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The Braves Collapse: The Epitome of Southern Anxiety

September 29, 2011

It grew out of it, so it must be a part of it, right?

Summer baseball, fall football, and church are pretty much the cliches that felt apart of my southern boyhood, and all those things taught me that most heroes are destined for tragedy: Moses couldn't reach the Promised Land. Jesus was crucified. Robert E. Lee surrendered. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Eric Zeier couldn't overcome Spurrier. Bill Clinton was impeached. And the Braves, well, the Braves pretty much lose (except for in '95) once autumn comes.


It's as predictable as the seasons, yet as stationary as a dot on a roadmap, which is why when the Braves lost last night in twelve innings, it all felt vaguely familiar, like driving down a highway you once knew, without directions, letting some old memory take the wheel. And that old memory steered everyone doing a tomahawk chop--with their right hand--right off a severe cliff, magically landing us as softly as a cracked bat blooper into the familiar geography of loserdom. We'd been here before. In fact, we were born here, but this time the thorns weren't funny. They seriously, seriously hurt.

David Schoenfield wrote an excellent piece detailing how the Braves didn't lose last night's game on any particular play, that their failing to make the Playoffs after holding an eight and a half game lead at the start of September was not the result of a single ball, strike, hit, error, play, inning, or game, that it took multiple injuries and several weeks for this kind of depression to consume a team and its fanbase like a scar carved into a tree trunk: this mark is going to last for a while.

And I agree with him.

I agree with him, because both the positive and negative aspects of change are long trains a coming. Rails are laid and time chugs down them, devouring coal dust and huffing out smoke, and while it can take centuries of oppression and slavery to bring about a war and years of bloodshed to bring about a surrender, it's always the image of a depressed General Lee riding by his weary yet still enthusiastic men that sticks with me, especially considering that the man is sad over losing a war that he never wanted to fight in the first place. That gets to me. And it gets to me because all the paintings and photographs at Appomattox are of a man with the weight of the Condfederacy's lost hopes, history's sins, and the world's consequences riding on his shoulders, and he looks as helpless in that moment of defeat as he sounded before the war in a letter to his son, and I always wonder if the man ever believed the South could win in the first place.

Last night, I thought the Braves would lose even before the first pitch was thrown out, and I know I'm not the only one--Twitter was alive with doubt. Braves fans expected to lose. Hell, we always expect to lose; it's why we don't show up for games all summer. Most people think that the '90s spoiled us, and, therefore, we don't show up until the postseason; but truly, we don't show up until the postseason because we figure why show up for Gettysburg when you know Appomattox is just months away. Last night, we showed up at Turner Field because we wanted to pay our respects to a cause we already knew was lost.

But then, hope springs eternal. Idiots always think the South will rise again, saying it, but not knowing what the hell it even means. I was saying it last night when Craig Kimbrel's arm betrayed his own team and couldn't find the strike zone, but there were still more innings to be played; and while I wanted to fall asleep, forget about baseball, and dream about next April, the bottom of the tenth happened, like a flash of lightning promising a rain that would never come.

I stayed up and watched.

All the ball had to do was land on something, anything, other than the webbing of the centerfielder, and it's not like there weren't any options--possibility was everywhere: the grass, the warning track, the outfield wall, maybe even over the wall, anywhere other than where the ball wound up landing. And it sounded good, too. At the crack of Chipper's bat you could hear the crackling sparks of a distant campfire, somewhere in the future, where you would gather people younger than you and tell them about how the ancient third baseman unleashed one more magic spell from the maple of his bat. Michael Bourn heard it too, and he was racing for that future that was sure to exist in the gap between center and left field, if only the ball had landed there.

But it didn't.


Michael Martinez ran it down, stretched out his arm, and snuffed out the campfire, story killed, stunned silence. The Phillies all went back to the dugout smiling. The Braves looked like something had escaped them; something that couldn't be named. You could say it was their playoff hopes, but it felt like something more, like something that a Hemingway story can only hint at with imprecise metaphors and symbolism, because there are no definitive words for defeat, just the end of something indescribable and unclear.

This team wasn't the one that held onto the division with a steel grip, and it wasn't the team that mounted a worst to first rebellion. This team was building something, slowly, incrementally, rail by rail, through its farm system, and then it all just fell apart, but not like the decadence that topples empires, but like a team that woke up one September morning and couldn't help but reveal itself as one mundane yawn, full of everyday mediocrity and no postseason--a footnote in some other champion's history.

2 comments:

Hoss said...

Ouch buddy. That's somber as hell. I'm sorry it had to end that way because we were really looking forward to the playoff parties. Dn't worry, you'll be there with that young core in the coming years as the Phils begin to wane. The track may have derailed on Wed. night, but the foundation of the track is still in place and going in the right direction ...

September 30, 2011 at 10:05 AM
Teach said...

Yeah, I was looking forward to home and away parties as well. I was even going to wear my visitor grays to yalls house.

September 30, 2011 at 3:56 PM

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