Baseball Has Arrived!

I wanted to get a baseball post up at the beginning of the season, but that pesky master’s project and thesis kept getting in the way. So here’s my first (of many?) posts about baseball, two and a half weeks into the season.

P1050008If you know me at all, or have read the about us page, you know that I am a Braves fan. Thanks to my uncles being huge fans and Ted Turner broadcasting Braves games to wherever we happened to be living, I’ve been following them since I knew what baseball was. I finally got to see them play live at age 14 after we moved to northern Virginia and my dad surprised us with tickets to see the Braves play in Baltimore (the Expos hadn’t moved to DC yet and interleague play was still new). It was AMAZING! I still remember Andruw Jones tracking down a deep fly ball – he was positioned in right center, the ball was crushed to left center, I thought for sure it was gone. Next thing I know he’s leaping at the wall, snatching the ball out of the air to take away a home run. I knew he was fast from watching him on TV, but it really puts into perspective how much ground he had to cover when you’re sitting there watching it happen in front of you.

2011-04-21_00-14-28_337Thirteen years later, I still am giddy with excitement whenever I get to go to the ballpark to see the Braves play. I was lucky that a couple of years ago their west coast road trip aligned with a business trip I took that put me just north of Los Angeles. My boss, knowing how much of a Braves fan I am, let me go early one afternoon so I could make the drive south to go see them play. It was awesome. I even got a signed ball from Eddie Perez, as I was the only one in Braves gear surrounded by a sea of Dodger blue (just days after the incident with the SF fan…). I’ve seen them a few times in Atlanta, and since we only live about three hours from DC, I try to make the drive at least once a season to see them play the Nats.

This past weekend was one of those times to make the drive. I looked at the schedule as soon as it was made public, saw that April 12, 13, 14 was the only weekend series for the Braves in DC, looked at my work load to finish my MS degree, and made a plan. I’ll defend my thesis on the 12th and then drive up to see them play that weekend as a celebration with my wife and baby.

P1010830Now, this is not the first time WV has been to a game. He was 4 weeks old, and I somehow convinced L that we should drive up to DC, sit in the front row, and see the Braves because I hadn’t seen them play live yet in 2012. It rained like crazy, the 3 hour drive took us almost 5, and the game was delayed because of the weather (so we didn’t miss the beginning even though it took forever to get there). It was tied after 9 innings, but it was late because of the delay, and we still had to drive back home so I could work the next morning, so we left and listened to the Braves lose in 13 innings on the way home. We tried to go see a game with my brother and his gf back in June while WV was still on the inside, but the skies opened up and let loose a storm of biblical epic-ness and we had to settle for a nice dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant. And I quickly lost the battle of trying to convince L that we should go to the game on her due date, saying she could just deliver at the stadium and we’d be all over Sports Center. Alas…

So I defended my thesis on Friday the 12th, provided musical entertainment for a zombie obstacle challenge with my band Key’d Up on Saturday the 13th, then we made the drive to go stay with my parents for the night and go to the game on Sunday. My parents wanted to come as well, so we had a full car (dad’s SUV) driving into DC with L, WV, me, my mom, my dad (W3), my brother, and his gf.

Paul Maholm vs. Gio Gonzalez. The defending NL East champions (and the favorite not only to repeat as division winners, but to win the WS) against the “good but not as good” challengers, who were riding an 8 game win streak and trying to sweep the Nats on the road. This was going to be a great pitching battle.

P1050015Boy was I wrong. BJ Upton drove a double off the left field wall on the first pitch of the game. He scored on a Gattis double, who then scored with Justin Upton on a Chris Johnson single, and Paul Maholm was staked to a 3-0 lead before he even faced the first Nats batter. I don’t know what it is, but the Braves seem to be able to absolutely destroy top tier pitchers (Gio Gonzalez, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, etc.) while struggling against mediocre guys or AAA call ups (at least that was the case last year). And destroy Gio they did. El Oso Blanco drove in another run. Chris Johnson drove in two while subbing for the injured Freddie Freeman. Justin Upton continued his power barrage with a monster HR to right center. Andrelton Simmons got into the action as well depositing a 3-run jack into the Braves bullpen. All the Braves fans in the ballpark (and there were plenty) were chopping and chanting. It was as if the game was being played in Atlanta. By the end of three innings, the braves had put up 7 runs against Gio. Maholm was just having fun after that, dropping 58 mph curveballs after backing hitters off the plate with 90+ mph fastballs. It was like he was throwing wiffle balls in the backyard. He even got into the offensive action by singling and scoring on Jason Heyward’s double in the 6th. Final score: Braves 9, Nationals 0. Total attendance: 39,389. After the 7th inning the attendance was down to about 20,000, most of them Braves fans.

It was a great game to attend, watching them sweep the highly touted Nats on the road, winning their 9th in a row, and really punishing the great pitching staff that is supposedly better than theirs. As of this morning, the Braves lead the majors with a 1.83 ERA, whereas the Nats are #20 with 4.29 (even with today’s loss the Braves ERA improved to 1.77). In the 2 games that the Braves have lost, they have been outscored 3-0. In the 6 games that the Nationals have lost, they have been outscored 47-10. I could pull out more stats such as overall run differentials, inherited runners scored, home run differentials, etc. but I think that would be overkill and each point I make would likely be countered by some off the wall statistic from an opposing fan. Suffice it to say that the Braves are pitching well, with or without their offense.

P1050006Now, this isn’t a post to bash the Nats. They’re a great team and will win a ton of games (against the Marlins and Mets), and really make things interesting as the season progresses and they battle the Braves and Phillies for the division title. The season is still young (not even 10% complete), and I’m sure the Braves will falter here and there, but for now I am enjoying the fact that they are 12-2 and continue to hit the cover off the ball while the pitching stays stingy (tough 1-0 loss this afternoon, the KC pitchers should buy Doug Eddings a steak dinner for his generous strike calls). It was great to see the Braves play, great to see them win, and great to go spend some time with my parents and give them some WV time as well. The next game we will catch live will be against the Mets while we’re visiting L’s parents.

2013-04-03_18-59-12_946I do have some bad news to report… The beer glass you see in this image was my lucky Braves beer glass. I set it down wrong on a coaster the other night, and it fell over, dumping a freshly poured honey ale all over the table and breaking into a bunch of pieces. R.I.P lucky glass, may you continue to give the Braves good luck in spirit.

So here’s to the 2013 Braves! My tagline since opening day: Home runs and home brews! Go ahead, DC fans (or Braves haters), and tell me how it’s a long season and anything can happen. Go ahead and rub it in that the Nats won the NL East last year and the Braves lost in the one game Wild Card playoff. Go ahead and remind me that the Braves only got one WS championship during the 14-year run of consecutive division titles (which is infinitely more WS championships that the Nationals franchise won during that same period). Go ahead and say “we’ll see how much this sweep matters in October…” and other things that mean absolutely nothing but make you feel better as a Nats fan looking up and seeing the Braves atop the standings early in the season. We will see what happens come October. Maybe the Braves will continue to be hot, maybe they’ll trail off and the Nats will catch/surpass them. Maybe the Marlins will get lucky (not likely). The past is the past, this is 2013. Both teams made improvements and it will be exciting to watch them both throughout the season. GO BRAVES!

Is anyone else as excited as I am that the season is here and the Braves are kicking butt?