This may seem like an uncomfortable change of tone for those of you who frequent the Braves General Store. After seeing the title of this you may have run to FanGraphs and seen that the Braves have a 2.6% chance of winning the division, and only a 41.1% chance of making a wildcard spot. This is obviously not the final stretch that Braves fans were dreaming of, and the numbers begin to tell a harrowing tale of the 2014 Braves team. However, I want to pry the calculator and Excel spreadsheets from your hands and offer you a little piece of comfort.
I have often been asked what it is about baseball that I like so much. I could say the analytics, but to be honest, I know very little compared to K or Stephen, and I simply just do not care to know as much as they do. I could say it is because it was the sport I played in high school, but I remember being ready to put the glove and bat away. No, I think that my love for baseball stems from something far more abstract. And unfortunately, I don’t think my words can best describe it, but rather those of Jimmy Fallon in Fever Pitch, when talking about his beloved Red Sox.
“…the Red Sox never let you down. Because they haven’t won a World Series in a century or so? So what? They’re here. Every April, they’re here. At 1:05 or at 7:05, there is a game. And if it gets rained out, guess what? They make it up to you. Does anyone else in your life do that? The Red Sox don’t get divorced. This is a real family. This is the family that’s here for you.”
Though I am not dealing with a breakup with the child star that never really grew up, Drew Barrymore, I can sympathize with the character’s sentiments. I believe humans naturally crave consistency. Consistency makes us feel safe. Makes us feel at home. And what is more reliable that a 162 game season? No matter who is playing, baseball can be found on tv at almost any time during the summer. Whether having a rough day at work, or relaxing with friends, baseball is there. If your team doesn’t do well, they will be back on the same exact field in five months playing the same game. The letdown is short lived, because every season of baseball brings a brand new hope. Hope that Simmons will make more plays that are just too insane to quantify. Hope that Kimbrel will rack up more strikeouts than previously deemed possible. Hope that the braves will once again return to its dynasty status of the 90’s.
Baseball gives us an illusion, even if it only lasts for three hours, that life is simple. There are two teams. Your team, and the team they are playing. No matter what past struggles or hurts, your closest friends become those that surround you in the sacred bleachers. From the first note of the Star Spangled Banner to the final slap of the ball against the catcher’s mitt, paradise is tasted. From the drunk yelling profanities at the ump, to the kid seeing his first homerun, all seems right in a baseball stadium. Another fantastic explanation is given to us by the great James Earl Jones in the classic Field of Dreams.
“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”
And this sums up my love. The players continue to play, the fans continue to cheer. All moves on and faith is restored anew with the next start of a season. While it is tough to swallow disappointing seasons, even though the numbers do seem dismal, and despite getting your hopes up after the Braves great start, the Braves will continue to go out there and play. They will make their run at October. They may succeed. They may fail. But, there is a chance. And that is all baseball and its dedicated fans have ever needed: a chance.