It was Monday night. It was the first game of the three game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Braves had managed to win only one game of a three-game series against the San Francisco Giants and had seen their lead in the National League East dwindle to one paltry game. If it wasn't what the manager calls a must-win, it was pretty close.
The Diamondbacks led 3-2 going into the top of the fifth inning and, then, as magic tends to happen, the Braves started getting hits. Not just hits, doubles. One right after the other. And then there was a home run that went nearly 500 feet. At the end of the inning, the Braves led 9-3.
Not much happened over the next three innings and by the top of the ninth, most of the Diamondbacks' fans had departed, leaving only Braves fans, of which there was an unusual number, in the bleachers at Chase Field. The cameraman panned the crowd to land on one of baseball’s archetypal images: a father and son cheering on their team which, in this case, was the Braves. The little boy had a full face, a short haircut and a body that still bore the softness of childhood.
The little boy was standing close to his father and his forearm pumped repetitively even as his face, his tired little face, reflected no animation. He could have been the only one in the stadium doing the tomahawk chop, but it would not have mattered. He was locked in. The camera stalled and stayed on the little boy as Chip Caray noted, “Look at that little fellow. He’s still chopping. Bless his heart.”
And with that, I burst into tears.
I have found — over the years — that my tears are not always predictable or even appropriate. I have cried on meeting newborn babies for the first time and on viewing television commercials during the Olympic Games. I have shed tears over the deaths of people I loved and of imaginary people in books. I have cried in joy and in anger, in empathy and in frustration, in awe and in exhaustion. But, before now, I have never cried over a little boy doing the tomahawk chop in Phoenix.
After catching my breath and wiping my eyes, it felt important to figure out why I’d found myself weeping. I realized, after eliminating fatigue and hunger and loneliness as possible triggers, that I hadn’t been crying for the little boy, but for myself. I have been the fan who stood cheering long after it made any difference at all. I have been the one to refuse to leave early, clinging to the truth that, as Yogi Berra said during the pennant race of 1973, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” I have been the one in the near-empty stadium chopping, chopping, chopping, wedded to the ridiculous idea that my arm would make the difference.
It’s funny the power we think we have, the power we long to have.
The Braves won by a final score of 11-4. The little boy and his chopping had nothing to do with it, of course, but it kinda felt like he and it did. It kinda felt like he had single-handedly, with his soft little arm, held the Diamondbacks at bay. It kinda felt like I had, with my tears, helped just a little.
Bless our hearts.