The Creation of a Braves fan. This Braves fan.

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My post on Bryce Harper’s rooting interests caused a couple of commenters to question my Atlanta Braves bona fides. I, after all, am not from Atlanta, and the Braves, after all, had an amazing string of success starting 19 years ago. Am I not myself a front runner? At least originally?

The answer is no. I explained that answer a couple of years ago in a ShysterBall post. Because, hey, why not, I reproduce that post below. Enjoy.

I was born into a Tigers-loving family in Flint, Michigan, and grew up on the Ralph Houk-Sparky Anderson teams of the late 70s and early 80s. We moved away in January 1985, however, and I soon started to lose touch with them. I began to stray.

It started innocently enough. Random channel surfing that summer caused me to stumble upon my first WTBS broadcast, and I was curious. I was initially attracted by the NWA wrestling — the Koloffs and the Rock and Roll Express were engaged in quite a feud, if I recall — but the Braves games sucked me in, with random little things holding my interest each time as I tried in vain to maintain my fidelity to the Tigers. “Is that Rick Cerone? I wondered what happened to him.” “Len Barker? I thought he was supposed to be good. Maybe I’ll just watch a little more of this start.” Two hours later I would realize that I had watched every last Rafael Ramirez at bat, every Pascual Perez victory

I wasn’t hooked yet — hell, Pascual Perez went 1-13 in 1985, so seeing all of his wins wasn’t much a trick — but by 1986 I was past the point of no return. I was a Braves fan, even if it took me a year or so to admit it to myself. Desperately, like a man trying to save a dying marriage with purchases of jewelry, I continued to follow the Tigers via The Sporting News. But without Ernie Harwell around, it wasn’t the same. I hung around as late as the last great team of 1987 — that season-ending weekend series against the Jays was like that last ditch B&B weekend in which you fool yourself into thinking you and her still have a future together — but as soon as it was over I knew that my rooting was more about inertia than anything else.

But despite all of that — and despite the fact that I had been messing around with Atlanta for over two years by this point — I was still in Braves denial. When asked, I would say I was a Tigers fan. When pressed, I would say that I was just watching the Braves because they were on, not because I was into them or anything. This led to some embarrassing moments, of course, most notably the time in August 1987 when I stayed in our hotel room during a family trip to Myrtle Beach to watch Tom Glavine’s major league debut — shelled by the Astros, unfortunately — rather than head out to the beach. Did I say I wasn’t feeling well? Did I try to even hide it by then? I can’t recall exactly, but I know now that everybody probably knew already.

So if I was in denial, when did it end? I’ll tell you exactly: in the bottom of the third inning during the Braves-Dodgers game on the evening of Friday April 15, 1988.

Six days before that game I had been in a nasty car accident. I wasn’t hurt — not even a scratch — but given that I was in the back seat of a Chevy Chevette that had just flipped over three times and ended up on its roof, well, that was something of a miracle. The other five teenagers in the car weren’t unscathed, but no one died, and by the time of the Braves-Dodgers game, we knew that everyone would be OK.

The crash had put an abrupt end to my going away party. You see, for the second time in three years, my family was moving to another town, this time 120 miles south to Beckley, West Virginia, and my friends wanted to send me off in style, which for this crowd meant lots of underage drinking and an epic automobile accident. My parents, who thought I was at a sleepover at the time of the crash, had no idea how to punish me for a transgression so major. At times like these people tend to default to what they know, however, so they grounded me for something like three months.

Of course the grounding was kind of pointless considering that, in six days, I would be moving to a town in which I didn’t know anyone. It was especially pointless considering that, due to a screw up with the realtor and the sellers of our new house, we were going to be living indefinitely in the Beckley Ramada Inn at the expense of the United States Department of Commerce’s employee relocation division. Ground me? Where the hell was I even going to go? I was already in my own private Guantanamo.

We left Parkersburg for good on the afternoon of the 15th. Two hours later we pulled into the Ramada. After a joyless dinner at the Western Steer Steakhouse, my brother and I retired to the double room we would share for the next two months. I clicked on the TV. The Braves-Dodgers game started at around 10:30pm. Given the significance of the day in my life and in my baseball fandom, I remember the game more clearly than I remember the Indians-Red Sox game I watched last night, and what I don’t remember I’ve gotten from Sean Forman.

The Braves had dropped their first eight games of the season, all of them at home, most of them in front of pitifully small crowds. It was getting good and ugly by the 15th, and you could tell that Atlanta was tight. Tom Glavine was on the hill that night, but he wasn’t Tom Glavine yet. After an inauspicious rookie year, he had dropped his first start of 1988 on the night of my car wreck and took the mound against the Dodgers looking nervous and overmatched. The rest of the Braves looked the same, save Dale Murphy, who simply looked like he wanted to get the hell away from this crew of losers and misfits before any of what they were carrying infected him (it eventually would, however, as he went .226/.313/.421 that year).

It was tied 0-0 in the bottom of the third when Rick Dempsey reached on an infield single. Well, it was scored an infield single anyway, but that was some hometown-scorer generosity, because I distinctly remember Andres Thomas booting the sucker when he failed to charge it, failed to get his glove down, and failed to look, think, or react like a major league ballplayer. Wasn’t his fault, though, because he wasn’t really a major league ballplayer anyway. The next batter was Orel Hershiser, who squared to bunt. Gerald Perry took the ball himself at first, and ran over to the bag to force Hershiser out.

This was what led to the watershed moment. I’m not entirely sure what the argument was about, but Ozzie Virgil made a point to stand on the mound after Hershiser’s bunt and yell at everyone. Skip Caray seemed to think that the focus of his ire was second baseman Damaso Garcia, who perhaps didn’t rotate to first when Hershiser squared to bunt. Maybe Virgil thought they could have gotten two on the play if Garcia had fielded his position properly. Maybe he just missed Glenn Hubbard who had signed with the A’s that offseason. Whatever the case, he was hot, and he was yelling at everyone with the possible exception of Glavine. He was also humiliating himself and his teammates on national television, which Skip pointed out as well. If memory serves, Braves manager Chuck Tanner — a guy whose previous stint in a Braves uniform ended when he was waived during their last championship season — sat passively on the bench during this exchange, no doubt lost in reminiscence of the 1979 Pirates
or something. The game ended
up being a fairly close one, but the Braves eventually lost.

I watched all of this that night, and rather than upset me, it made me pretty damn happy. Why? Because here I was, virtually homeless, stuck in a shitty hotel room, cut off from friends in a new town, with the fact of my mortality just beginning to dawn on me after a week’s worth of post-accident denial and bravado. I was lonely, I was sad, and I was afraid of both the near and long-term future. In short, I was at a miserable low point, but the fact that my baseball team was too softened the blow.  Shared misery can be a good thing.

And you know what? Despite their unprecedented run of success between 1991 and 2005 — despite the World Series championship and the five pennants and the scads of division crowns in recent years — that 1988 team still stands as my favorite Braves team of all time. Why? Because we suffered together that summer. Because, like no other summer before or since, I lived with, breathed with, laughed with, and cried with a baseball team day-in-day-out.

To this day I remember young guys like Andres Thomas and Dion James pretending to have a clue as to what they were supposed to be doing on a baseball diamond. I remember old guys like Ken Griffey and Ted Simmons and Gary Roenicke wondering how in the hell they ended up in Atlanta. I remember developmental false starts like German Jimenez and Kevin Coffman providing a bleak view of Atlanta’s future. I remember diamonds in the rough like Glavine, John Smoltz, Ron Gant, Mark Lemke, and Jeff Blauser who one day, I thought, if everything broke just right, might form the basis of a team that could play .500 baseball (not that I dared say such a thing out loud).

The 1988 season lasted forever, but it ended far too soon. I cheered in 1991, I roared in 1995, and I’ll always hang with them no matter how spoiled, impatient, or pessimistic I get with them these days. But I’ll never love a team like I loved the 1988 Braves.

The Yankees release former prospect Slade Heathcott

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  Slade Heathcott #71 of the New York Yankees poses for a portrait on February 27, 2016 at George M Steinbrenner Stadium  in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Yankees announced last night that they have given an unconditional release to outfielder Slade Heathcott. They needed room on the 40-man roster and he was seen as expendable. There is no indication that they’re going to try to re-sign him or anything. He’s just gone.

Heathcott was the 29th overall pick in the 2009 draft and at one time was considered the second best prospect in the Yankees’ system. Injuries and decreased production as he climbed the minor league ladder took the shine off this particular apple, however. He had a nice little cup of coffee with New York last season, but he’s hitting a mere .230/.271/.310 at Triple-A this year in his second go-around.

Heathcott can play center field and has good tools, but he’s going to have to use them working for another organization.

Pete Rose says no one ever told him not to gamble on baseball anymore

Former Cincinnati Reds player and manager Pete Rose poses while taping a segment for Miami Television News on the campus of Miami University, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, in Oxford, Ohio. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)
Associated Press
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Pete Rose will soon be inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame and have his number retired and all of that jazz. To mark the occasion, Cincinnati Magazine interviewed the Hit King. And, for, like, the 4.256th straight time, Rose shows that he’s in complete denial about why he was banned in 1989 and why he was not reinstated last year when Rob Manfred agreed to review his case:

In this time of limbo after the ban, did you worry about your legacy? I normally don’t ever worry about anything that I’m not in control of. I wasn’t in control of anything in that situation. I went through a period when I got suspended where I didn’t even go to the ballpark. It’s not because I didn’t want to. There were so many restrictions on me, I just didn’t want to put people through that. It didn’t feel good to me.

Sure he wasn’t in control of anything. He was a tiny boat, cast out onto the waves, left to drift in a sea of uncertainty and powerlessness.

But it gets better. Rose was asked about how he changed his life after his ban:

But you still bet on baseball, albeit legally. It seems like the commissioner’s office has taken issue with that fact. Have you considered not betting on baseball anymore? That’s a good point. You remember reading about Bart Giamatti telling me to reconfigure my life? OK, no one has ever told me—including Manfred, including Selig—what does that mean? I guess my point is, just tell me what you want me to do and I’ll do it. I’m in control. Just tell me. If I want to bet on Monday Night Football, and that’s the way I enjoy my life, why is everybody so worried about that? I’m 75 years old, I have to be able to have some form of entertainment. I’m not betting out of my means. It’s not illegal. If you don’t want me to bet on baseball or anything else, just tell me.

If they told you that— I’d do it. Absolutely. But no one has ever explained “reconfigure your life.” I have taken responsibility for it. I have apologized for it. I have shown I’m sorry. But there again, no matter how many times you say you’re sorry, not everybody’s going to hear you. All I can do is imagine what they meant when they said reconfigure my life. And evidently, no one’s willing to tell me what that means.

So it was all a big misunderstanding. A man who was in his late 40s was banned for gambling on baseball and was told to straighten up yet he had no idea, for 26 years, that maybe it’d be a good idea for him to not gamble on baseball anymore in order to get back into the good graces of the folks who banned him. Damn, why did they pose such impossible riddles to him! If only he had a clue as to what sort of behavior would have improved his chances!

But really, guys: Rose is ready to stop betting on baseball. All you have to do is tell him. If he had known before now, well, we’d be having a TOTALLY different conversation, I’m sure.

Jose Fernandez plunked the Rays mascot

Raymond
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Nuke: “What are you doin’ out here? I’m cruisin’, man.”

Crash: “I want you to throw the next one at the mascot.”

Nuke: “Why? I’m finally throwin’ it where I wanna throw it.”

Crash: “Just throw it at the bull. Trust me.”

The Tampa Bay Rays’ mascot is not a bull — it’s this weird blue thing named Raymond — but apparently Crash Davis got to Marlins starter Jose Fernandez before yesterday’s Marlins-Rays game. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Fernandez, a Tampa native, plunked the Rays’ mascot, Raymond, while warming up in the bullpen before the game. Why?

“He was all over my business,” Fernandez said. “I’m trying to concentrate. It was a little change-up that came out of my hand. Just part of the game, man. This is a game, and I love to have fun.”

Raymond needs to learn to play the game the right way if he doesn’t want no-nonsense old schoolers like Fernandez putting him in his place. Reminds of how Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale used to bury one in Mr. Met’s ear on the regular. Guys like them don’t take no guff.

And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

MIAMI, FL - MAY 21: Jose Fernandez #16 of the Miami Marlins pitches during the first inning of the game against the Washington Nationals at Marlins Park on May 21, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Marlins 9, Rays 1: Jose Fernandez struck out 12 in seven innings. After the game he said “it’s time for me to learn how to manage myself on the mound and learn how to pitch.” Wow, he’s doing all of this in ignorance? Just imagine how many dudes he’d strike out if he learned to pitch. It’s like Barry Allen in season 1 of “The Flash” when he still didn’t even know what he was doing but was still pretty impressive. I mean, look at Fernandez in the picture above. He even sorta looks like The Flash.

Astros 4, Orioles 2: George Springer hit two solo homers, but the real story was, once again, just how strikeout-tastic the Astros pitching staff was. Astros pitchers combined for 15 strikeouts on the night. That goes with their 18 strikeouts on Wednesday night and their 19 strikeouts on Tuesday to set a new major league record for strikeouts in a three-game series with 52. The New 52, as it were.

Pirates 8, Diamondbacks 3: Gerrit Cole hit a three-run homer but the Pirates blew the lead he gave them. Luckily Josh Harrison, who didn’t start because he was sick, came off the bench to hit  two-run double in the bottom of the sixth to give them back the lead for good. They’d add some insurance later. Always gotta be careful not to add too much insurance, though, as it may inspire Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray to bump you off. Or maybe Kathleen Turner and William Hurt.

Blue Jays 3, Yankees 1: J.A. Happ allowed one run over seven innings and notched his sixth win. He outdueled CC Sabathia who turned in his best outing of the season (7 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 7K) but simply didn’t get the run support. Sabathia allowed one earned run in 20 innings in the month of May.

Nationals 2, Cardinals 1: Homers from Bryce Harper and Danny Espinosa backed Joe Ross, who is quite quietly having a sweet season at the back end of the Nats’ rotation, boasting a 2.52 ERA in nine starts. OK, he’s probably not boasting. He seems like a fine young man who lets his actions speak rather than his words. That’s what my source tell me, anyway. My source is Joe Ross’ mom. I’m worried that she may be biased, however, so I’m using a second source: his grandma. I’m gonna get to the bottom of this Joe Ross character controversy, that I can promise you.

Rockies 8, Red Sox 2: Jackie Bradley Jr.’s hitting streak ends at 29. And with that, Joe DiMaggio cracks open the bottle of champagne he saves for the end of every hitting streak of 25 games or more. Mercury Morris taught him that trick and you can never go wrong with doing something Mercury Morris thinks is cool. Trevor Story hit his 13th homer.Carlos Gonzalez and Dustin Garneau went deep too. Clay Buchholz‘s ERA is now 6.35.

Brewers 6, Braves 2Ryan Braun and Jonathan Villar each homered as the Brewers swept the Braves. They have three wins in Turner Field in three games this year. Atlanta has two wins in Turner Field in 22 games this year.

White Sox vs. Royals — POSTPONED: I don’t care if it rains

(Let’s all go to the bar)
I don’t care if there’s a hurricane
(Let’s all go to the bar)
And I don’t care if I’m the one to blame
(Let’s all go to the bar)