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Tag:Atlanta Braves
Posted on: September 11, 2008 8:40 am
 

Remembering 9/11

The following is a recap of the Mets’ first post-September 11 home game, played ten days following the events of that fateful morning.

At this point, the team had already played a number of road games since the tragedy, but baseball had yet to return to New York City. No one in the tri-state area was anywhere close to the point of healing, yet Mike Piazza and the Mets gave an appreciative home crowd something to take their minds off of reality.

And though the Mets were close to elimination from the division race, I made sure I procured a seat to what would surely be an emotional evening at Shea.

My trip to Shea on 9/21 wasn’t baseball fandom, it was catharsis.

The evening began with a nearly full Shea Stadium making as little noise as possible. A pre-game tribute to the heroes of 9/11 had been showing on the aging, but venerable DiamondVision in left center. By the time I stepped off an eerily solemn 7 train and made way to my seat, a gathering of New York’s Finest and Bravest were already leaving the field to a warm, but not raucous ovation — the likes of which were not typical of Shea fans.

Notables in the crowd included Diana Ross, Liza Minnelli, and lifelong Yankee fan, former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani. However, despite Minnelli’s rousing “New York, New York” during the seventh inning stretch, the celebrity presence seemed awkward and unnecessary for a night that clearly had nothing to do with showmanship. Those in attendance seemed to disagree, as every time one of their faces appeared on the screen, riotous applause burst from the seats.

The usually hated Braves also were greeted warmly by the faithful, with only Chipper Jones being subject to any sort of acrimony. And even the chants of “Larry” seemed to die completely once he made his second trip to the plate. I remember getting considerably more choked up during these moments than during the actual tributes, solely because they reminded me that no matter how poorly the rest of the world perceives New York and its fans, we were well-aware of baseball’s importance as escapism.

It was a game - one we perhaps take too seriously at times - but in the end, just a game.

Once actual play was underway, things began to feel normal - a luxury most New Yorkers hadn’t enjoyed in some time. We were quickly reminded that the Mets, despite a season of struggles, were only five games back of these Atlanta Braves following a taut 10 of 11 winning streak. Mike Piazza was clearly absorbing the emotion of the evening, having already sent two doubles rattling around Shea’s cavernous outfield.

With each moment things began to settle into the comforts of normalcy, we were reminded of just how different the world had become. The NYPD and FDNY had made their way from the field back to seats behind the home dugout, which prompted a standing ovation from nearly everyone in attendance. I am proud to say that to this day, police officers and firefighters receive very similar treatment at all NY team home games. And rightfully so.

But for every moment like that, there were also the more cruel reminders of the new society we lived in. I remember seeing someone being chastised for leaving a bag under a seat while walking to the restroom. Security guards were present at every entrance, and were very active in needling “questionable” fans in attendance. Current world headlines often replaced scoreboard highlights between innings. And perhaps most damaging of all, each time a plane took off from nearby LaGuardia Airport, fans could simply not help themselves from looking skyward with nervous anticipation.

Yes, I was one of those fans.

For all the good that a night of baseball was doing, it was clear that the outside world wasn’t going away, no matter how much we wanted it to do just that. Then Mike Piazza stepped up once last time.

In the eighth inning, with the Mets down 2-1, and the fans’ enthusiasm rapidly waning, Piazza hit the defining shot of his career. A fastball by Steve Karsay, left right in Piazza’s wheelhouse, promptly found its way over the center field fence, giving the Mets a 3-2 lead which would hold up as the game-winning RBI.

Piazza tried his damnedest to maintain his composure as he rounded the bases, but the fans weren’t as controlled. Despite the thinning attendance, the cheers were as loud as I’ve ever experienced in my 34 years. It was as if 41,000 people, after two weeks of holding their breath, finally allowed themselves to exhale.

Having just witnessed one of the most dramatic sports moments in history, I high-tailed it back to the 7 train, awaiting a long ride back to upstate NY.

Entering the subway platform, I had my shoulder bag checked twice, and had to wait a considerable amount of time while security carefully filtered the revelers on to each car. But nothing was wiping the smile from my face that night. I had my moment of catharsis.

I exhaled.

What’s ironic is that it took an amazing, but ultimately superficial, feat of sports heroics to make the actual heroics of the FDNY and NYPD seem real. Once the joy from the game finished washing over me, and the 7 train approached the Queensboro Plaza tunnel, I took one last look at the downtown New York City skyline, and noticed what was missing.

September 11 was all too real. I finally realized this. But for the first time in two weeks, I also realized that it was okay to smile. It was okay to cheer. It was perfectly okay to start living again.

On Friday, September 21, 2001, ESPN’s John Anderson wrote the following:

“There’s no telling how far Mike Piazza’s eighth-inning game-winning home run against the Braves flew on Friday … because how do you measure the healing power of a swing?
Category: MLB
Posted on: June 19, 2008 12:19 am
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Posted on: June 4, 2008 4:11 pm
 

The End For Smoltz?

John Smoltz’ comeback from shoulder problems — and possibly his career — have hit a wall.

On Wednesday, Smoltz announced that he will undergo season ending surgery in the hopes that he can return to pitch next year.

At the tender age of 42. After his fifth right arm procedure. Smoltz is resilient as hell, but the odds of him taking the mound again for the Braves just dipped to approximately 100-1. Which is about fifty percent better odds than Mike Hampton has. So he’s got that going for him.

Meanwhile, the chatter from Smoltz at his press conference sounded suspiciously like someone who knows the end is near or someone who just retired:

We’re talking about enjoying life a little bit more than I’ve been able to enjoy it,” he said. “It’s very difficult. A shoulder is like a lower back problem; it puts you in a pretty bad mood. You use your shoulder for everything.

Not “I’ll be back for certain” or “This shouldn’t hold me down for long“. More “Gee, it’d be nice to be able to get a decent night’s sleep and play with my kids again“. For a guy who’s endured — and overcome — an awful lot of pitching arm discomfort in his career, Smoltz’ attitude at today’s press conference speaks volumes about Smoltz’ chance to return from this latest setback.

Unfortunately for the Braves, it means they’ll be without Smoltz in any role for the rest of 2008. The bullpen role that worked for two-and-a-half years to protect his wonky elbow did little to save his sore elbow. His reprise as closer lasted just one game — a blown save against the Marlins — and convinced Smoltz once and for all that surgery was the only option.

“If I had struck out the side, we would still be having this press conference,” he said. “It was just too much.”

Probably true. But at least we’d have a more apt swan song appearance (probably) for the Major Leagues’ all-time postseason win leader (15), the 16th pitcher to reach 3,000 strikeouts, the 1996 Cy Young winner, an eight-time All-Star, and the only man on the planet with 200 wins and 150 saves.

(That’s 210 and 154, to be exact. But who’s counting? The nice big, round, easy-to-understand numbers are all the figures the Hall of Fame committee are going to need.)

And there’s still the chance, however slim, that Smoltz will show up in Spring Training ‘09 as something more significant than a ’special advisor’ or ‘bullpen consultant’ for the Braves.

(Or perhaps the first coherent, non-conniption-inducing baseball color analyst FOX Sports has ever employed. But I digress.)

No one yet knows what Dr. James Andrews will find when he opens up Smoltz’s shoulder. Inflammation? Bone spurs? Jimmy Hoffa? Could be anything. And it could very well mean the end of Smoltz’ long and distinguished (and all-Brave) career. If that’s the case, all we can do is thank John Smoltz for a string of wonderful performance, appreciate his effort and professionalism, and wish him the best for his retirement.

And hope to hell he replaces one of those bozo windbags on FOX. Seriously, those games are unwatchable now. Smoltz would give them one guy, at least, with a functioning brain, a quiet charm and an ego that doesn’t require its own press box. If he can’t take the mound, put him in the booth!

Category: MLB
Posted on: January 27, 2008 8:55 pm
Edited on: January 27, 2008 8:57 pm
 

What's Missing: Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves - Healthy Mike Hampton, Healthy Mike Gonzalez, RH hitter off the bench, Hope that Andrew Jones’ defensive value was highly overstated.

With their recent acquisition of Mark Kotsay to patrol centerfield, the Atlanta starting lineup appears to be set. We can quibble with the top of the order a bit, as we're not quite sure how Yunel Escobar will perform in his first full year, but aside from that, it’s a more than solid crew. Chipper Jones had a very underrated 2007 campaign, Mark Teixeira gets his first fulls season in the National League, and Matt Diaz turned some heads as well, especially against lefties. Despite the absence of Andrew Jones - let’s face it, Jones wasn't that much of an offensive asset in 2007 anyhow - the Braves offense looks strong enough to duplicate their success from last year, when they scored 810 runs (3rd in NL). They could use another right-handed bat off the bench (no, Omar Infante doesn't count), however, as Scott Thorman, Brandon Jones, and Josh Anderson all bat from the left side.

However, Mark Kotsay himself will never be able to replace Andrew Jones, especially with the glove. And it’s the all-important preventing of runs that may pose to be a problem for the Atlanta Braves in 2008. Their top-two starters, John Smoltz and Tim Hudson have the ability to match up with pretty much anyone aside from the Arizona duo. After them, however, it’s completely a crap shoot. By the end of 2007, Tom Glavine had nothing to rely on aside from his famous change up, and even that was losing effectiveness since his fastball had dipped to the low 80s. I'm also not sold on Chuck James yet either, as his rather successful year was largely due to the defense behind him. The ultimate wild card, however, is the status of Mike Hampton. The far-too-often-injured lefty had yet another set back in his continued recovery from elbow surgery after straining a hamstring on a rehab assignment down in Mexico in November. The Braves did, however, have the foresight to gain some solid pitching depth, as Jair Jurrjens remains a viable option.

The Atlanta bullpen has some questions as well. I think Rafael Soriano will do just fine in the closer role, but who will bridge the gap? Can Peter Moylan duplicate his surprisingly effective (1.80 ERA over 90 IP) 2007 campaign? How effective will Mike Gonzalez be following Tommy John surgery and how soon can he return?

Moving forward, I'm interested in seeing how much of an impact Andrew Jones had on the Atlanta pitching staff. It’s been over a decade since the Braves had this to worry about, and although Kotsay has been a capable defender in the past, his recent back surgery and age (32) could affect the pitching quite a bit. Smoltz, Glavine, and James are all fly ball pitchers, and are the most likely to miss a top flight center fielder they could rely on.
Category: MLB
 
 
 
 
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