Most Major League Baseball pitchers and catchers reported for duty today in Florida and Arizona, meaning spring training games are just a few days away.
I’m not gonna go all George Will here – getting misty-eyed and using excessive verbiage to extol the pastoral beauty of the National Pastime – but it is nice to have it back.
My love affair with the game has run hot and cold over the years, and I can already tell this summer will be one that I spend watching as much professional baseball as possible.
This will also be the year I let go of a grudge – one I’ve held against the Atlanta Braves for almost a quarter of a century.
Let me explain.
My dad was the biggest Braves fan I’ve ever known, one who stuck with the team through thick and thin (and there was a whole lotta thin back in the day).
Once Ted Turner came up with that newfangled “superstation” that gave fans across the country a chance to watch just about every Atlanta game played, Pop took full advantage of it.
Many a time I would try to sneak into the house late at night following an evening of wholesome carousing, only to find him plopped in his lounge chair. There, nursing stale coffee and well into his second pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes, he’d be watching the Braves get hammered by the Los Angeles Dodgers or San Diego Padres during a West Coast swing.
Oh, he bitched and moaned about the team’s (mostly) unsuccessful string of managers in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s – a list that includes Eddie Mathews, Clyde King, Dave Bristol, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, Eddie Haas, Bobby Wine, Chuck Tanner, Russ Nixon and Cox again – but he never wavered in his support.
He even got to enjoy a playoff appearance in 1982 and a pair of National League titles in 1991 and 1992.
However, Pop was diagnosed with cancer on Dec. 5, 1994, and died on Christmas Day that year.
The last baseball he ever watched was Aug. 11, 1994; the rest of the season was wiped out by the infamous MLB strike. At his funeral, I placed a Braves cap in his casket, and remember telling people how I wish he could’ve seen Atlanta win a world championship before he died.
Damned if they didn’t do it 10 months later.
I guess I should’ve been happy, and used their Fall Classic conquest of the Cleveland Indians as a warm reminder of how much they meant to my dad. Instead it pissed me off that they had the poor taste to wait until after he was gone to win the World Series.
Ever since then – as ridiculous as it sounds – I’ve been pissed off at the Braves.
I was never a fan of the team in the first place; I rooted for the New York Yankees overall and designated the Chicago Cubs as my favorite NL team. But because of Pop, I always hoped Atlanta would do well because it made him happy.
Seeing the club do well after he was gone, though, made me sad.
That was a silly way to feel and I knew it was silly, but the feeling was there just the same. It’s as though I thought the Braves should be punished for postponing their greatest moment to a time when their biggest fan couldn’t enjoy it.
It was petty on my part, and it’s time to let it go.
So when the season begins anew, I’ll still cheer more for the Yankees, but I’ll save a few shouts for the Braves. I’ll even christen them as my new favorite National League club.
And who knows?
Maybe I’ll head over to SunTrust Park this spring, proudly wrap a blue cap around my big noggin, and root, root, root for the home team.
After all, it serves no good purpose to hate a team Pop loved.
I’m sorry it took so long for me to realize that.