Editorial: Thank you, BravosPhoto by Nicki Salcedo
I get that some people aren’t into sports. Sports are noisy, sweaty, messy. For every moment of victory, there are a hundred moments of defeat. But for many of us, sports are important. And for many of us in Atlanta, that sport is baseball.
Growing up in Georgia, Turner Broadcasting Station (TBS) aired just about every game, and games were on almost every day. Start time was afternoons at 2:05 p.m. or evenings at 7:05 p.m. Those extra five minutes meant you could finish your homework or chores and gather your supplies. You needed food, because baseball games are long. You needed a scoresheet from the newspaper, because baseball is about statistics. If you ever want a kid to get good at math, teach them how to score baseball. From the tiny little scoring grids to perfectly sharpened pencils, baseball is about more than stolen bases and home runs.
For me, baseball is a direct tie to my childhood. We did not miss Braves games. That meant time with my parents and my sisters. It wasn’t a thing that we were forced into or opted out of. We were happy to gather as a family to watch. Some of my favorite memories involved watching baseball. My dad watched in animated fashion. My mom watched both hopeful and nervous. If tensions got too high, she would pull out the ironing board and start to iron clothes. It also worked for good luck.
“Do you remember one game when I went and hid in the bathroom? I couldn’t watch.” My mom laughed as she said this. Sometimes I like to confirm that this beautiful dream of baseball that I have is real. We watched a lot of baseball in the 1980’s and 1990’s. You can ask my mom.
Though we were often defeated as a team, watching the Braves was our safe place. Can you imagine loving a sport and cheering for a town that everyone thought was second-rate? The underdogs. A city without champions. That was a long time ago. A lot of things have changed in my lifetime.
The original mascot was an offensive caricature. The face of a “Brave” was easy to retire, but the name less so. Some of us can remember Chief Noc-A-Homa and Princess Win-A-Lotta standing near a tee-pee in the outfield. It was meant to honor, not ridicule. But treating groups as “the other” was a new discussion. The fact that people or groups should not be mascots is an important conversation. Times changed and new traditions emerge. The tomahawk chop didn’t begin until after the indigenous faces were gone. It started in the early 1990’s and was borrowed from Florida State. Two steps forward, three steps back.
And yet I miss the good old days. When the stadium moved away from the city, the socio-economic message was clear. Baseball isn’t for all of us anymore. Baseball used to be for all of us. But now, no more. Elite youth sports are lucrative. Parents are willing to pay. Regular kids can’t afford baseball. Can you imagine finding kids today playing in a sand lot and swinging for the fences with friends. Just for fun? Why even bother have a catch with your parent if you aren’t on a travel team?
For many years a cab driver named Fred drove me to the airport. He grew up near the old stadium in the 1960’s.
“They’d open the gates after the sixth inning. Anyone could walk in a watch the games. That’s what me and my buddies would do.”
I used to love talking to Fred. He loved the Falcons. He loved the Braves. Sports were in his blood. We weren’t from the same generation, but we understood each other. Sports can do that. Bring people together. Nothing like being on the train before an Atlanta United game and talking to strangers because they are wearing the same jersey. Nothing like high-fiving the stranger next to you in the stadium when your team scores. In those moments, there are no strangers. We’re all family.
My best friend in high school was Susie. Susie and I loved the Braves. Honestly, she and I love all the sports. Football, wrestling, soccer. We loved the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
Our first Braves parade was 1991. Yes, 30 years ago. Susie and I were seniors in high school. Atlanta closed school for the day then too, and the Braves didn’t even win the World Series that year. We took MARTA to Five Points, watched the parade, and went to my mom’s office downtown. We had a fabulous day. Two 16-year-old girls out in the city. We were elated. We saw our favorite players. I thought that one day I’d name my child after Sid Bream.
I look at my oldest daughter and smile. Now that I look back, I see that dreams do come true.
City pride, the Braves, and events like a victory parade brought Atlanta into the notice of the Olympics. For those of you who aren’t native to Atlanta, please remember that something brought you to this town. You left wherever you’re from to come to this city for a job, for a better life. This is damaged, broken, burned down, rise up again Atlanta. We have music and trees and good people. And when the last bit of autumn dies down, we see the end of baseball. I love Braves baseball. Even if it’s a team that still has some work to do.
I would love it if we became the Hammers in honor of Hank Aaron and let the chop become a swing. Take note of the construction sites around Atlanta, and you’ll be reminded that this city has no problem using a hammer to change the shape of our future.
I don’t actually like parades. I hate a crowd. I get that missing work and school is challenging for a lot of people. But I love having something to celebrate. I’ll never be able to pay back the Braves for all of the hours they gave me with my dad and my mom and my sisters. I’ll never forget the day I missed school and spent a day downtown with my best friend. It reminds me of how I want to spend time with my own family now. And with my friends. For many of us, this team has given us a lifetime of hope and good memories. That’s enough. If ever there was a field of dreams, it’s Atlanta.
Thank you, Bravos.
Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom.
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