Asked after Wednesday night’s 3-0 loss where the bats that produced a .291 average this spring were, Chipper Jones responded, “They got lost in shipment.”
The grumblings are already starting about the off-season trades and the inevitable lackluster season for the Atlanta Braves this year.
Atlanta is such a fair-weather sports town. Just months ago, Michael Vick led a charge over the Green Bay Packers, at a snowy Lambeau Field no doubt, breaking Green Bay’s undefeated-at-home post-season streak. That was the first time that Brett Favre ever lost in weather colder than 34 degrees! Atlanta fans were suddenly sporting Falcons hats, shirts, and bumper stickers proudly. The following week, Arizon beats Atlanta at home, and the wind is taken out of Atlanta’s sails. Today, you can barely count the number of Falcons logos you see in a day (counting all those bumper stickers on cars that lasted what, a week?!)
The Thrashers’ Dany Heatley ties The Great One’s record for most points in an All-Star Game and walks off as the All-Star game MVP. Ask the average Joe on the street who Heatley is, and they would be clueless. Heck, I bet some would be stunned to learn that we have a hockey team. The Thrashers just don’t win. There exists a core faithful, unwavering fan base that simply admits, “we are still a new franchise.”
Spring Training! The dawn of Atlanta sports, when we really start winning. The Braves sport an impressive batting record. But fans’ enthusiasm is marred by the off-season trades… Glavine is now a Met, and Millwood throws for the Phillies. Can Maddux command the mound this season, and can Smoltz stay healthy this year and have the type of season he did last year? Coverage of spring training in Atlanta is spotty at best, people would much rather see yet more coverage of the War on Iraq. I am as patriotic as the next guy, likely moreso, and believe in our cause in Iraq, but even the local media recognizes that Katie Couric interviewing yet another wife of a deployed soldier gets more press in Atlanta than a spring-training shutout.
Spring training is over… now comes the regular season. Atlanta begins by dropping the opening series to the Expos. If it were at all close, maybe things would be different. But Maddux got shelled on Monday night’s opener, setting the tone for the entire series. The Expos! Weren’t they near extinction just last year? How can America’s Team lose to a team from the same town where, just a month ago, boo’d our American National Anthem when the Thrashers were playing in Montreal? We had a fly-over of Air Force jets for the season opener, surely that means we are supposed to win! (Note: that was sarcasm, for those Atlanta readers who think the Braves are supposed to win every home game).
The Braves drop the series, and the grumblings get louder. “We lost the wrong guy!” Never mind that Glavine was boo’d off the mound on Monday night by the Mets (yes, boo’d by his own team’s fans). The only pitchers Atlanta fans really recognized were Glavine, Maddux, and Smoltz. Never mind that we also lost Millwood, who threw a 6-inning shutout in Philadelphia… “Did he used to be a Brave? Huh… don’t remember him.”
Let’s hope America’s Team can start getting their act together pretty quickly. Quickly enough before the fair weather fans in Atlanta forget about the past 12 years of incredible baseball.