I have a confession to make. I don’t really hate the Braves. I’ve said and I’ve written that I hate the Braves. Every Mets fan says this. But I don’t really. I’ve tried, but I can’t.
Sure I hated John Rocker, but he’s been gone a very long time and you could just tell from looking at Bobby Cox’s face when he was asked about him what Bobby thought about John Rocker. I hated the Chief Knock-a-Homah thing and I still hate the Tomahawk chop. I do the “Larrr-rryyy” thing when Chipper comes up, but I can’t get all that riled up because long ago he suggested, probably out of ignorance, that Mets fans switch to rooting for the Yankees once the Mets are out of it. All that stuff is stupid, but it’s not enough of a reason to hate the franchise.
I hate the Yankees. That’s not hard. I hate them because I hate the idea of expecting rather than hoping to win. I hate the impoverished baseball mentality they have come to stand for in the Steinbrenner epoch and in the past twelve years in particular. I found it easy to hate the Cardinals again last year. They didn’t deserve to be there, or to do what they did. They were an ugly-looking team and all of those hefty folks in red waving white hankies got to me.
But I just can’t bring myself to hate Atlanta. They won our division for fifteen years in a row, but they didn’t do it in a Yankee way, all puff-chested and explaining that the people of Atlanta expect a winner no matter how much it cost. They did it with an organization that was run the way a baseball franchise should be run: with intelligence and resourcefulness. They did it with the kind of qualities that Mets management has lacked for most of Mets history. They won every year but they surprised you by winning in plenty of those years. I can’t help but applaud them. And then, they only won one World Series. That makes them feel human. It gives them a nice tragic character.
Another reason I find it hard to hate the Braves is that their fan base isn’t as passionate as the Braves team deserves. The Braves have a decent fan base, but they can’t reliably fill their stadium for big games, and there isn’t exactly a madhouse atmosphere in Atlanta when the Braves are in it. I don’t think this is just because they’ve won so much. I think it’s the old regional thing. People in that area breathe, eat, and drink college football. They watch baseball, but to them baseball is what college football is to us. It’s pretty peripheral.
I was in New Orleans once when when what they call “them Dawgs!,” about which they like to ask “How about?” were playing Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl and let me tell you, Georgians really can get passionate about athletic contests. But they just don’t feel about the Braves in Atlanta what the people in St. Louis feel about the Cards, or people in Boston feel about the Red Sox, or we feel about the Mets. It’s just not the same. And I feel bad for the Braves. A team that has been this good for this long deserves a little more passionate appreciation.
Who expected the Braves to be in it this year? I didn’t. You didn’t. I look at them and I’m not sure why they’re as close to us as they are in the standings. I give them credit. They are the underdog this year. We’re the favorites. That makes it even harder for me to hate them or to get back into the state of mind I was in in 1999 or 2000 when they were the Evil Empire, when they humiliated us whenever our boys had to play in Turner Field.
Maybe if they get a lead, or maybe if one of their players says something stupid, I’ll find some way to hate the Braves again. But I don’t think either of those things is going to happen. I am still hoping that somebody will slap the Phillies in the face and point them in the direction of the finish line. A New York-Phillies rivalry would have a lot of passion. Given the physical proximity of the two cities, you could have all kinds of fun with a rivalry like that. I’ll keep hoping. And I guess that no matter what I or any other Mets fan says, I’m just going to keep respecting the Atlanta Braves.