Back to my regularly scheduled running blog later, but today is Opening Day in baseball and that takes top priority. As you can probably tell from my random posts, I am an avid fan of the Atlanta Braves. This has left me disappointed most seasons, especially in the playoffs, but they are still my team. And on the first day of the year, everyone is in first place! Unless you are in the NL West where the Dodgers have already played three games.
The spring was a roller coaster for the Braves this year. It started with Braves fans despondent because the team made no off-season moves of note while losing Tim Hudson and Brian McCann to free agency. But then, during the first couple of weeks of spring training, the Braves started locking up much of their young core of players to long-term deals, which has been unheard of in the past few years, and things began to look up! Then Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy hurt their arms, needing their second Tommy John surgery, which does not have a good track record for a return to success. The Braves have the dubious honor of leading the majors in Tommy John surgeries and they added three more (two for sure) to that total this spring. That is why the Braves opening day rotation is not quite what us fans had expected. Well, that and another pitcher having his urethra operated on in the off-season. So the Aaron Harang era is about to begin in Atlanta! These injuries also led the Braves to sign the best available free agent pitcher, Ervin Santana, blowing up the projected budget in the process. Of course, blowing up the budget is different for Atlanta than say the Yankees, because at the projected Opening Day budget around $111 million, the Braves are still ranked 14th in baseball in payroll.
But today is Opening Day, a day for optimism and excitement. We finally get to see our favorite teams on the field again and at least for one day, they all have a chance to make it special. 162 games is a long time, and many things can and will happen. Last year, the Braves were given zero chance of winning the division and by the end of April, they had already buried the rest of the division, so it can happen. If the young core of Heyward, Freeman, Kimbrel, Teheran, Simmons, and Justin Upton continue their growth, a long with Gattis replacing McCann and Uggla and BJ Upton remember how to play baseball, even at a replacement level, this year still can be special.
I spent more time yesterday watching Braves highlights from years past than I care to admit. I watched Brooks Conrad’s walk off grand slam from 2010, both of Chipper’s walk off home runs against the Phillies in 2012, Bream’s slide in the 1992 NLCS, David Justice’s solo shot in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series to give the Braves their only World Series championship in Atlanta. In fact, while watching Justice’s home run, I noticed the one and only Bill F’n Murray in the stands with Ted Turner. Murray is a Chicago guy and I believe a Cubs fan, but it was still cool seeing him there when then only celebrity I remember from the 1990’s Braves was Jeff Foxworthy.
So I think that the Braves should bring back Murray to throw out the first pitch of a game and maybe channel some Groundhog Day (yes, I went there, and yes, I am sorry) magic into the organization because October 28, 1995, would be a mighty fine day to relive. Well, expect for one minor detail. This is the only Braves post season game that I have missed in my entire life! Yep, the biggest game in Atlanta Braves history and I missed it because my parents made me go to a Tim McGraw concert! This was before the age of smartphones and I sat there, in my Chipper Jones jersey, nervously waiting for score updates anywhere that I could get them. I was even interviewed by a local radio station that was doing a remote from the concert. They could not believe that I was there instead of watching the game. But I was 13, and did not have much say in the matter. This night will haunt me for the rest of my life! And of course, there is no Tim McGraw song presently on my iPhone.
Sadly, I am at work today, so I cannot watch the game, but I will be following along on my phone and hopefully my 1 o’clock clients will leave quickly so I can return to my office and listen to the game. Despite the injuries, I still have high hopes for this season. I still feel that the Braves will win over 90 games and make the playoffs. Maybe a year full of doubters and pundits claiming that the Dodgers, Cardinals, Yankees, Nationals, Giants, Red Sox, and Tigers are obviously better teams will help the Braves come out of no where (as much as a defending division winner can) like the Red Sox did last year. Who knows, but it is baseball season once again, and that is always a good thing.