Braves fans looking toward playoffs with happy anticipation

As usual, with the Braves there are highs and there are lows.

There is an historic winning streak but then it ends in a one-run loss — to the worst team in the National League.

There is magic conjured from waffles and hash browns, but then the magic gets smothered and covered.

There is a broad, comfortable lead in the division race, but so many players are prone to injuries (or, for slumping second baseman Dan Uggla, eye surgery).

If the course of true love never does run smooth, then for many Atlanta baseball fans, this is true love.

The extraordinary performance of the Braves in the second half of the season — 20-6 following Wednesday's win over Philadelphia — has generated a hum of excitement among their followers, boosting ticket sales and attendance and raising the prospect of October glory.

Year over year, attendance is up 8 percent, said Braves executive vice president Derek Schiller. Merchandise sales are up about 20 percent, with a big jump in sales of game-used memorabilia, Schiller said. He added that television ratings are up by the same margin.

This excitement was palpable as the current homestand opened against the Marlins last weekend and drove one fan to passionate declarations.

“I love you!” screamed Chris Nerbonne to the staff at the one and only Waffle House franchise in a baseball stadium, located inside Turner Field near the stairs to the terrace level.

Nerbonne’s outburst occurred on Friday night, when the Waffle House Win Streak was still in effect and anything seemed possible.

That charm, which even made it to the pages of the Wall Street Journal, linked the Braves’ 14-game winning streak to the presence of the new Waffle House on premises.

“You are why we’re in the winning streak!” shouted Nerbonne, 24, of Social Circle, wearing a “Heyward Owns Atlanta” T-shirt. Waffle House evening manager Mike Taylor smiled in bemused gratitude.

Taylor might not have believed in the charm, but he wasn’t going to change his apron while the streak continued. Said Pat Warner, director of culture at Waffle House, “We’re just happy to be down there at the stadium.”

(Tweeted outfielder Jordan Schafer, finally back with the team after a long rehabilitation for a stress fractured ankle: “Win win win. We should have put that Waffle House in along time ago.”)

Alas, the streak did end the very next day, when the Marlins shut out the Braves, scoring the game’s only run on a wild pitch.

But that loss hardly dented the double-digit lead the Braves have on the rest of the National League East, giving rise to a conviction that the team will enter the playoffs without being subjected to any Wild Card stress.

"I think we're obviously on track to win the division fairly easily," said season ticket holder and longtime fan Larry Taylor, a retired airline pilot. "I've always thought of the postseason as a crapshoot, but the most important thing about winning the post-season is to get to the post season. We've pretty much got that locked on."

Of course, Braves fans, many still reeling from the cosmic injustice of last season’s one-game Wild Card loss to the Cardinals, are wary of trusting a sure thing. This is the same franchise, after all, that has made the playoffs 16 times in the last 21 completed seasons and only won the World Series once.

“When they lost to the Marlins on that one-run game with a wild pitch, I felt it in the pit of my stomach: This is how it starts,” said Angelo Fuster, who has worked in the administrations of three Atlanta mayors and who has watched so many Braves games at the famous Manuel’s Tavern that his chair has his name on it.

“When I think about the playoffs — and I try not to think about the playoffs — there’s a little voice in my ear that says, ‘Don’t get too excited,’” said Fuster

That voice wasn’t bothering Dwayne Taylor, 42, of Douglasville, a deputy with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, who sat in the outfield seats a few rows too high to retrieve a Chris Johnson homer last Friday. Taylor pointed out that the team is working together, getting men on base and playing “small ball.”

“They’re not trying to hit home runs all the time and they’re not striking out as much and they’re putting the ball in play. Plus they have the best bullpen in the league,” he said.

Taylor’s opinion speaks to the hope these Braves are infusing among their faithful this month, although fellow deputy Joshua Tray Wynn, 23, sitting a few seats over, was more explicit in his confidence.

“This is it,” said Wynn, just before the postgame fireworks were ignited. “We’re going all the way.”

Current special attractions for Braves fans:

  • Friday Night Rising Stars Series: During select home games on Fridays, the Braves invite up-and-coming bands to perform at Turner Field, pregame and postgame.
  • Friday Night Fireworks: A fireworks show set to music will follow every Braves Friday home game for the rest of the season.
  • Braves Strike Out Hunger: The Braves will host a food drive prior to every Friday home game during the season to benefit the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Fans can donate 20 cans of food or $20 at the Strike Out Hunger Tent and receive an autograph from a Braves pitcher. Limit of one signature per donation.