It doesn’t feel real.
World Series Champions.
Just after 11:30PM on November 2, 2021, it happened. I saw it with my own eyes, and I still don’t believe it. And I don’t know how long it will take to set-in, either.
The Atlanta Braves … World. Series. Champions.
The team is the team, the players are the players, but the fans are the lifeblood of any organization. In Braves Country, faded hats adored with an “A” are a sign of solidarity regardless of age, creed, gender, or any other stereotype that can, in many circumstances, be an unfortunate bias.
In winning, there is unity, pride and joy.
Winning is never a given and should never be taken for granted. We all know that hard work, dedication, and commitment doesn’t always yield the results we want in any aspect of life, but those ideals are things we can control.
As a fan, we have no control.
We watch. We listen. We read. But we are helpless as the innings, games and seasons begin and end. When the word “rebuild” gets muttered, shivers can run down the spine, because there is resignation that an opportunity to chase a championship – or even compete for a playoff spot - may be five, seven or nine years away.
Rebuilding, or worse, not building correctly are dark times for a franchise. They are darker times for true-blue fans. I’ve never understood how people can change their rooting interests on a whim. I guess I’m not built like Drake. When I’m a fan, I’m a fan for life.
This 2021 championship is the payoff for those lean times.
I’ve thought about the older members of the fanbase – those whose fandom reaches back to the earliest days of the franchise in Atlanta. For some, this season will be their last, and this amazing ride brought them immeasurable joy. For others, there’s the perspective of knowing this might be the last time they can relish championship glory, even if they hope for a repeat performance next season.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are a generation of kids for whom this may be the moment that solidifies a lifetime of rabid baseball fandom. Even the kids who don’t play the game and aren’t fans of the sports are getting exposure to baseball, and in doing so, may find interest in the game they otherwise wouldn’t have had.
Each generation experiences marquee moments with a different perspective, but we can all share this moment from our unique viewpoint.
In the final days of this history-making season, I found myself dwelling on the impact this season will have on so many people. For members of the Braves organization, this will forever define their careers.
Four different regimes acquired and developed players on the 2021 roster, so love them or hate them, Josh Schuerholz, Frank Wren, John Coppolella and Alex Anthopoulos and their respective front offices are to thank for this championship season.
Thanks, too, goes out to the minor league coaches and managers whose role in the player development cycle are critical. When a team with a championship, the whole organization should be celebrated.
On the field, the legacy of players largely unknown to the fanbase 100 days ago is forever carved in stone. World Series MVP Jorge Soler, Joc Pederson and Eddie Rosario are now legends, even if their careers in Atlanta don’t extend beyond 2021.
For Freddie Freeman, whose status as a Braves Hall of Famer is now cemented, the only two questions remaining are if he will be a life-long Brave and if he will join his mentor Chipper Jones in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
For the “Night Shift” bullpen – er, arm barn – of Luke Jackson, A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek and Will Smith, their World Series dominance has been legendary. Max Fried was indeed Maximum Fried in game six.
This season, 56 men made an appearance on the regular season roster. When including Terrence Gore, who appeared in one post-season game, that’s 57 baseball players who can lay claim to being part of this championship season.
Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley played in a league-leading 160 regular season games, plus the playoffs. On the other end of the spectrum, relief pitchers Carl Edwards, Jr., Jay Flaa and Ty Tice only made one appearance each out before their time of the roster was over.
Seven catchers appeared behind the plate for Atlanta this season. Personally, I’ll never forget Jonathan Lucroy’s two games, because he was a player I’d long hoped would be with the team going back a decade. Jeff Mathis’s long-expected transition to coaching likely began after his three games in Atlanta. Stephen Vogt went out with a bang, with a two-homerun game, before getting hurt. He’s been in the dugout during the post-season, so it will be curious to see if he continues playing after this season and if so if it will be in the organization as a mentor at AAA. Kevan Smith appeared in 30 games after his acquisition from Tampa. Alex Jackson finally got a chance for regular playing time after he was traded to Miami for Adam Duvall. William Contreras may still be part of the Braves future although he might be the odd man out after next season since the team opted to extend Travis d’Arnaud late in the regular season.
This isn’t a season-ending roster recap, there will be time for that, but to me, it’s important to remember guys like outfielder Abraham Almonte, who made important contributions as injuries ravaged the roster. Likewise, Edgar Santana was solid as a low-leverage reliever appearing in more than 40 games.
As a baseball lifer, Sean Kazmar, Jr. warmed many hearts around the sport when he made a brief appearance in the majors for the first time since 2008 early in the 2021 season. Now he will get a World Series ring before he likely heads for a long-term career as a coach in the sport.
Dylan Lee’s first career start will be in the World Series record books forever, even though it only lasted one third of an inning.
If I’m not careful, this will be a Jayson Stark column, but you get the point. There are so many great stories about this team that I’m sure several books are already being written about this season.
Brian Snitker managed an impeccable post-season; and we all know he’s been part of the Braves organization for 45 years. Ron Washington is beloved by fans and players as much as any coach I can remember since maybe Don Zimmer. Hitting coach Kevin Seitzer missed time this season with hip surgery.
It goes on and on and on and on.
There will be a parade on Friday - and I’m sure hundreds of thousands of fans will turn out. But in warehouses, in offices, in schools, in restaurants, anywhere anyone who wears an “A” on their hat or an “A” on their shirt will have an extra smile from a happiness that comes from their team being the best.
In six games, the Atlanta Braves defeated the Houston Astros.
Are we happy? Hell yes, we are happy. (Are we relieved? You better believe we are. 28-3 happened in Houston and this is Atlanta sports, after all.)
The 2021 Atlanta Braves are World Champions forever.
Rejoice, Braves fans. It is real.