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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