For any Braves fans out there who haven’t been kicking around the Earth for the same 32 years that I have, This season has to be a strange and exciting one.
You grew up rooting for a juggernaut of a team that was a threat to win it all throughout the nineties. There were also some truly bad stretches of play where Braves hats were traded out for the fan’s college football team of choice by the Fourth of July. And there were a few years mixed in where Atlanta was expected to be thoroughly average and did just that.
But this is something new.
Many preseason predictions had the Braves as a young team still squarely in the middle of a rebuild. While they weren’t expected to lose 100 games, they were overwhelmingly picked to finish third or worse in the National League East.
Instead, Atlanta began the week in a dead heat for first with the equally-surprising Philadelphia Phillies.
I’ve encountered plenty of Braves fans who aren’t sure what to think. Sure, they’re excited, but it’s hard to look at some teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros with a lineup full of superstars and not wonder if the other shoe is set to drop.
Braves fans in the 25-35 age group spent the first half of their lives knowing that the regular season was a formality leading up to another division championship. Following that long run, there were a few lean years that everyone saw coming. A bounce back from that saw an improved lineup from 2010-13 that was expected to contend and did, making a wild card game and two division series while winning another division title.
Then came another swoon that was expected to only be showing the first signs of a turnaround in 2018. Instead, the Braves are on pace for 90 wins.
Only time will tell in that matter, but I’m here to tell you to enjoy it, because these surprise seasons are the best of all. I would know since my team - the aforementioned Phillies - has been through it before.
In 1993, the Phillies were picked to finish last behind the then-expansion Marlins before rolling to a World Series appearance. In 2001, the team was coming off a few of the worst seasons in franchise history and not expected to be much better. But it took a hard charge by the Braves to finally retake first place late in the summer. And in 2007, Philadelphia was seen as a good team that was no match to compete with the Mets for the division. The Phillies erased a 7.5-game deficit over the last three weeks to return to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.
I know you’re probably tired of reading about the team battling the Braves this season, but I only say it to make a point. These seasons where your team is overachieving from day one have led to some of the my best memories from regular season games.
Even the best games from the years when my team was a favorite don’t match up to the big moments that I thought might be the win that was needed to keep a Cinderella season going. When a team is performing according to script and has a big lead (or is way behind) by the All-Star break, even the big moments tend to get lost in the monotony.
But this year is different for both you and I. Many of the wins for both teams are ones we just didn’t see coming in April. Because of that, you can’t deny that there is a bit more scoreboard watching going on each night, and every comeback win or blown lead in June and July has felt like one in the middle of a late-September race to the finish line.
If you’re around my age and a Braves fan, the only comparable season to 2018 that you might remember is 1991. It’s my reference point as one of my first concrete memories of watching a game was seeing Kirby Puckett hit his Game 6 home run. Sorry for the cheap shot, but that really is the first baseball memory I can put into context.
I’m sure that summer of ‘91 was spent with a lot of Braves fans not quite sure if they should allow themselves to get wrapped up in a run that always feels like it could stop at any moment.
Don’t do that. Lean in. It will be a summer to remember.
And if not. Well, there’s always next year.