The Atlanta Braves moved south from Milwaukee in 1966, when new owners were seeking a bigger and richer market for the team. The team has had a lot of success in Atlanta. They finished in first place in their division just three years later in 1969, only to be just another casualty in the path of the Amazin’ Mets, as they made their way to their World Series victory. Subsequently, they have been in the playoffs another seventeen times and even won it all in 1995, defeating the Cleveland Indians in the World Series in six games. The Braves teams of the 1990s and the first part of this century are known by baseball fans for their pitching, but they were able to hit as well. Chipper Jones was one of their best hitters during those years. He played on the team for a full career, 1993-2012, so naturally became a fan favorite.
The team is doing well this season also. They are in first place in the National League East and also have the best record in the big leagues. They are 23-8 in their last thirty-one games and seem to have their division locked up. While fans following the runaway Los Angeles Dodgers and those who favor the top three teams in the Central Division have other ideas, some baseball followers consider the Braves the N.L. team to beat this year.
With the success that they have had over the years and the many fine players that have been on the team, the Braves have built a strong fan base. I think that they must attract fans throughout the southeast, since it was the first major league team in the region and is still the only one other than the two now in Florida. The team draws well at the gate and the fans are very enthusiastic. Visiting teams make no mistake about where they are playing when they arrive at Turner Field. There were forty thousand fans there at the beginning of the game Saturday night, when the Braves hosted the Washington Nationals in the second game of a three-game series. Their commitment was tested, since the game went into extra innings. Six of them, a total of fifteen in a game that lasted five hours and thirty-nine minutes. I’d like to tell about one who was particularly devoted that night. I think that you will enjoy the story more if you watch the videos linked below also. They are each about one minute (net of any ads that someone may throw in there).
First, let me give you a little context. Including Saturday’s marathon session, the Braves had played sixty-one games at Turner Field this season. One hundred and seventeen home runs had been hit, for an average of 1.89 per game. The Braves hit seventy-six of those home runs, for an average of 1.22 per game. A total of four landed in the bleacher section 147. Only four.
Saturday night, a fellow sporting a vintage Chipper Jones baby blue Atlanta Braves jersey had a seat in the front row of section 147, which is in the right field bleachers three sections left of the Braves’ bullpen facing from home plate. It seemed that he was as happy as can be cheering on his team. It looked like a prize seat to me. However, I am sure that I was more comfortable watching the game on the screen three time zones west in my large green chair.
The Braves’ Jason Heyward led off the bottom of the first inning for the Braves, facing Stephen Strausburg. They were already behind 2-0. On the eighth pitch, with a 3-2 count, Heyward launched one 420 feet into Section 147. This was the third of the four home runs hit all season to Section 147. Heyward hit it just slightly above, but within reach of the guy in baby blue. Take a look. You can see him reach up with his right hand at about nine seconds into the video, get a slight touch on the ball and then tumble forward as if he is going to fall out of the stands. Bring a glove next time! Jason Heyward launches a home run into Section 147.
Washington was ahead 7-5 in the bottom of the ninth inning and Braves fans who hung around were glad that they did. With one out and a runner on base, Evan Gattis barely beat out a throw at first to avoid a game-ending double play. Justin Heyward’s turn to bat. Two pitches later, with a 1-0 count and Rafael Soriano, one of the game’s best relief pitchers, on the mound, Heyward hit a bullet to Section 147. This one went 415 feet and directly to the same guy. There he was, wearing his baby blue Chipper Jones jersey and another home run was coming his way. The number of home runs hit to the entire section this season just doubled, going from two to four. Both home runs were hit by Heyward and both to him. What are the odds? Take a look at this – you can see him at about nine seconds into the video. Jason Heyward hits another home run into Section 147, tying the game in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Oh no! Another miss! Bring your glove!
Five innings later, still tied at 7-7, Heyward was at bat again. The cameras from the Atlanta broadcast showed our guy in Section 147. He was among the few thousand remaining. It was now well past midnight, cold, foggy and raining. Many fans had bailed out. But not him; he was still out there in the right field bleachers. His baby blue Chipper Jones jersey was now covered by a yellow rain slicker and he was standing in the front row cheering on his team. He was calling out for Heyward to end it all by slugging a third home run right to him.
How do I know that this is was his battle cry? He had a glove! He borrowed a glove from someone! Our guy was alternating between pounding the leather and holding it out towards Jason Heyward as he stood at the plate. As happy as can be, moving his feet around as in a dance. A “hit it out of the park, Jason” dance right there in Section 147 of Turner Field in the early hours of the morning. It was a baseball fan’s wish for just one more chance. I don’t remember cheering for Heyward before Saturday night. But now, I wanted him to hit one more home run out to Section 147 too!
Alas, seven pitches in, Heyward grounded out to the shortstop. In the top of the fifteenth, the Nationals’ Adam LaRoche hit a game-winning home run to Section 137, three sections over. It was the eighth home run hit to that section this season. Final score: Washington 8 – Atlanta 7.