Simmons Says - jumping on Braves Bandwagon
Call me a bandwagon jumper. Shower me with all your fair-weather fan critiques. I don’t care – I’m really enjoying watching the Atlanta Braves right now.
While I’m not as open about my Braves fandom as I am the Vols or San Antonio Spurs, some of my earliest sports memories are actually going to Atlanta to support the Braves. I remember being at Fulton County Stadium seeing Terry Pendleton hit a home run in the section right beside mine. My uncle, who lives in the Atlanta area, always reminds me that I said he was going to hit a HR right before the at-bat.
Honestly, I don’t know if that is true. I couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7 at the time. I do know that I wore out a VHS tape of the 1991 Braves going to the World Series. It was a highlight package of their historic season and I’m 99.9 percent sure Van Halen’s “Right Now” was the main theme. Man, that was a great year, which ended with Braves losing an all-time series against the Minnesota Twins (RIP Kirby Puckett --- and I’ll still fight Kent Hrbek).
That video and those early 1990s teams are when I can roll off the deep cuts if people question my Braves fandom now. Mark Lemke. Jeff Blauser. Otis Nixon. Alejandro Pena. Damon Berryhill. Or, my personal favorite, backup 1B Brian Hunter.
Everybody knows the big names – David Justice, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Deion Sanders making cameos (Later, Greg Maddux would join to form one of the best pitching rotations ever). Not everybody remembers Lemke and Blauser turning double plays with Rafael Belliard or Steve Avery being a dominator for two years.
I once had a chance once to speak to the starting 1B of those great early 1990s Braves team. Sid Bream came to town to talk at Bridgestone and he obviously had to answer plenty of questions about his famous slide that won the 1992 NLCS against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Atlanta came back from a 2-0 deficit in the bottom of the ninth, sealed by what it is probably the most famous pinch-hit in Braves history. Francisco Cabrera came in with the Braves trailing 2-1 and down to their final out.
Justice was on third and Bream, not the fleetest of foot, was the winning run at second. Cabrera ripped a shot in left field, which just so happened to be occupied by an eight-time gold glover, and what I’d call a pretty good MLB player, Barry Bonds.
I’ll never forget Bream telling all of us in the crowd at Bridgestone why he got to run. He claimed, sarcastically, Bobby Cox had seen him win a footrace against Berryhill earlier in the year and knew he had some speed (Berryhill was a backup catcher, a position rarely known for speedsters).
Still, Bream was able to beat the throw and cemented one of the best moments in Braves history. It didn’t lead to a World Series win that year (the Braves lost to the Blue Jays), but back then you knew Atlanta were a legit threat – if not a favorite – to get to the Fall Classic every season.
As shocking as some of Saturday’s moments were, or just the NLCS in general, I may have been most surprised about it being the Braves first trip to the World Series since 1999. I guess some part of me knew that, but then again, that’s about the time I stopped following baseball.
That next year, I would get cut trying out for the high school baseball team and I stopped caring about the sport all together. Even when I took over the sports reporting job back in 2010, I remember having a conversation with Bryan Kell about not liking baseball and he was dumbfounded. He couldn't believe a sports guy from Warren County would hate baseball. He may have claimed that was un-American – he’s probably right.
There were always some flashes that would get me watching the Braves every so often. When Jason Heyward debuted with buzz of being the next Ken Griffey Jr., I made sure to watch. He hit a towering home run to right field that day and I bought in – for a month or two. I never got behind the Joneses – Chipper and Andruw. They just weren’t my cup of tea. I can tell you who is though.
I’ll watch the Braves as long as they have this young group, led by Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies and Austin Riley. I know Acuna is out right now, and that’s a total bummer, but having these young guys have really made the Braves a lot of fun to watch the last few seasons.
My passion for the Braves has been slowly coming back the last 4-5 years, tied in with the arrival of Acuna and Albies (and, to a lesser extent, Dansby Swanson). Back in 2019, I was at SunTrust Park (now Truist Park), for the NLDS Game 5 against the Cardinals. And yes – I just heard all the groans from the Braves fans who remember that game.
Seeing this team come together has been something else. The fight they showed this year, particularly when Acuna was hurt and it would’ve been easy to pack it in, has been sensational. We’re getting a whole new crop of historic Atlanta Braves.
Tyler Matzek has become a household name for Braves fans just years after being out of the game. Eddie Rosario went from an injured guy in a trade deadline deal to the MVP of the NLCS. Riley is getting serenaded with (very deserving) MVP chants at all games in Atlanta.
I don’t know how this World Series is going to go. The Houston Astros have been there and done that the last few years (they’ve done a few other things too, but I’m not getting into that here). The young Braves are back for the first time in 22 years - some of their best players were in diapers the last time Atlanta was in the Fall Classic, so who knows how they’ll respond to the biggest stage.
What I know for certain is this – I’ll be watching every game of the World Series for the first time in 30 years. Hopefully, I’ll get to celebrate a team for the ages in Atlanta.