The Final Season: Stay Healthy My Friends

Mets 3 – Braves 1; CJ: 0-4

The Braves honored Chipper Jones tonight. Great to see. I felt great for him, watching him get all those accolades. I mean, would you believe Michael Jordan not only knows who Chipper Jones is but also claims to be a fan? Again, I guess I forget I didn’t grow-up in the TBS bubble I think I did. I, along with my fellow Braves’ fans, am not the only one who thinks Chipper is pretty great.

So the ceremony and then… they lost. I had this terribly cynical thought while I was watching Chipper groundout for the third time: Now this is the Brave team I know. Huge crowd in the stands, intent audience at home, and Chipper does nothing and the Braves loose. These are the Braves I know, particularly those teams that made playoff runs back in the early aughts. I know, that’s not fair and is a terrible thought for a team I claim to be a fan of. The night was just a bit anticlimactic, to say the least.

Watching it, I also couldn’t shake this feeling of dread I have for the rest of the season. Well, I guess not the season so much as the playoffs. Well, I guess not the playoffs so much as the play-in game. It’s making me very nervous. I want them to be fully in the playoffs, but I just, well, I have this gut feeling, and it’s not a good one.

I know I’ve written before about my gut feelings and how I tend to believe they’re right (What It Feels Like for a Fan). Well, for some reason, when I think of the Braves playing like the Cardinals in that play-in game, I don’t think it will go well. I have no trepidation about this last series of the season at home. They’ll do fine. Probably win two out of three. Also no concern with the last road series in Pittsburgh. But that could just be because these series don’t matter. I mean, let’s face it. They’re not going to catch the Nationals for the division.

But I had a feeling, when I first heard about this play-in game that the Braves would be in it and that it would be their undoing. Maybe that’s why I was opposed to it from the beginning. To quote Chipper, it’s stupid. The way MLB crammed it into the season without even making it a proper series. Stupid.

I just have a feeling. Again, I could be completely wrong, but I’m nervous for them to face whoever, be it the Cardinals or some other team. And, no, I don’t see them playing the Cardinals as a chance for poetic justice. Why? Well, as I’m outlining in this, I don’t think they’re going to beat them. So now they get the chance to get knocked out of the playoffs basically by the Cardinals two years in a row. That will officially make them a thorn in the Braves’ side.

I could see Atlanta losing that game. And, to me, it sucks that it’s just a matter of one game to keep them relevant. And my gut tells me they won’t win it, and that will break my heart. Not for myself, but mostly for Chipper. Because he wants it badly for the team, and they want it badly for him. And they’ll get close, but I don’t think they’ll quite get it together. But here’s hoping my gut is wrong. It has been known to be so.

But my gut is also telling me that the winner of the Series will come out of the AL, and I’m thinking either the Yankees or the Rangers, whichever wins the ALCS. (That’s called cheating predicting like that.) Even with the Yankees struggling to hold off the Orioles right not, it’s them and the Rangers world, while the rest of MLB is just playing along.

Both teams are very good, and you know that cheesy expression that “steel sharpens steel?” (haha – side note, I just looked that up to see if I was getting that expression right – it’s from the Bible. So much for cheesy.) I think the more those two break themselves against each other, the tougher they get.

Anyway, I said long ago I would just enjoy Atlanta being relevant in Chipper’s last season. And I have tried to. It was a blast watching them win. Good luck, Atlanta, in your, and MLB’s, first ever play-in game. May you win it and get yourselves in the playoffs outright. If not, it’s been fun. Thanks for playing. Thanks for being relevant. I’ve enjoyed it once again. Brought back a lot of memories.

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The Final Season: Keep It Wild

Houston 3 – Atlanta 2; CJ: 1-2, R, 2 BB

I talked a little about the Wild Card yesterday, and I hope I didn’t sound like I didn’t like it when I said it takes away from the idea of ‘winning a pennant.’ If I did, that wasn’t my intention.

It’s funny because I do often criticize MLB for being so quick to change (some) things, yet I am very much a traditionalist. For instance, I don’t like Astroturf, or even domes for that matter. I don’t like the DH. And I really don’t like the 100-pitch pitch count, which I know I’ve mentioned before. (You try telling Nolan Ryan he’s tired because your tally sheet is telling you so.)

So, I suppose, I don’t like too much change in baseball. I like things to stay the same. I like it to seem like it is congruent from one era to another. It helps the history and (cheese warning), I think, the soul of the game survive. And I recognize there have been plenty of opportunities for it to be squandered. And some more severe controversies, like gambling and steroids, managed to come close. But for the most part, I feel baseball has stayed the same game.

However, the Wild Card, like Interleague play, was a big shift. For a hundred plus years of baseball, you only had four teams in the playoffs, not eight (sorry, I mean 10). Of course, one could point out we also didn’t have 30 teams in the league. So, unlike the DH or Astroturf, I think it’s been a good change.

I know at its heart, it’s a way for the game to make more money. Publicly Bud Selig will say that it was for the fans, to make the late season races for playoff spots more exciting for more people. It puts more drama into the mix. And that it’s a way for more fans to have more interest in games longer.

I think few people, like myself, are just fans of the game and will watch it regardless of who is playing. Even I can’t boast that feeling all the time. I think I do better than most, but I have to admit, I would struggle to watch the Royals play the Mariners right about now. (It would depend on who was pitching.) I think most baseball fans just watch when “their” team is playing, something that is understandable. So now, twice as many fans, in theory, have a reason to watch the playoffs with twice as many teams are playing.

Also, I think what really sold the Wild Card to owners and players was, for the players, another chance to earn a bonus, and, for the owners, more chances to sell tickets and earn TV revenue. And look at the merchandise they can sell. And how much more beer they can sell. Am I coming across as jaded by commercialism? Just a little bit.

But even if the motives of MLB to extend the playoffs weren’t all together pure, I still think it’s been a good thing for the game. All those things I mentioned above, getting people more excited, getting them more involved for longer, that all happened. And there have been some pretty decent Division Series. One’s worth watching even if your team isn’t in it.

And I know there are some purest out there that probably still scoff at the Wild Card. Deride it for hurting the game. And, had I been older than 12 when the change was implemented, I might have agreed with them. But I was young enough that I just took it in stride. It didn’t seem to really affect me after all. For a long stretch, the Braves always won their division anyway. Now I can see how hard it is to accept change to the game you’ve grown up loving for over 50 years.

But, over all, I think it’s added more than it’s detracted. It has taken away from the luster of winning the “pennant,” but it’s also lengthened the season and that means more baseball, and I could never not be a fan of that.

I will complain, and loudly, about how long they’ve started to drag out the postseason. It seems like there’s an off-day between every game. It’s too much. I think it was mid-November (ok, maybe not that late) that the World Series was finally over last season. It was definitely in November, though, and that’s too late. And I think MLB recognized that at least a little because they did shorten the World Series back to its traditional 2 games, day off, 3 games, day off, 2 games. That’s better.

But I can honestly say I would keep the Wild Card if given the choice. I think it’s been good for the game, and that’s what I care about most.