It was a bittersweet weekend toward the end of the Spring semester in 1991. A good friend, Scott, was about to leave college. Several of us who knew him were trying to think of a proper way to have a farewell fitting for him.
Scott was from the South, and a big time Atlanta Braves fan. That was pretty funny, because the team hadn’t made the playoffs in almost a decade at that point, and was rarely in the hunt for the playoffs after May. I think they had the worst record in baseball my freshman year, and that was with the Baltimore Orioles going 0-21 to start the year. Scott always loaded his Fantasy team with Braves, even though it meant he didn’t fare well in the standings.
But we decided to take him to a game anyway. The Braves were playing the Houston Astros, and our college was in San Antonio, Texas. It’s about a three hour drive, and we made the trek to the old Astrodome.
The Braves had a young hurler named Tom Glavine. He hadn’t won many games, but I remembered reading in Sports Illustrated that the New York Yankees had offered a pair of decent sluggers to get him. Maybe he was worth something.
Sure enough, Glavine was mowing down hitters, using every trick in the book to keep the Astros at bay. I liked that the Braves tried to focus on manufacturing runs, playing stellar defense, playing the game the way it was meant to be. It was tough, as the Astros had a pretty good
With two runners on base late in the game, the Astros sent up a pinch-hitter, Casey Candaele (his mom was the inspiration for the movie “A League of Their Own”). Candaele came through with a pinch-hit double, scoring two runs, the only two of the game.
We felt bad for Scott… all that driving for nothing. But it was a pretty good game. And that day, I decided to become an Atlanta Braves fan. I would cheer for the team managed by Bobby Cox, and root for Tom Glavine, who threw a masterful complete game in a losing effort.
Scott and I were rewarded that year, of course. The Atlanta Braves made that historic “worst-to-first” run to make the playoffs, beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, and took the Minnesota Twins to seven games.
Over the next decade-and-a-half, the Braves became a playoff fixture with the same fundamentals as they employed on that Sunday afternoon in the Spring of 1991. And they did so by developing other young talent, like John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, and Javy Lopez. They added key talent during the same time, adding Greg Maddux, Fred McGriff and Andres Galarraga. And I enjoyed going to the games wherever I was (Florida, Chicago, etc.), watching games on TBS, and listening to the Braves on the radio.
It’s great to see Cox, Glavine, and Maddux make a well-deserved trip to Cooperstown, New York to be inducted into Baseball’s Hall-of-Fame. It’s all the more amazing when you consider that these players didn’t use steroids, but competed against many who did. None were flashy in their style, but each seemed to catch the eye of those who knew they were playing the game the right way. Each of them, and their hard-playing teammates, deserve to take a bow.