Exultant Atlanta Braves fans: ‘The curse is over’

Credit: Sam Sinclair / Fresh Take Georgia

Credit: Sam Sinclair / Fresh Take Georgia

Being an Atlanta sports fan has never been easy.

In the current millennium alone, the Hawks struggled through years of ineptitude, the Thrashers made the NHL playoffs only once before decamping to Canada and, well, just Google “28-3″ for the gory details of the Falcons’ epic meltdown in Super Bowl LI, a loss that plunged an often boastful city into lingering self-doubt.

So the Atlanta Braves didn’t merely defeat the Houston Astros to win the World Series on Tuesday, they faced down a painful history of defeat and disappointment.

The curse has been broken.

And in living rooms and barrooms, at a watching party inside the Braves’ Truist Park, in front of television, telephone and computer screens across metro Atlanta, long-suffering fans reveled in the team’s first championship in 26 years.

“The curse is over,” a boisterous group at Manuel’s Tavern in Atlanta toasted, adding an expletive for emphasis.

“There have been a lot of heartbreaking years,” said Derek Mason, 29, of East Point, who works as a bartender in The Battery, the dining and entertainment complex outside Truist Park. “But this year, this is it.”

Credit: Sam Sinclair / Fresh Take Georgia

Credit: Sam Sinclair / Fresh Take Georgia

For the Braves, it was an improbable run to the title. They had a losing record halfway through the season, and injuries sidelined several key players.

For many fans, the team’s struggles carried emotional significance that went well beyond the championship.

Richard James, 42, of Chamblee played catch late Tuesday afternoon with his 8-year-old son, Harper, outside the stadium. They bonded over baseball as the Braves gained momentum in the season’s second half.

“My son just fell in love with the game, and that made me fall in love with it more,” James said. “Atlanta sports has had some upsets. The Hawks last year got close. We had the Falcons a couple of years ago. It would be good to have another win here.”

Credit: Taylor Reimann / Fresh Take Georgia

Credit: Taylor Reimann / Fresh Take Georgia

Chloe Davis, 36, of Monticello joined her family at Truist Park, a respite from the health issues that kept her from watching the Braves in person this season.

“I never get to experience it because I’ve been sick or in the hospital,” Davis said. “I was sick in ‘95 when they won, so I’m excited to be here for this moment.”

Andrew Swayne, a 32-year-old bartender from White Plains, New York, drove 11 hours to watch the game in Atlanta. He has felt a connection to the Braves since his parents took him to a game at Turner Field 20 years ago. But on Saturday, when the Braves eked out a win in Game 4 with two home runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, the link between fan and team took on a spiritual dimension.

Credit: Sam Sinclair / Fresh Take Georgia

Credit: Sam Sinclair / Fresh Take Georgia

“My parents are gone,” Swayne said. “I lost my mother five years ago and my father this past May. In the seventh-inning stretch, I lit a candle next to their urns, and I asked my parents to give the Braves some help. Then there were back-to-back home runs. I was crying! Was one from Mom and one from Dad?”

He added, “I’m getting chills now thinking about that.”

Other fans basked in the simple joy of winning. Matt Kirk, who watched the game on a big screen outside Manuel’s Tavern with his wife, Brigid, and their 10-month old son, Ronan, clutched a bottle of Champagne and a cigar.

“In the best moments of my life, this is probably top five,” said Kirk, a lawyer who lives in Candler Park. “My marriage, the birth of my baby, the ‘95 World Series, passing the bar exam and this. … I’m ready for the parade. I’m ready to celebrate. I’m ready for these boys to come home. It’s historic, it’s fun, it’s good for the city.”

At Avondale Pizza Café, a neighborhood bar in Avondale Estates, cheers erupted as the game concluded, and the crowd broke into a celebratory tomahawk chop. Steve Ragan, 71, of Avondale Estates said maybe the World Series win will lead to the abolition of the gesture, seen by many as insensitive to indigenous people.

“If it’s offensive, I don’t care if it’s gone,” Ragan said. “I’m watching baseball, not doing that.”

At the Battery, Sean Whitworth, 52, of Marietta said he had been waiting and waiting for an Atlanta win.

“This city deserves this, and it’s about time we win something,” Whitworth said, screaming over the roaring crowd moments after the game ended. “It’s nice to finally win something, for once!”

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

But before Tuesday’s game, and even as the Braves accumulated runs and shut down the Astros’ offense, thoughts of the Atlanta sports curse had been hard to put out of mind. Even as curses go, this one was especially stubborn, seemingly reaching every professional sport and even college athletics. Only the Atlanta United, the city’s professional soccer team, managed to win a title over the past quarter-century.

“We need this, we need this,” Garrett Geeslin, 25, of Forsyth County said at Truist Park. “It’s Atlanta. You know what we are known for. Choking.”

Another fan at the stadium, 25-year-old Brandon Kowal, predicted the outcome — and more — hours before game time.

“The Braves will win the series,” Kowal said. “Georgia will win the national championship. And the Hawks are going to win the NBA.”

Now that the curse is broken, who knows?

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Contact Alan Judd at ajudd@ajc.com, Christopher Quinn at cquinn@ajc.com, and Sam Sinclair and Taylor Reimann, reporters for the online news outlet Fresh Take Georgia, based at Kennsaw State University, at ssinclair@freshtakegeorgia.org and treimann@freshtakegeorgia.org. Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writers Adrianne Murchison, Tamar Hallerman and Johnny Edwards contributed to this article.