Updated with more information at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 3, 2021.
Y'all, the Atlanta Braves accomplished so much more than winning the World Series on Tuesday night.
With every run scored, every strike three blown by a batter, every double play turned and every rally completed, this team transported so many of us through decades of memories — back to the point where it began and the special people we shared those indelible moments with.
How could a sports team accomplish all that? Simple.
It was adopting the Braves and Falcons as "my teams" as a sports-crazy kid because they weren't just the closest pro franchises to home, back then they were the only true Southern teams, period. It's falling in love in 1982. Before puberty and girls, I was introduced to what true heartbreak would feel like at 11 years old, waiting for Murph, Horner or Claudell to save the series, only to be swept by the St. Louis Cardinals.
It was Pascual Perez missing his pitching start by getting lost on I-285 — I would later learn the hard way just how easy it was to get lost in Atlanta traffic. It was not knowing — or frankly caring — whatever algebra or biology assignment was coming up in class but being able to recite — off the top of my head — whether that day's starting lineup was the same order as it had been the day before, or the day before that, or ...
It was staying up way past my bedtime when they made a West Coast road trip. It was Rick Mahler, an otherwise ordinary pitcher, being nearly unhittable every opening day from 1985-88. It was the Braves becoming nearly unwatchable pretty much every day after that during those seasons. It was stopping whatever else I had been doing every summer evening promptly at 7:05 and turning the television to the Superstation to watch and listen as Skip, Pete and Ernie called that night's game.
It was driving down to rickety old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium with friends and coworkers early in the 1991 season and realizing on the way home that "these guys might actually be good for a change." It was watching that season become magic and falling in love with the city a little more each time I made the trip down. It was David Justice's swing being prettier than the new girl in school, and it was John Smoltz's four-seamer or Tom Glavine's circle-change making batters — to use Springsteen's words — look like a fool, boy.
It was my grandmother (we all just called her Nannie) who cared nothing about any other sports, sitting on the couch next to my older sister, sharing a blanket on those chilly early 1990s playoff nights, both pulling it up nearly eye-level so they could cover their faces anytime the tension became too nerve-wrecking to watch. It was Jack Buck telling us all "We'll see you tomorrow night" when the Minnesota Twins won Game 6 of the 1991 World Series.
It was going to bed before the ninth inning Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series — partly because I had to be up at 4:30 the next morning for work, but mostly because I couldn't bear to see the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrate on the Braves' field. I listened to the start of the ninth on the clock radio next to my bed, then decided not to get up and turn the TV back on once the tying and go-ahead runners reached base because I didn't want to mess up the mojo and jinx the rally. It was Sid's slide and me sprinting to the living room to turn the TV back on to watch the replay — just to make sure that actually happened. It's Wohlers coaxing the third out to left-center in the ninth in '95 so that Skip could finally tell us "Yes, Yes, YES! The Atlanta Braves have given you a championship!"
It's knowing only playoff disappointment and heartbreak every season since that night.
It was buying my daughter Lauren a 'Braves #1' bib after she was born, and her sitting next to me and her brother Riley on the couch to watch games. And it's her later telling me proudly about overhearing some boys at school discussing the game: "Daddy, they didn't know what they were talking about, so I had to tell them they were wrong."
It's looking at the opening day roster each spring with renewed optimism and thinking "this looks like the year," having hope dangled in front of us only to have it yanked away — seemingly in agonizing slow motion — at the last moment. It's learning how hollow the phrase "wait till next year" truly is. It was being one win from the NLCS in 2019, only to watch the Cardinals explode for 10 runs in the first inning of the deciding game. It was getting within one win of reaching the World Series last fall — a season when games had helped bring a few hours of needed normalcy to an otherwise horrific year for everyone — only to watch a 3-1 series lead slowly slip away and the hated Los Angeles Dodgers go on to win it all. Again.
It was watching bad luck and injuries pile up this season: Ozuna's arrest, Soroka's season-ending setback (again), Acuña's electric bat and personality lost for the stretch run on a hustle play. It was trade deadline moves that meant the Braves weren't sellers on the season; the front office was actually buying into the hope a lot of us also felt. It was not getting above .500 until August.
It was Freddie and Eddie picking up the slack with clutch at-bats. It was Joctober causing Braves fans to raid their grandma's jewelry box for her pearl necklace. It was learning to trust Luke Jackson and Will Smith with our most precious possession: late-inning leads. It was Tyler Matzek becoming an instant legend by escaping an inescapable jam against the Dodgers. It was seemingly watching a new face step up to become the next hero each night. It was feeling like it's us versus them — not just the team in the other dugout but also the national media ignorantly stereotyping our Southern customs. It's leaving all of them scattered, smothered and covered in silence, tail tucked firmly between their legs as they exit God's country.
It's being thankful that after all the dud seasons, disasters and disappointments, we still dare to get drawn in by the romance of loving something that may never show love back.
It was both of my kids texting me within seconds of one another — from different locations — moments after Saturday night's dramatic Game 4 Braves win to say "let's go to The Battery tomorrow!" We left home eight hours before first pitch, drove two hours to Atlanta and stood shoulder to shoulder with 20,000 others who couldn't actually get into the stadium, just to fight off the evening chill to watch a game on a big screen instead of from the comforts of home.
It was the stranger I met while waiting for that game to begin, a young man named Travis who still wore his work boots and dirty jeans after coming straight from his job site at 7 a.m. to claim a spot just outside the stadium's gates. When I asked why on earth he chose to come there instead of going home to rest first, Travis looked away, adjusted his ballcap a little tighter over his eyes and admitted, "I didn't want to take a chance on not getting a good spot. The Braves were the one thing my dad and I always shared, even when we didn't seem to have much else in common. I lost him last year and this is where I feel closest to him."
I swallowed hard, offered my condolences and walked away, remembering the line in the Cole Swindell song "Dad's Old Number" where he sings about still dialing his dad's cellphone number, even though he knows his dad is no longer alive, "Sometimes I forget these 10 digits ain't my lifeline anymore, every now and then I dial 'em up when life gets tough or when the Braves score " My son once told me he's never been able to listen to that song after the first time because it reminds him too much of us and not wanting to imagine when the time comes that he and I wouldn't be able to call or text to share a special moment.
At some point that day will come, but until it does, it was Max Fried handcuffing baseball's most potent lineup and the Braves' bats being Soler powered to finish off a season unlike any in 26 years. And along the way, it was the Braves adding to the list of memories for all of us 11-year olds everywhere to share.