Thanks Chipper! [Atlanta Tales, Volume Three]

The regular season has ended for Major League Baseball. No teams ended in a tie, forcing a one game playoff….but thanks to Commissioner Bud Selig’s new fangled playoff format, there will be two Game 7s…without playing Games one thru six.

See, this year there are two additional Wild Card teams, which now means TEN teams make the playoffs [WTF is this, HOCKEY??] Anyway, the two Wild Card teams now play one another on Friday. The winner advances to what used to be the first round of the playoffs, the Division Series. The Braves host the St. Louis Cardinals at 5pm on Friday, and I will be there.

It could be the start of a deep run into the postseason…or it could all be over by 8pm Friday.

My stomach will be in my throat for the entire day, I promise you that.

But, before that nerve-wracking exercise in stress overload commences, let me take a moment to look back at the portion of the 2012 season I was able to see in person.

I saw 19 games at Turner Field, beginning with an August 14th win against San Diego, and ending with a September 30th win over the Mets. I only missed one series, the weekend of August 17-19 against the Dodgers, partially because I wasn’t originally planning to be in Atlanta until August 20, so I never bought tickets for that series, but mainly because the night of the 17th was spent buying and installing a new TV with friends Vickie and Travis, and the 18th and 19th, friends Mimi and Mandy were in town…plus on the 19th I saw Duran Duran.

The Braves lost two of three of the games against the Dodgers that I did not see, but when I was in attendance, the club went an impressive 15-4. I saw Kris Medlin and Paul Maholm dominate from the mound, and most memorably, I witnessed two walk-off home runs; first on September 2 against the Phillies when the club came down from a 7-1 deficit to win it on Chipper Jones’ three run home run, making the final 8-7. It will probably be the only time I will be rendered speechless at a ballgame. I don’t even remember screaming, though I am sure I did. I just remember thinking for the next hour as I made my way home, ‘Did that really happen? Did I really see that?’ It has been called the best ending to a regular season game in Atlanta Braves history. I truly felt privileged to be there.

The other walk off moment happened on September 25 against the Marlins. The Braves were behind 3-2 in the ninth. Funny thing is, no one in my section of the park at least publicly doubted that the team would win it. The inning began with a double by Chipper, and Freddie Freeman took the third pitch he saw deep into the Atlanta night, winning the game and securing a spot in the playoffs. I can’t say that I expected a walk off home run, but I was not at all surprised that the Braves won that game.

The other moment I was very happy to be there for was ‘Chipper Jones Night’ on Friday, September 28, It was the first of what would be three sellout crowds at The Ted that weekend, and while The Ted will never be as loud as old Fulton County Stadium [simply because the sound doesn’t reverberate like it did at the Launching Pad], when Turner Field is sold out, it is amazing!

This was the game I wanted to see, because they had a 30 minute ceremony before the game honoring Chipper. I was there to see Pete Van Wieren and Bobby Cox, who both spoke about Chipper’s career and place in baseball history. Appropriately, Bobby got the loudest ovation of the night, maybe of the entire weekend. No disrespect to current manager Fredi Gonzales, but there is and will only be one Bobby Cox, and he is missed since he retired at the end of the 2010 season.

Between innings of the game on Friday night, they showed video messages from teammates, legends like Hank Aaron and Michael Jordan and opposing players (Jeter). The line of the night though goes to catcher David Ross, who said in his video message to Chipper: “I remember my granddaddy tellin’ me about seeing you play in the old days…” That line had me laughing for the rest of the night.

I thought as Braves Country said farewell to Chipper over three days, I would be a bit more emotional, but I wasn’t. As I thought about it, so much of my life has changed in the last three months, that the fact that number 10 won’t be at third base next season, while a bit of a letdown, doesn’t make me sad. In fact, when he tore his ACL in Houston on August 10, 2010, I thought right then and there that his career was over. To his credit, his 2012 season has been one of his best ever, and the best by a player in his final season since Ted Williams in 1960. I’ll miss Chipper, no doubt, but I have many important people in my life that, daily, I miss on a level that cannot be equaled by a baseball player. So, above all I am happy he is able to exit on his own terms, and his career will end as it began: in a Braves uniform.

But let’s not say our final goodbye until very late in October, okay? There’s still work to do, and it starts Friday!

Thanks for reading,