I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ve actually watched several Atlanta Braves games this season without stifling a yawn.
Even though they’re shocking folks with a fast start in the National League East after four years of ugliness, that’s not what I’m referencing. Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna are playing across the way with energy, talent and charisma, which means you haven’t the need for caffeine or stretching your arms to keep from dozing.
Albies is the old man among the two rookies at barely 21. He’s a slugging second baseman with splendid moments on defense. Acuna is a few months younger than Albies at 20, and he is a wonder in the outfield and at the plate after he struggled in Triple A this year following a great spring training. He was impressive last season in the Minor Leagues, which means the fluke was his recent Triple A issues.
They both have passion. They both are faster than most. They both love to smile. They both use their enthusiasm to entice the rest of their teammates into acting as if they enjoy the game as much as they do.
They’re both exactly what baseball needs in general and what the Braves need in particular, because for the first time since . . .
Well, I’m still thinking.
Maybe historians have to go back to 2013 before they discover the last interesting team for the Braves. That’s when they won the NL East, but soon afterward, they imploded on purpose after they shredded everybody of consequence from their roster. Brian McCann, Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons. With attendance dropping along with their place in the division, they finished 79-83 in 2014, and then they lost 90 or more games during each of the next three seasons.
Actually, the last time you could watch the Braves for long stretches without reaching for the NoDoz was 2012, when Baseball Hall of Famer Chipper Jones kept the top of his jersey unbuttoned (you know, for flare) while trotting around the bases after home runs with the charisma of Mickey Mantle, his dad’s favorite player
Chipper was one guy, though. As for the overwhelming majority of other Braves players during this century, zzzzzzzzz.
Seriously, folks. Those Braves were often boring in victory. Remember? They ended their Major League-record streak of 14 consecutive seasons of winning their division in 2005, and down the stretch of it all, they flashed the charisma of a resin bag. It didn’t matter Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine had an epidemic of Cy Young Awards, and it didn’t matter they were pitching their way into Cooperstown, where they eventually would join manager Bobby Cox. It also didn’t matter the Braves had more than a few decent everyday players, stretching from the late 1990s into the early 2000s, with Gary Sheffield, Brain Jordan, Rafael Furcal, Andruw Jones and others.
I’m thinking the last Braves team to keep you captivated like this one — with a surprisingly good pitching staff, Gold Glove center fielder Ender Inciarte and consistently clutch first baseman Freddie Freeman — was the 1999 Braves. They cherished the word “scrappy,” and it was out of necessity. First baseman Andres Galarraga was diagnosed with cancer before the season, and he didn’t play. Then catcher Javy Lopez suffered a season-ending knee injury in July, while closer John Rocker kept a mess going by making homophobic remarks and racial slurs throughout the summer. Somehow, those Braves reached the World Series, where they were clobbered by the New York Yankees.
But those Braves kept your attention, and just think: It only took about a couple of decades for such a thing to happen again.