattis went to Houston to clear the way for Bettancourt (who outright sucks) a mere 18 months after Mac was jettisoned to clear the way for Gattis. Heyward, arguably a top 5 outfielder in baseball, was shipped to HATED St. Louis, for a solid if unspectacular number 2 pitcher in Shelby Miller. Kimbrel (THE BEST CLOSER TODAY, PERIOD.) was sent to San Diego to allow us out of Upton number 2’s contract months after we sent Upton number 1’s contract there, one of the most entertaining players in franchise history and the only guy currently in the MLB with a shot at Rivera’s all times saves record, ditched in a straight salary dump. That too, was heartbreaking. Wood went as a throw in to shed salary and acquire A THIRTY YEAR OLD PROSPECT for a rebuilding team, which still makes no sense.
Teheran is having control issues and looks destined to go the way of Kerry Lightenberg. Freeman, brave bucko that he is, is suffering from a variety of maladies from carrying the entire damn franchise with nothing resembling protection anywhere around him. He will still get 50 RBI against the Mets Phils and Nats alone out of pure hatred.

At least we have Simba. Andrelton Simmons, the only Atlanta defender I’ve ever seen in my life who outclasses Andruw Jones. The best defensive shortstop since Ozzie Smith. Platinum Gloves, Gold Gloves, Defensive Player of the Year, he’s won all these accolades and more. Sports is entertainment, and at least we have the best damn glove in the business to WOW you once or twice a game and he’s young (26), entering his prime, and under a nice team friendly contract for 4 more years. At least we have that guy!

Had. As in no longer have.

No more. Last night, the defensive stalwart was sent to the Halos for a pair of young arms and a middling spot holding replacement at short. Another cap dump. These are the Atlanta Braves. THE DEFINITIVE SPORTS TEAM of an entire region. The Slide. Tommy Gun. The Professor. Chief Justice. Crime Dog. Big Cat. The Jones Boys. The Streak. Consistent excellence… reduced into a Marlins-esque firesale after signing a bunch of contracts to justify a new taxpayer funded stadium.
At least the Marlins had the decency to WAIT until the season opened to shed that payroll they used to dupe the public. The Braves began unloading once the shovel hit the dirt. Figuratively and literally, they are still digging.

I’m not going to let this team that I LOVE ruin my love of baseball. I’m cashing out. Heading up 95 to Baltimore, Jack. At least I can catch a game on a day trip. It hurts to turn my back on literally the ONLY team that’s ever given me a championship in my time as a fan. It really does. But if it was reprehensible when the Marlins did it? It’s worse when we did it after chastising them for it. It’s gross. Keep your bargain basement payroll and your shiny new taxpayer boondoggle stadium that nobody can get to.

Good luck to those of you still fighting the good fight (and to Freddie Freeman, who may be traded to a team that wants to win for a pitcher coming off Tommy John any second now). Thanks for the memories, Bravos. Let’s go O’s.

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A Delicious Hell

I don’t think that people who haven’t undertaken distance running understand what a marathon entails. They don’t mean to be dismissive, but they just don’t get it. There is so much involved. You have to train for six months, even if your body is accustom to absurd distance, to be ready for one day of racing. Recovery will be needed, to what degree is never certain. You just don’t know until you are out there what 26.2 miles has in store for you.  The human body isn’t meant to rack up that kind of mileage in a day, that is why less than 1% of the United States has completed a Marathon. It isn’t easy, or everyone would do it. And yes, Runners want to talk about it afterwards and then begin feverishly planning to dismantle themselves on another course. Why? Musicians make music and talk music. Artisans make Art and talk shop to one another. Fisherman live and breathe fishing. Runners live in the glory of their most recent race and then move on to their next one. Unlike the aforementioned trades, most of us aren’t paid to run. We do it socially, we do it for fun. Why? Because it is our passion.

Inclines, declines, potholes, sidewalks, everything becomes a potential hazard. That’s what makes the race so alluring. So much can go wrong. So much planning and you need to run a perfect race. 33,000 steps, and each one is a potential landmine that can derail you.  I know the one that changed my race yesterday.

I was ticking off 5K segments at approximately a NICE 33 minute clip. Right where I wanted to be through 20K. I approached the Queensboro bridge and decided to veer towards the toilets before getting on the bridge. A gentleman graciously held the door for me and not wanting to keep him waiting, I pushed towards the portajohn. The sidewalk before the bridge is at a bit of an angle so my stride was thrown off, then I badly stubbed my left foot on the lip of the portajohn and basically landed with a hard thud. Though the injury to my hoof wasn’t as severe as I thought (just a bad bruise), I had no way of knowing that at the time, and the body moves to protect an injury. I began even subconsciously shifting my weight to compensate, and though I was strong to mile 16, my right foot eventually became blister ridden from carrying the full brunt of my weight. I was now in dire need of a break and a clean toilet to handle a more pressing situation. I was in agony, but I knew if I got to mile 20, there was a clean toilet that few knew about. Working for Parks does have it’s perks. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. I limped in, but I wasn’t able to handle the business I needed to for a infuriating long time. You see, I didn’t plan on being on the course tis long, so I noshed down a banana just before the race to block myself up.  This of course, became a bigger issue as I labored through this injury out there. I regretted that decision. Eventually, I got going again, and when I finally hit Central Park I was on fire. My finishing kick was a sight to behold, and getting handed a medal by a good friend at the Finish made everything wroth it.

I’d do it again in a heartbeat. There are adjustments to make in the plan and the execution. I didn’t get the PR I wanted, and really ended up not being close after the injury, but I found something more important. Reserves of willpower and resolve I wasn’t sure existed. I’m proud of that race.

The 13 miles in Brooklyn is magical. Queens brought a surprising energy, and the Bronx was very fired up even late in the day. That jaunt down 5th avenue to close her out must be experienced. Congrats to everyone who undertook that challenge yesterday, no matter your result, and anyone thinking about taking that challenge? To be able to answer it is a gift. Do so, and it’ll change your opinion of yourself for the rest of your life.