ENTER HOTSPUR, June 14 Game Thread

Note from Alex: on the strength of their poetical contributions, I asked hotspur and blazon to help us out on Thursdays and Friday’s. Here’s Hotspur’s first.

Hi, everyone. My name is Tom Abernathy, a.k.a. Hotspur, and I’ve been asked, apparently on the strength of the deceptively lazy Waiting for Godot parody I posted a few days ago, to take on the Kal-Ellian task of doing game write-ups for Thursday games here at Braves Journal. Knowing as I do that Thursday is the weekday during which a team is most likely to sit fallow – as indeed it does today – I snickered and cheerfully accepted the offer. (Yoink! Maroons.)

A little about me: I’m a writer (film and video games) living in Seattle for the past five years after a fourteen-year stint in Los Angeles, but I was born and raised in Atlanta. In fact, both sides of my family have been in-or-around Atlanta as far back as anyone knows, although my mother’s side, the Lees, are descended from a brother of the Civil War general and so I assume they were in Virginia at some point in the distant past. I am, as I told my fellow inductee, “blazon,” the other day, your average, garden-variety Southern Scots-English-Irish-French mutt. (I married a black and Puerto Rican Californian whose parents are from Harlem and Brooklyn. It’s possible I’m overcompensating.) Also, for those of you who may frequent Sandy Springs, Abernathy Road at one time led to the small farm in my father’s family; the legend is that his great-grandfather lost it in drunken card-playing adventures, but that’s entirely hearsay and I cannot corroborate it. (Print the legend.)

Point being, I was born to be a Braves fan.

Problem was, when I was a kid (the Seventies and early Eighties), the Braves were pretty wretched. Sure, there was 1982, which saw the hometown nine muster a 13-0 start that set a new MLB record for wins to start the season. (Won the division; swept in the NLCS by Ozzie Smith and the Cardinals.) But for the most part during those decades in Atlanta, the unlikeliness of any given potential occurrence was oft summed up with a phrase along the lines of, “Yeah, that’ll happen when the Braves win the World Series.” Such an eventuality was universally considered to be slightly less likely than that of a chimp taking home the Tony for Best Shakespeare Adaptation or the prospect of unpowered porcine aviation.

Luckily, Our Mister Turner’s need for cheap programming for his fledgling cable network meant that, wretched or not, Braves games were being piped all over the nation as an alternative to pirated late-night Cinemax soft-core. Many of you, like Sir Reginald Dwight, may have come to your Braves fanaticism via this outlet. As for me, I flew my Braves beach towel (a game giveaway) in my Ohio college dorm room as a banner of fealty to my hometown and occasionally caught games when I was back visiting my family, but going to a Braves game back then was what I assume going to a Cubs game is like now: something you did because it was part of the city’s cultural landscape, not because you expected to see good baseball. And certainly not because you expected the Braves to win.

And then 1991 happened.

I was living in Philadelphia, sleeping on a friend’s mother’s apartment floor and working odd jobs. (Spent a year-and-a-half there, and managed never to go to a Phillies game, a fact of which I remain absurdly proud.) I remember coming in, late one September weekend afternoon, from my waitron job at the Main Line T.G.I. Fridays, grabbing a beer, and flipping through the channels on the ginormous seventeen-inch Zenith. I pop the top on the beer, prop my barking dogs up on the coffee table, close my eyes, and just flip the channels on the cable box, listening for something worth pausing for.

And then I hear it:

“WHOAAAAAA-OHHH-OHHHHHHHH…”

What the hell?

“WHOAAAAAA-OHHH-OHHHHHHHH…”

Not one voice. Not five voices. A multitude. Echoing across a vast expanse.

“WHOAAAAAA-OHHH-OHHHHHHHH…”

My brow furrows.

“WHOAAAAAA-OHHH-OHHHHHHHH…”

I open one eye at the screen… and see something I have never, ever seen before: Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium filled to the rafters. Fifty thousand people, all wailing this eerie, haunting sound and moving their forearms in an arcane motion fraught with intense, portentous energy.

And then Ernie Johnson’s voice, introducing the TBS audience to this evening’s game between the hometown Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team they’re currently two games behind for the division lead.

If I had ever given credence to the reports of my eyes and ears, my faith in them was now shattered. This could not be. And I’m not just talking about the team being in the race – although, to be sure, that was farfetched, if not utterly without precedent. I’m talking about the stadium filled with fans, chanting, chopping, cheering, as one Hydra-headed behemoth of passion and hope. I had heard the word “spirit” used before in a sports context, but until now I had never experienced it. If that flying saucer of a stadium could have risen on the sheer emotional power of the people in its seats and levitated off to Saturn, I believe it would have done so on national basic cable television before my very eyes.

I was a Braves fan before that moment. But that was the moment I fell in love.

I will not here recount the events of that postseason, nor document for you who remember it well the outrageous highs and lows of that greatest, Scream-Machiniest World Series ever played. Neither will I tell the tale of how, a year later, squatting on yet another friend’s apartment floor in Jenkintown, I sat alone and watched Game 7 of the NLCS against the Pirates in glum and mounting resignation, until that incomparable moment at the end of all things when suddenly, incredibly, the entire universe phase-shifted in that way that it can only in baseball. (Skip Caray: “He is…SAFE! BRAVES WIN! BRAVES WIN! BRAVES WIN! BRAVES WIN!…” and finally, exhausted, “…Braves win…!”)

I will not tell you the myriad ways in which these memories are precious to me as breath, for you have your own, and you know.

I cannot join, even if I wanted to, in the merry round-robin from a few days ago when everyone was recounting the first time they went to see the Braves play in person. The truth is, I don’t remember my first time. I know it was during the Seventies – possibly 1976, since for a long time I kept the pillbox hat they gave out at the gate during a day game I saw in that bicentennial year. Eight years old, I was. First time? I’m just not sure.

But I can tell you about the game I saw in person that meant the most to me.

One of the things I’ve come to love about baseball is the way that, when I squint, I feel like I can see the connections, what Lincoln called in a bit of poetic appropriation the “mystic chords of memory,” between the players I see on the field and those who played the game 150 years ago or more. I feel as if I can almost make out their world lines, the ways in which the game exists across time and space and history. I see Brooklyn Excelsiors and Boston Bees and Homestead Grays and Atlanta Black Crackers out there, like those cinematic scenes in the Iowa cornfields where Shoeless Joe and Moonlight Graham return to take BP and shag some flies. (Never use that phrase in the UK, by the way. Means something TOTALLY different.)

Anyway, the end of that movie has always had a strange effect on me, because my dad was rarely around when I was a kid, and even when he was, baseball wasn’t part of our relationship. He was, from high school athletics onward, a football guy. So I never had that “You wanna have a catch?” feeling.

Instead, the main person I shared my Braves fandom with was my grandfather, my mom’s dad, Joseph Samuel Lee. It was he who took me to that summer-of-’76 game with the pillbox caps. As I got older I predictably rebelled against many of what I saw as his staid, old-fashioned ways and ideas, and often our time together degenerated into squabbling, mostly good-natured, over politics and the like. But the one thing we could always talk about in harmony was the Atlanta Braves.

On Wednesday, September 15, 1993, my grandfather and I took MARTA to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium with a bag full of Chick-fil-A sandwiches. (Do they still let you do that, bring food in from outside?) As those of you old enough will surely remember, the Braves were locked in a mortal struggle with the San Francisco Giants in what was even then being called “the Last Great Pennant Race,” with realignment on the horizon for the next season. No longer a perennial hometown joke, the Braves were fighting for their third divisional crown in three years; by now, greatness was expected of them. But Matt Williams and his ilk were toe-to-toe with our Bravos at every step.

We now know that the Braves would take the West with 103 wins to SF’s 102, culminating with the giddy sight of Tommy Lasorda dancing in the dugout as his boys in blue kept their hated rivals from the postseason. But on this September night that outcome was entirely in doubt; there seemed every chance that the Braves’ desperate push to actually WIN a World Series might die before October could arrive, despite our four-game lead on Los Gigantes. (Nobody called them that then.) For those who don’t recall it, the euphoria of almost winning rings in ’91 and ’92 had given way in ’93 to the nagging fear that the old Braves curse was still around, just ratcheted up to an exquisitely painful irony: What if this is all there is? What if we’re fated always only to come close, but never to win it all? What if, deep down, we really are the losers we seemed for so long to be?

And so my 81-year-old grandfather and I climbed the ramps of that ridiculous, beloved old saucer stadium and took our seats high in the upper deck behind home plate. The Giants had already done us the service of losing to the Cubs in a getaway-day afternoon tilt at Candlestick Park, so the air was full of expectation; a win would pad our slim division lead.

But that air of expectation soon soured. With Jose Rijo on the mound, the Reds took leads first of 1-0 and then 3-1. Kent Mercker pitched five-and-a-third and did a respectable job, but by the middle of the ninth the Cincinnatus had added three more runs off a pre-closer Mark Wohlers, and, given the offensive lethargy of the team this night, the 6-2 deficit going into the final half-inning felt insurmountable. (This was before steroids and HGH, young’uns; a four-run deficit meant you could all but put it in the book.)

Reds reliever Johnny Ruffin, who had gotten the last out for Rijo in the bottom of the 8th, came out again to try and close it out. Atlanta backstop Damon Berryhill had other ideas, however, and smacked a 1-2 pitch to left for a double. Interesting, yes, but not a game-changer. Atlanta manager Joe Torre (oh, right!) sent Bill Pecota in to run for him, in a move Fredi Gonzalez might want to study a little. Young September call-up Chipper Jones, then little more than a glimmer of hope in Bobby Cox’s eye, was sent up to pinch-hit for RP Pete Smith, but struck out swinging. Ryan Klesko, he of the prodigious power but questionable on-base skills, was up.

And, after spitting on two balls, launched a moon shot over the right field fence.

The crowd perked up; we were still going to lose, of course, but at least now we could feel a little better about it. Gave ‘em a fight there at the end, didn’t we?

Ex-Brave Jeff Reardon (traitor!) took over for Ruffin on the mound to face the even-then drug-bedeviled Otis Nixon. Otis saw the count even at 2-2, decided he was bored, and promptly legged out a double to right-center. Perpetual weak link Jeff Blauser followed with a (0-2!) single that sent Nixon to 3rd.

By now, the joint is rockin’. And by “the joint,” I mean all 48,825 people stuffed into the Launching Pad. After two-plus hours of growing melancholy, this thing has started to feel almost…well…possible. I mean, you know, not really. Things like coming back from a four-run deficit don’t happen in 1993, and even if occasionally they do, they certainly don’t happen to the Atlanta Braves, whose entry in the Oxford English Dictionary is accompanied by a picture of Charlie Brown lying flat on his back while Lucy laughs her snotty little head off.

But everybody is standing up, just the same, because we’re starting to forget that we’re probably cursed; we’re starting to believe, just a little, that maybe everything ISN’T written; that maybe our best days are still ahead, not behind; that maybe this nice little two-plus-year run of almost-bestness might not be about to end in ignominy after all. Thus buoyed, everybody in the place is on their feet – everybody, that is, except Sam Lee, my 81-year-old grandfather, whose knees and legs just can’t take that at this point. So he stays seated and I tell him, over the mounting noise and vibration, that Jeff Reardon is coming out and coming in is the closer I hate above all closers to this very day:

Rob Dibble.

I have no words to express my hatred for Rob Dibble, nor explanation for my extreme antipathy beyond the twin facts that he is both an incredible closer and an incredible jerk. I look at him and I want to punch his giant square jaw. He is Death and he’s unbeatable.

Warm-up tosses over, Dibble climbs the hill to scowl across sixty feet and six inches of grass at the last, best hope for Los Bravos, left-fielder Ron Gant. And throws.

And Ron Gant smacks that first pitch down the left-field line, straight as a laser and not high enough, not high enough, not high enough, now it gently starts to arc down –

It hits the yellow line on the top of the wall and skips, like a stone on a lake, out of the ballpark and into the visitors’ bullpen.

The stadium erupts in a release of pent-up hope and fear. Gant jumps up and down all the way around the bases, and 48,824 people in the stands jump up and down with him… everyone except my grandfather, who just looks at me, waiting for me to tell him what’s happened.

I mouth to him, because I could never hope to be heard above the din: ”HOME RUN!”

A beat, as he makes sense of what I’ve mouthed… and then a big grin spreads over his face, and he starts banging the arms of his seat as hard as he can, which isn’t very hard because did I mention he’s 81 years old, but still it’s like he’s jumping up and down and screaming his head off in the only way he can.

I look down at him, at this old man who helped raise me in the absence of my father, a huge smile on my face, and it hits 25-year-old me in the way that occasionally such things do as you get older and stop being such a self-involved ass: I love him. He loves me. This moment is perfect. I will always remember this moment.

And I always have. I can see that grin, spreading across his face as the fans around us whoop and leap for joy, right now as I write this.

The following August, on the night of the 12th, my grandfather and I talked on the phone. We argued, as we often did, about the labor situation in baseball, cued now by the strike that had begun the previous day. As usual, I argued the viewpoint of labor and he took the side of the owners. It was still good-natured, though, and at the end of the conversation, before I hung up, I told him I loved him and would come over in the next couple of days to see him and my grandmother.

That didn’t happen. Early the next morning, Sam Lee had a heart attack while brushing his teeth and died before the EMTs could arrive. It was sudden, but, given his age, not shocking. Of course, I had a lot of time in the ensuing days to think about his life, and about his presence in my life. He was complex and imperfect, but he loved me and my mother and sister more than anything, and he unquestionably helped to form the man I am, even if sometimes mainly by giving me a wall to bounce off as I figured out who I wanted to be.

And to have that brilliant moment with him, to leave behind for an evening the things that separated us and instead embrace, in that instant of improbable victory, this thing that bound us together… it’s impossible to express what it meant to me as it happened, and what it means to me now. Put simply, it’s everything that matters… a fact of which I’m reminded, these days, when my own seven-year-old daughter sits down with me and asks me to explain the game on the screen to her, to tell her about the people on the field, to tell her their stories. Because when I do so, of course, I am telling her my own.

That’s who I am, and that’s why I love the Atlanta Braves. And I’m humbled to be asked to contribute to this community Mac built. I hope to honor his memory, and your goodwill, in the process.

130 thoughts on “ENTER HOTSPUR, June 14 Game Thread”

  1. I see how you snuck in after the west coast games were over. You’re not fooling anyone!

  2. At the risk of parroting Stu (not a bad thing in itself for lurkers such as I), that right there is a big part of why I love baseball. I think I’ll call my granddad tonight.

  3. Yes, sir, you are a writer indeed. ubbubba, it is comforting to know I’m not the only one a little choked up. My daughter is married now, and happily trots off to Braves games with her husband. She insists that he park in the same off-site lot I always use. Baseball is a wonderful thing. The House That Mac Built is overflowing with extremely talented writers and thinkers. Thank you all.

  4. Glad to see the Thursday mantle has been put in such able hands. I hereby retire with a clear conscience.

    Also, this is the best time of year to be a Seattleite, between the film festival and the arrival of the Earth’s sun. I’d go back in a second if I knew I could make a go of it there.

  5. Wow. It got a little dusty at my office just then. A cold chill wave came through too.

    I love this site!

  6. Bravo, hotspur. Fantastic story.

    For anybody interested — which should be all of you — the final half-inning of the September 1993 Braves/Reds game mentioned is on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTzjg8D3kOI (Be warned, however, that this video contains more than your daily recommended amount of Chris Berman.)

    It’s pretty poor quality, but it gets the job done. Something not mentioned: Klesko’s epic bat flip/celebration almost immediately after making contact.

  7. Very well done, hotspur. Got a little dusty in my office too. Strangely, I had been thinking some things along the same sentiment about the trip I do with my boys every summer to go see minor league games in different towns. It’s just perfect.

  8. @12, thanks for posting that video. Chipper looks like he’s 14. Klesko’s epic bat flip is almost matched by his epic mullet.

  9. That bat flip — and the catcher’s reaction to it — has me guffawing in the office.

    Johnny Ruffin had a pretty nice breaking ball.

  10. Hinske’s down to a PH bench gig
    and has little time left in the bigs
    But came to Ian’s defense
    and his fist he did clench
    To apply lipstick to a Puig

  11. I just found out my niece, Kate, finished fifth in the Target Mascot Race. Out of five, she gets her speed from her uncle.

    The video is up! I’m the 6/12/13 race obviously…I’d just like to say they made us run the long track…my shoe was falling off…and I didn’t want to fall! I’m so slow! They also missed me entertaining the crowd at the beginning – I was jumping and doing lunges…and I also gave high fives at the end to the crowd (since I was so slow)

    http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?topic_id=41596328&c_id=min

  12. Or had all the umpires and scorekeepers on their side.

    Why do I get the feeling spike has been itching to use “lipstick on a Puig” for weeks now. Well done!

  13. I hear the Peachtree Road Race numbers were mailed this week. If anyone has one they can’t use (preferably in the G or H groups, where my friends will be running), feel free to contact me at samuelbass at juno dot com. Thanks!

  14. spike – are you a James McMurtry fan? I spent a few great hours during last night’s storm indulging myself in “Hurricane Party” over and over.

  15. I was playing at the Clermont lounge until 2am – which got quite raucous. I must confess little knowledge of McMurtry, shockingly. Reading his bio you’d think I would have run across it at some point. One of the major drawbacks of being a long term retro stylist is that you miss practically everything going on in the present.

  16. Joe and Don are snarking on Hawk Harrelson. The already excellent radio team has been even better this year.

  17. You no longer need to belabor the point, Gregor. We never should have traded you.

  18. I never understood why we dumped Blanco and Tim Collins for Rick F. Ankiel and Kyle F. Farnsworth.

    Not one of Wren’s better deals.

  19. Heyward just undid anything he’s contributed to the team this year in this half inning alone.

  20. I have nothing good to say about our outfield. So I’ll just shut up and wait for them to stop sucking.

  21. Medlen should ask to be traded. Better yet, he should ask that his outfield be traded.

  22. “Who would you rather have, the best pitcher in baseball or a good pitcher?”

  23. Interesting to hear Pendleton eviscerate (albeit gently) the team’s entire offensive approach on the MLB Network feed.

  24. What is our hitting coach/good hitter ratio? It’s pretty much 1 to 1, right? Just need to bring about 8 more coaches in and we’ll have it made.

    Or fire a couple.

  25. The only thing that might prevent a perfect game is Bumgarner’s pitch count.

  26. My hitting coach philosophy is this:

    Could it get worse? If no, then on to the next one. Or two.

    Maybe that isn’t practical. Anyways, I think we could do worse than Pendleton. And did. And are.

  27. FSS sideline reporter Elizabeth Moreau just noted that Brandon Beachy will pitch a “bull” session on Saturday. That’s good to know.

  28. Bumgarner at 59 pitches through 4. Imagine how many he’ll pile up once we start getting people on base.

  29. How many XBH will Posey end up with this series? Over/under 8.5?

    Have our pitchers ever even brushed him back?

  30. Someone owns a BJ Upton Braves jersey and decided to wear it to the stadium. Braver than I.

  31. I don’t get it. They’re getting XBH off pitches that aren’t even strikes. I guess it doesn’t help when Medlen’s throwing 86.

  32. Yeah. When you give up 9 hits in 5 innings, you don’t get to complain about the defense.

  33. Gameday said he saw 0 balls in that atbat, and somehow he’s on first with a walk.

  34. Our pitch-to-contact staff’s bubble will eventually burst. We will be wanting an offense at some point.

  35. Medlen has struck out four and hasn’t walked any. I’ve had to watch this one on gameday, and all I’m seeing are doubles on pitches literally right on the lower inside corner, or a foot high, or a foot outside. This is insanity.

    I can’t wait to see what “double on a sharp line drive to J. Upton deflected by B. Upton” looks like in real life.

  36. When it comes to James McMurtry, I do dig his first album, but I really love Where’d You Hide the Body and It Had To Happen. Saint Mary of the Woods is another excellent album. Was lucky enough to see him in my hometown of Macon a few months back, and at Gruene Music Hall in Texas last week.

  37. Not to defend our guys too much, but Bumgarner’s getting an Eric Gregg strike zone on the outside.

  38. Looping liner to BJ Upton that he, predictably, tried to make a running catch on, instead of sliding, and ran right past it. (Second time he’s done that this year.)

    None the less, catching that ball would be a great play. Play it on a hop would be the standard play. Running past it would be the Upton play.

    That doesn’t mean Medlen shouldn’t have given up the run. A double followed by a single usually means a run.

  39. I’d like to see the DH come to the national league, but only if it meant I didn’t have to watch Andrelton Simmons bat anymore.

  40. Maybe Wood could change to our road greys and try to fake this ump out. Zone isn’t consistent.

  41. Maybe the ump isn’t patient and is just a don’t get mad, get even type. Pretty brutal night back there.

  42. @110, He almost did. He was running all the way!

    Speaking of running all the way, good on Heyward for racing down the line.

  43. Natspros lost when LaRouche throw (from his knee) to plate was offline and runner from third beat throw, Natspros announcers whined saying batter was in fair territory. He had not made it to 45′ line. I doubt the ex-ball player understands rule.

  44. Boy this team is painful to watch sometimes .. when I switch over to another channel and switch back it almost always seems like I see a 3rd strike swing and miss or called strike against the braves batters .. I dont think I have ever seen a team SO so much .. It really amazes me that we are in 1st place .. boy the Nats , Phils and Mets must be really bad .. watching J Upton’s upercut swing miss balls, and all the guys we have swinging late on pitches .. timing is off bad … How to fix ..dont know .. we need more contact hitters like Shaefer and Pena and Gattis back in lineup .. I liked the lineup Shaefer, Pena, Upton, Freeman,Gattis , Heyward , C Johnson and Simmons.

  45. Bright side: we’re still in first by a decent amount.

    Dark side: the Nats have played as bad as they possibly can and had a few key injuries, and yet they are still well within striking distance.

    I still do not trust our pitching. No way are we gonna pitch this well for a whole season with this soft-tossing staff. The offense needs to figure shit out.

  46. There is a Japanese League broadcast on an obscure local station, with English commentary. Yomiuri Giants vs. Softbank Hawks. From May 29. How odd.

  47. Omar Poveda is having the best season of the starters for Gwinnett. I would think he gets the start Tuesday.

    Gilmartin is struggling with a 5.40 ERA. His walk rate is a little higher and his strikeout rate a bit lower than you would like.

  48. David Hale and Aaron Northcraft are on the 40 man. Hale has an ERA over 6 in only 5 starts (and may not be healthy).

    Northcraft has a 4.30 ERA for Mississippi but that seems a bit unlucky — he has only allowed 4 HR in 60 IP with a 3.7 BB/9 and 8 K/9. He is another possibility for Tuesday.

    Cody Martin isn’t on the 40 man but has pitched well at Double A.

    Alex Wood is another choice though he hasn’t started in 3 weeks. I doubt he could go more than 4 innings.

    Does Blake DeWitt still exist? Wonder why he’s still on the DL and not at Gwinnett.

  49. One more guy I didn’t mention: Gus Schlosser is pitching very well at Double A, but again, isn’t on the 40 man.

    Adding someone to the 40 man roster shouldn’t be a big deal, however, since the Braves could just move one of their 15 day DL guys (O’Flaherty, Venters, DeWitt or even Beachy since it is retroactive) to the 60 day DL.

  50. Maybe I should know this, but I don’t. Why do we need someone else to start on Tuesday? I know Beachy was scheduled, but won’t go. Who is on the DL or not able to make his next start?

  51. AAA update- Terdo hit his 13th last night and Pastornicky went 2/5 with a double.

    AA update- Ian Thomas (2.43ERA)threw 2 scoreless (luckily) innings and Juan Jaime (1.65ERA) struck out 4 batters in 1.2 innings.

    A+ update- Hefflinger, our next quad-A player in the making, went 6/7, hit 2HR and a double in a double header and now has a .946 OPS and 18HR. Billy Bullock is back in action and has a 1.69ERA in a 5.1 inning sample size.

    Nothing really to reflect on from Rome.

  52. 127 — There was a new rule instituted a year or so ago that allows the calling up of an extra player for doubleheaders. It is presumably to help teams call up another starter.

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