"There's no defeat in life save from within;
Unless you're beaten there, you're bound to win."
- Henry Austin
Back in the summer, when the Atlanta Braves were steamrolling their way toward such a record-breaking season that even the most pessimistic fan dared utter the words "Braves" and "World Series" in the same breath, I couldn't help worming the subject into a conversation with my Maryland friend.
"Oh," sighed the perpetually pessimistic Baltimore Orioles fan, "but the Braves always win. Isn't it time to let someone else have a chance?"
I could see his point, not that I thought Chipper and Javy should swing their bats a little slower, or the pitching staff toss their opponents something better to hit. After all, the Braves have had their lean times, too. Longtime fans will tell you Atlanta would have to win 10 more division titles, and at least one more World Series just to make up for the years unsold Braves tickets were trucked to the landfill, owners couldn't afford to pay any player more than million dollars a season or, so the joke goes, Atlanta's judges would sentence the guilty to a fixed number of Braves games commensurate with their criminal offense.
I've never had much interest in football, but from April to October each year I pour all my cheering, nail-biting energy into Major League Baseball, a sport I've enjoyed ever since Ted Williams swung his powerful bat for the Boston Red Sox, and the Boston Braves still played across town.
Actually, I once fancied myself a star of baseball's sister sport, softball. I was quite a hero back in the seventh grade, where we made up half the rules as we went along. My favorite "position" was something called "taking last strikes." As one of the only kids in the school who could hit the ball at all, I had more times at bat in a season than Andruw Jones. Heroes get a lot of attention, you know, and attention is what I got the day I walloped a stinging, last-strike, base hit during a crucial, afternoon-recess game and sprained my ankle on the way to first base.
If there's one way I can sympathize with this year's disappointed-again Braves fans, it's knowing how it feels to almost win. Some memories are vivid still:
* Sports of a sort re-entered my life during my junior year in high school and I was also good at baton twirling, better than most of the other girls trying out for drum majorette. But, alas, my strutting stance and short-skirt silhouette weren't quite what the coaches had in mind, and I didn't make the team.
* I was ahead in a table tennis tournament once, too - had my opponent 20-15 and needed only one more point to win the trophy. Do you think I could get that one point? Nerves, the noise of the crowd, desperately wanting to win, or all the above, robbed me of my concentration and I blew the game. Talk about humiliation. After that I hung up my paddles, right beside my obsolete bat, glove and baton.
* Switching to the mental arena, I can't forget the ton of writing rejections I've received, or the three second-place finishes I've earned in writing competitions. I'll also never forget the time I finally made it to the all-county spelling bee, only to be eliminated in the third round. (Never again have I spelled the word "realize" with an "s.")
Back to the Braves: No fan could possibly be as disappointed in the team's early post-season elimination as the players are themselves, at least for a while. But even if they are momentarily remorseful over fielding errors or missed opportunities on the mound and at the plate, I can't imagine any player or any fan forgetting the record-breaking, thrill-packed season he helped deliver to fans from Boston to Atlanta, and a lot of towns and in a lot of years in between.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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