On the precipice of the post-season launching point for the Atlanta Braves, I – like many of you – am anxious.
There’s a juxtaposition that comes with being a long-time Braves fan or follower. On one hand, unlocking each season’s next level and going to the postseason has been a regular occurrence for the Braves for more than three decades.
In the other hand is two World Series rings and at least 15 seasons of bitter disappointments.
“Get in and you have a chance”, they say.
“Being the better team in the regular season doesn’t matter when the postseason starts”, they tell us.
“Sometimes it is just about which team gets hot at the right time”, they whisper when the team falls short of the ultimate goal.
They sure have something to say.
They best keep quiet this year.
The way the 2021 season ended still feels like a dream. It was different than in 1995 when it was more of a feeling of relief than adulation.
After the bitter defeat in 2020’s crazy season to the Dodgers in the NLCS, Atlanta’s World Series victory in 2021 was joyous and filled with elation. Even now – two years later – it seems surreal.
It was a true panda to pearls happy ending.
Then last year happened – the regular season mad scramble to furiously dig out of a trench dug half-way to Antarctica left the fanbase in awe of some an incredible regular season come back.
Then, when the Braves were ousted by the Phillies in the postseason, there was disappointment, yes, but not outrage because for the greater part of the regular season no one was sure if the Braves would even make the playoffs.
And yeah, the team had won the big one the year before, which softened the blow immensely.
Fast forward a year and here we are again in October.
The Atlanta Braves were the best team in all of baseball during the 2023 regular season. The team’s offense broke numerous records – both as a team and individually. Injuries decimated the pitching staff, but even still, there were bright spots. The team flirted with breaking the franchise record for wins but fell just short, tying for second place all time with 104.
Atlanta and Philadelphia will lock horns again, just like last year, with the Braves the division winner and the Phillies a wild card.
Is there excitement?
Is there anticipation?
Without a doubt.
Is there optimism?
Is there doubt?
Is there trepidation?
Is there an underlying since of dread that comes from decades of regular season success that is teeming with examples of lesser teams advancing by dispatching of the Braves in a postseason series?
I mean, duh.
That is the yin and the yang of following the Atlanta Braves. The Blauser and Belliard, if you will.
Get in and you have a chance.
But they got in, too. They have a chance, too.
When this run of Braves excellence began back in 1991 - before the Wild Card era - if a team won one seven game series, they were in the World Series.
Then the Wild Card happened. Just to get to the World Series, a team had to beat two other teams – first in a best of five – then a best of seven. Then came the Wild Card play-in game: win or end. Now it is best of three, best of five, best of seven.
Thankfully, the Braves were able to bypass the best of three this year.
Oh, the emotions!
There are reasons to be optimistic and reasons to be pessimistic. Trying to be realistic is noble but difficult.
A team as good as this Braves team was in the regular season means that expectations are simple: World Series win or bust.
That means no free pass this year.
No, “well, we won last year, and the team probably used up all its energy even making the postseason, so it’s all good.”
Nope, not this year.
History has shown us that this 2023 team will have to break a pattern of great regular season Braves teams that failed to bring home that trophy filled with flags.
You know the last time a Braves team won more than 100 games and won a World Series?
It was way back in ‘92.
The 1995 team won 90 games in a shortened season. The 2021 managed only 88 wins.
That dang word again.
If your wakeup call each workday comes before 5AM, then we share the same challenges of both staying awake for a game that might not end until 1AM or later and then making it through the following workday.
The copious cups of coffee, baggy eyes and functional zombie-ism from the lack of sleep in 2021 was all worth it.
But as the NLDS is set to begin for Atlanta, all the other emotions that come with postseason baseball are rolled-up into one big mud-covered ball of anxiety whose scale is similar in size to the glove that used to adorn Turner Field.
If you don’t feel this way – good for you. I’m not sure what your secret is, but if it is legal, share away.
This season was unforgettable and will be talked about for generations. Will anything less than a World Series make it a failure? Absolutely not.
It will be a bitter pill of disappointment if this Braves team doesn’t win it all. Those questions from 20 or 30 years ago will start again. You know the ones - questioning why the Braves can’t win it all; if the team is a dynasty if they don’t win multiple championships during this run.
An Atlanta postseason sports legend once uttered the immortal words, “Nothing easy!”
As fan, we wait. We dream. We lament. We hope.
We have it because we should have it. This is a great Braves team.
Hope! Yet still anxiety.
If hopeful anxiety a thing, that may be the best way to describe - and manage - the collective fandoms emotions heading into the playoffs*.
*- I am not a doctor and have no idea what I’m talking about. Don’t listen to me. Cheer, go crazy, let your unfettered fandom roar with the gusto of hundreds of millions of emergency notifications blasted from cellphone throughout the nation at 2:18PM Eastern time earlier this week ... oh my gosh the anxiety!