I am going to be celebrating my birthday later this week and it has got me thinking about all the years I’ve been watching the Braves. This is the 25th year that I’ve actually been able to watch them (thank you giant satellite dish!) and can actually remember—though maybe it’d be better to forget the mid-80s.
I have spent so much time watching the Braves over the years. No matter what was going on in my life, this was the one constant. I watch now more than ever and I think part of it is that it is a tie to my childhood and good times in my life, as well as the bad times baseball helped me through. I feel like I’m going to make a Field of Dreams/Terrence Mann speech so I will get on with it…
We each have moments that stick with us over the years; here are my top-10 Braves moments during my lifetime.
10. Welcome to the Show (2010): There has never been so much hype around a Braves rookie, but last April, in his first MLB at-bat, Jason Heyward showed everyone why he was this good. I said to my wife when he took the plate “How awesome would it be if the hit a home run?” Well, it was more awesome than I expected. Of course, no one could have missed this, it has been replayed at least 500 times over the last year, but it doesn’t get old.
9. The Benches Clear (1992): It was the first Braves game I attended and it was at the world famous Shea Stadium. John Smoltz was on the hill and it wasn’t his best day. Ryan Thompson hit a grand slam off of him and Smoltz drilled the next batter. The benches cleared and there was a huge pile in the middle of the field. I saw Ryan Klesko pick up a dude and toss him (what seemed like) ten feet. It was the first and only fight I’ve ever seen live.
8. Double Duty (1996): Coming off a Worlds Series win in 1995, the Braves went into the 1996 World Series as heavy favorites against the Yankees. In game 1 John Smoltz went up against the Yankees hot pitcher, Andy Pettitte. Smoltz won the Cy Young Award that year, but he wasn’t the star of the game. 19-year-old Andruw Jones hit home runs in his first two World Series at-bats—the first and only player ever to do so. The Braves blew out the Yankees in game 1 and game 2…I think they called the series after that; I can’t recall. I think it was something equivalent to the 10-run rule in Little League.
7. Classic Maddux (1997): I may be the only one who recalls this game, but during the first year of Interleague Play, the Braves came to Yankee Stadium for a three-game series. A family friend got us tickets a few rows behind home plate and Greg Maddux was on the mound. It was a classic Maddux start, as the game lasted 2hrs 3mins, Maddux threw 88 pitches and the Braves won 3-0 on a Ryan Klesko upper-tank HR.
6. Walk-off Walk (1999): The Mets and Braves were in the height of their rivalry in the 1999 NLCS and the Mets were gaining momentum in the series. They had just come off the Robin Ventura Grand Slam Single and my sleep patterns were suffering. Everyone I went to college with seemed to be a Mets fan and I was getting crap from all of them. I wanted the Braves to win just to shut them up almost as much as I did for being a fan. I don’t know how it happened, but Kenny Rogers walked Andruw Jones with the bases loaded to end the series. My main thought that night was, “Phew!”
5. Brooks Conrad’s Walk-off Grand Slam (2010): This is as excited as I have been in the last few years. I was in my office (ducking a meeting) to watch the end of this game. I did everything I could not to run laps around the building shirtless.
4. The Catch (1992): I still can’t believe Otis Nixon jumped that high; neither could Andy Van Slyke. A few years later he came to upstate NY for an autograph signing and he said it was the best play he’s ever made—that was an understatement. It’s probably the most famous defensive play in Braves history.
3. 1995 World Series (1995): Of course this has to be included. The Braves lone Championship of their dynasty capped off a playoff run that not many sportswriters predicted. I vividly remember Joe Morgan saying the Reds were “clearly the better team” and the Braves had no shot in the NLCS. Of course the Braves swept the Reds and then took care of the Indians, who were the powerhouse of the MLB. I will always remember Marquis Grissom making the catch and Mark Wohlers jumping on the mound.
2. Brian McCann’s Home Run Game 2 NLDS (2005): I was down in Atlanta for the playoffs (the one and only time; so far) and was feeling pretty bummed about the game 1 loss. Then, McCann blasted a HR off Roger Clemens, over the Right-Center field wall. After the game, we saw him walking to the bus and he gave us all high-fives. It was the most exciting game I’ve ever attended.
1. The Slide (1992): I was struggling to stay awake when my grandmother started shaking me saying, “You aren’t gonna wanna miss this—they might do it!” Who would have thought Francisco Cabrera would get that hit, or Sid Bream could run faster than a turtle, but it all happened perfectly. I have had this poster on my wall since 1993 and will always remember this as the best moment of my Braves history.
Losing 2 out of 3 to the Mets, again, is DISGUSTING!!!
Obscure Brave of the week: Mike Bielecki
Since a few of these moments were during the 1992 season, I’d thought I’d stick with someone from this year—so why not Bielecki?
Bielecki was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates (8th overall) in the 1979 draft. He made his MLB debut in 1984 and played for 14 seasons total, playing also for the Cubs Indians, Angels and of course the Braves. He had three stints with the Braves (1991-92, 1994, 1996-97) and was a solid pitcher out of the bullpen for Bobby Cox.
In 1993 Bielecki had been invited to join teammates Steve Olin, Tim Crews and Bob Ojeda on a fishing boat in spring training, but he ended up backing out. He was very lucky because the boat crashed, killing Olin and Crews, and severely injuring Ojeda.
Bielecki is currently living somewhere on planet Earth.
Follow me on Twitter @BRAVEinNY.