Saturday, April 15, 2017

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

I freely admit it.  I wasn't happy that the Atlanta Braves were leaving Turner Field.  I loved the Ted!  I spent literally hundreds of evenings there, cheering my team, always there for Opening Day and hopefully still there late into October.  Turner Field was a beautiful ballpark with amazing views of downtown Atlanta.  Every out-of-towner I spoke with would ask why the Braves would ever leave such a beautiful park.  I spent the last two seasons mourning the slow death of one of my dearest friends.

Though my heart was sad, my brain understood.  The city of Atlanta didn't treat the Braves as well as they should have.  Years of broken promises and a history of being a bad landlord (the city owns the ballpark) the team seemingly always playing second fiddle to the Atlanta Falcons in the eyes of City Hall.  John Schuerholz and company took matters into their own hands and moved eight miles north. 

I've been to Sun Trust Park three times now.  Once in October for a hard hat tour, a few weeks ago for a spring training game and last night for the Home Opener. My assessment?  The Braves did it right!  Is it absolutely perfect?  No, there are a few glitches to work out but the ones that I experienced in March were almost completely rectified by the Home Opener.  The biggest negative for me?  Ticket prices.  My seats doubled in price.  The organization definitely courted corporations.  Those who benefit from getting 'free' tickets from their employer, a company vendor or whomever will have an amazing experience with great seats and exclusive restaurants/clubs.  My concern is for the 'regular' people.  The parents who want to take their 2, 3, 4, 5 kids.  It will hit the wallet much harder this year than it did last year.  But baseball is a business and the players have to get paid somehow.  No matter the sport, this always comes with a new venue.

Now, back to what really matters.

In my world, Opening Day marks the beginning of spring.  Spring came a little late this year as the Braves were the last team to play at home.  It was worth the wait!!  Fans came early, way before the gates opened .  Tailgating, exploring everything the Battery had to offer and checking out the newly unveiled statue of Bobby Cox.  It's an amazing likeness and it really captures the essence of the Braves former skipper.

 
I love the energy, the sights, the sounds and the ceremony of Opening Day.  The smell of hot dogs wafting through the air, the crunch of peanut shells underfoot, the vendor who can be heard over everything yelling "cold beer" and the sight of that beautiful, pristine playing field!  The blades of grass almost waving everyone toward their seats.  I love seeing Walter Banks, a Braves usher since the team came to Atlanta, and then seeing and hugging my usher, Thelma, a beautiful lady who made the move from Turner Field.  Thank goodness!  I love finding my brand new tomahawk waiting for me in my cup holder, watching both teams being introduced, seeing the huge American flag being unfurled and most of all, the fly over! 

The Braves do ceremony like no one else.  John Schuerholz addressed the sold out crowd welcoming us and making certain that we all knew that Sun Trust Park was built specifically for us, the fans.  The ballpark was built to be the best venue to watch a baseball game and to have the ultimate fan experience.  Everything in the park was in place, statues had been moved, memorabilia displayed, but saved for Opening Day was the unveiling of retired numbers.  A brief video tribute of each player preceded his number being unveiled.  The late Eddie Matthews and Warren Spahn were unveiled first.  As the following Braves legends were introduced, Phil Niekro, Dale Murphy, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Chipper Jones, the crowd went crazy!  Each player truly seemed to be savoring the moment.  Bobby Cox followed the players and though it seemed impossible, the crowd was even louder.  And then, the greatest Brave ever...Hank Aaron!  The cheering was truly deafening!  Hank's smile was ear-to-ear as he took the field and waved to the crowd.  He moves more slowly now and that's ok.  It gives the fans more time to cheer and it gives Hank more time to savor the moment.  And then, just as the last first pitch was tossed at Turner Field, so it began at Sun Trust Park.  Hank Aaron throwing the ball to catcher Bobby Cox.  I will say, Hank's pitch was much more on the mark this time!  Hank Aaron is an absolute treasure and we Braves fans are so lucky to get to see him, and honor him, so often.

As for the game, the ballpark was christened with a 5-2 win.  If you're a trivia buff and you have to answer any question regarding "firsts" at Sun Trust Park, always answer Ender Inciarte.  Chances are high that he's the right answer!

 Front row: Chipper Jones, Hank Aaron, Bobby Cox
Second Row:  Phil Niekro, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Dale Murphy


      The new Hank Aaron statue located in Monument Garden
Hopefully Murph won't mind my sharing his Braves Legends selfie!!



  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

DGD

If there's one silver lining that I can find in the Falcons Super Bowl loss, it's that two Patriot players played at my alma mater, the University of Georgia.  Center David Andrews and wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell are Dawgs.  I said I wanted both players to have a good game, just not too good.  They were both better than good. 

Malcolm Mitchell is one of my favorite, if not all-time favorite, Dawgs.  He's what we call a DGD. A Damn Good Dawg. 

Malcolm had a stellar career in Athens.  His one big mistake came during the first game of the 2013 season.  He celebrated a Todd Gurley 75-yard touchdown run a little too hard and tore his ACL.  He missed the rest of the season.  During his rehab he joined a book club.  

The story garnered a good bit of attention when CBS ran a profile piece back in 2014.  It was a great story.  A superstar collegiate athlete who read at a junior high level joined a book club filled with suburban housewives.  It was a feel good story about a gifted player who wanted to better himself.  

And then the feel good story got even better.  Malcolm has taken his love of reading to a whole new level.  He authored a children's book, The Magician's Hat and started a children's literacy foundation, Read With Malcolm.

Here's Steve Hartman's updated piece that aired Super Bowl Sunday. 


http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/the-bookish-football-star/


Malcolm Michell is now a Super Bowl champion.  But really, he's been a winner all along. 


                                                       Photo and video courtesy of CBS News   
                         

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Agony of Defeat

I hate being wrong.  Especially in this instance.  Destiny was not on the side of the Atlanta Falcons.  Destiny lay on the other side of the ball. 

One might think that the city of Atlanta is used to this.  Maybe even expects it.  We don't.  We always believe our teams will win it all. That's what fans do.  Falcons, Braves, Hawks, Dawgs and Jackets.  We believe in our own laid-back southern way, not like the frozen chosen at Lambeau or the beer-swilling spitters in Philly. 

Atlanta sports fans have had more than their fair share of heartbreak.  Even more so, our athletes.  Had the Falcons put together a second half that mirrored the first or if the Patriots hadn't been, well, the Patriots, Matt Ryan and company would have had a massive parade down Peachtree Street.  

The players who made up the 1996 Braves team know all too well what is going through the minds of the 2016 Falcons. The disappointment, the regrets, the anger, the emptiness.  Terence Moore spoke with John Smoltz days after the Falcon's defeat.  This article is a great read with even better insight from someone who's been there.   

http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/215442296/john-smoltz-atlanta-sports-falcons-braves?partnerId=ed-11150349-966827983

Sports mirrors life.  Victories are sweet and defeats haunt us.  It's what we learn from those defeats that makes us better.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

At The Doorstep of Destiny

The Atlanta Falcons are a team of destiny.  All the pieces are falling into place.  The team is hungry.  The team is confident.  Most importantly, the team is ready.  The city of Atlanta is ready.

Atlanta and the Falcons have waited 51 years for this moment.  The Falcons came close once before.  It's wasn't their time.  Destiny was on the side of John Elway and the Broncos.  Today, destiny is with the Falcons.

The national focus is leaning Patriots.  A glamorous team with multiple Super Bowl appearances.  Marquee players in a big market.  Ok, I get it.  Keep underestimating the Falcons.  They've flown under the radar, out of the national spotlight for most of the season.  Really, for most of their existence.  Tonight, all of that will change.

Matt Ryan.  MVP and Offensive Player of the Year.  He's a smart, smart guy who's a student of the game.  He keeps his head down and plays hard.  He sets the example.  No flashiness.  Just hard work.  Hard work that has paid off ten fold this season.  No one in Atlanta is surprised.  

Matt Ryan and Julio Jones may be the most well-know names on the team.  All that will change tonight.  Just wait.  


This is the year of the underdog.  Think about it.  The Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Championship.  The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.  The Clemson Tigers beat the almighty Bama.  And Donald Trump won the White House.  

Get ready America.  It's time for the rest of y'all to Rise Up!

 

 

Friday, February 3, 2017

#RiseUp

Sometimes life gets in the way.  

I seriously can't believe that it's been over a year since I've written anything for what is probably my shrinking, if not now, non-existent following.  It's not that I haven't had the thoughts and the words in me. Honestly, they've been screaming to burst out.  There are so many things that I wanted to write about but I simply didn't have the time.  Life.  It's not always easy.

But something has me FIRED UP!  I read an article that totally pissed me off. I always try to be polite and lady-like but today that's not happening. That stupid Boston Globe article made me so #$%&@* mad!  And y'all, I've even given myself time to simmer down.  As it turns out, I didn't simmer down.  Time only let the wound fester.

Dan Shaughnessy's article, "It's hard to get pumped up about a Super Bowl against...Atlanta" is insulting to every Atlanta resident, sports fan or not.  He said there's no reason to insult the '"nice folks of Atlanta" yet that is exactly what he went on to do. In fact, he said that the fine people of Bahstan feel nothing but pity for us.  Whatever Dan.

He wrote of our apathy.  Our lack of championships.  He pulled random stories out of the air in order to prove his weak point. What a tool.

I am so sick and tired of sportscasters, journalists and residents of other cities ragging on Atlanta sports fans.  We LOVE our teams and WE ARE GREAT FANS!!  Did any of those people see the passion of Falcons fans during both playoff games?  Let's face it, for most of the country it's more than likely that the playoffs were the first time they've even had the opportunity to see the Atlanta Falcons play, save that one Monday night game. Julio who?  Wha...Matt Ryan is up for MVP?  Vic Beasley, Devonta Freeman, Deion Jones? Who are they?  When did this Rise Up thing start?  

It's no secret that baseball and the Braves are my first love.  The Dawgs are a close number two.  The Falcons have always been a steady number three.  I mean no disrespect.  As much as I love the Atlanta Falcons, they have always broken my heart.  I've always considered them a snake-bit franchise.  Just when they've been on the cusp of having everything, something bizarre happens.  Eugene Robinson's arrest on the eve of Super Bowl XXXIII. The NFL's most dynamic player goes to prison for his role in a dog-fighting ring.  Head coach Jim Mora Jr. literally moves out of town in the middle of the night.  It took the team over four decades to put together back-to-back winning seasons.  But through thick and thin, Falcons fans have stayed loyal and passionate.  You want to see a passionate Atlanta crowd at it's finest?  Come to Atlanta when the Saints are visiting.  You'll never doubt our passion again.

Arthur Blank has poured his heart and soul (as well as his wallet) into this franchise.  He, Rich McKay, Thomas Dimitroff and Dan Quinn have put together a great team, a team with amazing chemistry.  A brotherhood.  They've created an energy that explodes on the field.  They given the Falcons faithful the team they so richly deserve.   

Every time an Atlanta team makes it to the post-season, Atlanta fans are judged.  It's never a positive review.  We are tired of it.  It all boils down to one thing.  Passion.  Mr. Shaughnessy is passionate about his team, as he should be. Falcons fans are just as passionate, if not more.  We are hungry.  Our team is honorable.  They have never been accused of cheating or spying.  Yes, the Falcons have had a player go to prison.  At least it wasn't for murder.  Ok, I'll stop.  I seem to have headed down the low road, the road of Mr. Shaughnessy, and I don't care for it.

My hope for Sunday night is to see Matt Ryan hoist the Lombardi trophy over his head while red and black confetti swirls around him.  He'll pass the trophy to Julio Jones and soon every Falcon will have held and kissed the NFL's holy grail.  We'll see Dan Quinn wipe away a tear and we'll see Arthur Blank dance one more time.  What a vision that will be!  I believe that will happen.  It's destiny.  The time has come for the Atlanta Falcons.               
#RiseUp  #InBrotherhood




 
Here's a great read on Eugene Robinson and where is now.
http://www.espn.com/blog/atlanta-falcons/post/_/id/25416/ex-falcon-eugene-robinson-wont-let-one-super-bowl-mistake-define-him 

  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Diamonds & Dugouts & Dawgs

They say you can't have a favorite Uga. It's akin to having a favorite Beatle. It's simply not done.

But for me, Russ is, and always will be, my favorite Uga. Russ was special.

Russ didn't fit the mold. He didn't meet the criteria. He didn't have what was required to be Uga. He wasn't perfect. But that didn't seem to bother him.

Russ was always ready to step in when needed. He worked hard. He did the job right. He represented the university to perfection. He did it with a smile on his jowly face and with a wag of his stubby tail. He roamed the sidelines. He woofed at the opposing team. He posed for photos. He cooled off on his bag of ice. He did it without the title, game after game, season after season. He subbed for Uga VII. He subbed for Uga VIII. Russ was the quintessential bridesmaid.

You keep your head down, you do the job right and hopefully someone will take notice. Finally someone did. Whether it was the Seiler family or the university, someone put a ring on it and Russ became Uga IX. He was crowned. Or as they say in Athens, he was collared.

In 63 games over seven seasons, Russ went 44-19. He officially retired at the last home game of this season.

Russ passed away last night. He was 11. A ripe old age for an English Bulldog.

As it turns out, the imperfect bulldog was the most perfect of all.

 
 






Sunday, September 21, 2014

Close The Book on 2014


The Braves season ended with a whimper on Sunday.

Sure, there are still games to be played but the post season that Atlanta is so accustomed to is out of reach.  At the end of play Sunday, the Braves were eight games behind the division-winning Nationals and only a half game ahead of the Mets. Yes, only a half game ahead of the lowly Mets. The same Mets that just swept the Braves. The same Mets that the Braves always seemed to be able to beat.  Not this year.  At the beginning of September the Braves still had a shot at the wild card.  Since then they've gone 4-14.

Simply put, the Braves spent this season playing uninspired baseball. The biggest highlights of the year involved Braves players who, ironically, no longer play. Hank Aaron and the 40th anniversary of his breaking Babe Ruth's record and Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Bobby Cox's election to Cooperstown. I hate to be the bearer of bad news folks, but the glory days are long behind us.

The finger-pointing has begun. The axes are being sharpened. Where does the blame for this sub-par season lie? The front office can't distract fans with a shiny new ball park that's over two seasons away. What should have been done differently?  What changes are in store for the team?  Who will be back?  And more importantly, who won't?

Over the years, countless people questioned many of Bobby Cox's decisions on the field and how he ran the team. I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the number I people I personally know who blame Bobby for the Braves winning only one World Series. Yet, those same people aren't saying a word about Fredi Gonzalez. I find that interesting. Is Fredi safe?  Will his coaching staff pay the price?  It always seems to be that the hitting coaches go first.  I don't think that this season is Greg Walker and Scott Fletcher's fault.  It was a group effort.  Specifically the players.

I think that more than anyone else, Frank Wren is on the hot seat. I'll preface this with the fact that I like Frank. That said, the Braves GM has made many moves that have cost the Braves dearly.  A quick, off-the-top-of-my-head list? Derek Lowe. Kenshin Kawakami. Dan Uggla. B.J. Upton. I don't even want to know the amount of money that the team wasted on these players.

And what about the players they chose not to keep. Brian McCann. I understand that one and letting him go to free agency made sense.  However, letting Tim Hudson slip away was a HUGE mistake. I'm certain that the Braves offer (if they ever got around to it) was for one year only. The Braves were playing it cautious as Huddy would be 38 at the start of the season and coming off a horrific ankle injury. However and interestingly enough, there were multiple teams that took no issue with either. Sure Huddy is 9-12 this season, but it's what the Braves gave up off the field which is much, much worse.

Leadership.

The Braves are the second youngest team in baseball. They need a veteran leader in the clubhouse. This season there was no one to fill that role. It showed.

I don't want to seem totally negative. Frank Wren has made some good moves. Chris Johnson and Justin Upton, even though they crashed and burned in the final month, were still good pick-ups.  Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana helped rescue the decimated pitching staff.  Alex Wood proved that he's a big league starter and that the farm teams are strong  There are good players are on the horizon but the horizon doesn't get the Braves into the 2014 post season.

The Braves take on the sad role of spoiler now. And the fans? We just sit back and wait.  Thank goodness for SEC football.