The move is for personal – and well, geographical – reasons. Just so happened that the man I fell for doesn’t live in Atlanta, and though he has come a lot closer over the past seven years, from San Diego, to Richmond, to Charlotte – that’s about as close as I can seem to get him. Lucky for me, Charlotte happens to be my hometown, where my parents and my sister live, and it’s where Gus and I will be getting married in November.
So I’ve thrown a lot of my energies into looking forward to all that’s ahead and spent the past few weeks in denial of what I’m leaving behind.
Baseball’s a grind. Anybody who’s at the ballpark during the season knows it – whether it’s other writers, broadcasters, players, coaches, clubhouse guys, or the security guard who tells you good night as you walk out of the stadium at 2 a.m. after an extra-inning game. But damn, if it doesn’t grow on you.
And here I am, a gal who grew up mostly on college basketball in the state of North Carolina, reminiscing about a sport that adopted me when I didn’t know a darn thing about it. My first day on the job as a 22-year-old reporter at the Macon Telegraph, they sent me to shadow a writer named Kamon Simpson at a Macon Braves game at Luther Williams Field. He got up to go to the restroom and asked me to score the game for him. I had no idea how to do it, so in a panic, I just scribbled down “groundball to shortstop” on a piece of paper. I flushed in complete embarrassment when he got back and I had to reveal my secret.
Kamon never uttered one sarcastic word – amazing for a press box, I’m telling you – and simply started teaching me how to do it. Three years later, I was covering the Atlanta Braves as they won the 1995 World Series championship. I got to follow the Braves back to the World Series the next year at Yankee Stadium. And as I continued in my writing career, covering sports of all varieties over the next 22 years for the Telegraph and starting in 1997 at the AJC, whether it was high schools, college or the other pro teams, baseball was the one that grabbed me by the soul.
I love the pace of it, the way you can catch your breath between plays, and talk to the person beside you. I love the personalities, and the access, that allows us to really get to know people like you wouldn’t in other sports. I love the stories and the richness of baseball’s history, and I love that I got to witness up close, such an amazing run in the 14 straight years of division titles and three of the best pitchers we’ll ever see.
I’m grateful to the Atlanta Braves. Had Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz not been the ones in charge, had they not created a culture where it’s unacceptable for players or staff to treat a female reporter with anything other than respect in the clubhouse, I might not have lasted two weeks.
I mean the “fire in the hole” yells that rang out in the visiting clubhouse at Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium when I used to walk in the door during the mid-1990s when I was assigned a story for the Macon paper about a Kevin Brown, or a Rondell White or a Michael Mimbs – it was funny to those guys, I’m sure, embarrassing as hell to me.
Fortunately, I never got any of that in the home clubhouse. And I can count on two fingers the number of times in the past 20 years that I got flushed over something inappropriate. And they’re not even worth mentioning because they were over in a heartbeat and I had countless people, from within the organization and without, rally to my side. And besides, I was one of those girls who grew up with three brothers, and riding bikes and playing freeze tag with the boys in the neighborhood. All I had to do was treat Braves players like I would one of my brothers, and I was good. They have done the same for me, and I’m grateful.
I’m grateful to Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, and players like David Justice, Fred McGriff and Terry Pendleton, who set the tone in the Braves clubhouse from the first day I walked in. To Chipper Jones, who is and always will be the quote machine, and a guy I feel like I grew up in the game with. To some of my ’99 guys, who I will always hold in a special place – Eddie Perez, Walt Weiss, Brian Jordan, Ozzie Guillen, Mike Remlinger, Rudy Seanez, Don Baylor, and the list goes on. How come all of you are coaching and managing and broadcasting now? Y’all got old, how come I didn’t? (See how they can’t defend themselves in the middle of one of my blogs?!)
They set the tone for so many great personalities and players to follow, the Kris Medlens and Tim Hudsons, the Brian McCanns and Mark DeRosas. I’m going to forget people I should mention, so I shouldn’t even try. But let me just say that I’ll never forget watching Andruw Jones glide in center field, Rafael Furcal and Andrelton Simmons zip a throw to first, and Jeff Francoeur and Jason Heyward bring crowds to their feet the days they homered in their big league debuts. I’ll never forget how Martin Prado kept his mother waiting in the tunnel an hour and a half after a game because he can’t go home until his swing felt right. And I won’t forget the day early one spring training morning when Freddie Freeman brought a tear to my eye telling me how as a 10-year old boy, he used to kiss his mother’s forehead every day before he left the hospital, knowing he was going to lose her soon to melanoma.
So gosh. Yes, grateful to so many Braves from now and into years past, even though I’m too chicken to say much about leaving. Not even sure how to break the routine of what we do day in and day out in the clubhouse and yet a guy like Dan Uggla knew just how to break the ice and walk up to me the other day in Houston, give me a hug and wish me well.
See in baseball, I’ve learned that through the highs and lows, all the pressures these players face with expectations and maybe what we in the media face with deadline and competition, the goal is to be the same person every day.
I’m grateful for so many who have been - to Fredi and the coaches, to the Braves PR staff, to my co-workers and competitors alike, from Walter down in the owner’s box, to Albert in the elevator and Moses in the press cafeteria, thanks. I’ll miss you.
So yes, I’ll be doing some more reminiscing all weekend, in Philadelphia, the same city where I came for my first stop on my first trip as the AJC’s primary beat writer in 1999 when I was scared out of my mind.
During that four-city coast-to-coast odyssey from Philadelphia to Denver, LA to Miami, I had my first rainout, my first snow-out, my first trade (Mark Wohlers was sent to the Reds), my first extra-inning game - and on a get-away day at that - so I also had my first missed flight.
Only by the grace of Braves traveling secretary Bill Acree did I get the chance to make my first trip on the Braves charter. The only catch there was that I woke up the next day in Miami, instead of making a trip back through Atlanta, where I was planning to repack for warmer weather and the last four games of the trip in Miami.
I woke up jet-lagged, overwhelmed and exhausted and nearly in tears. So I called a friend, J.J. Cooper who you might know now from Baseball America. He told me to find a beach and walk on it. That’s just what I did. I felt like a new person. Maybe I could do it after all.
Covering four games in three days now in Philadelphia is probably just a fitting way to go out and a reminder of what an awesome and wild ride it’s been. I know when I pack up my bag to head to my new home in Charlotte on Monday, I’ll do so with gratitude for the many miles, games, laughs, tears and people that I leave behind. Thank you.