Opinion: Of redemption, baseball and unity

November 5, 2021 Atlanta - Braves and fans celebrate the team's World Series win during the parade at the Battery Atlanta on Friday, November 5, 2021. Atlanta is partying on Friday like it’s 1995, the last time the Atlanta Braves were World Series champions. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is offering live updates from the Braves parade route in downtown Atlanta, Cobb County and inside Truist Park. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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November 5, 2021 Atlanta - Braves and fans celebrate the team's World Series win during the parade at the Battery Atlanta on Friday, November 5, 2021. Atlanta is partying on Friday like it’s 1995, the last time the Atlanta Braves were World Series champions. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is offering live updates from the Braves parade route in downtown Atlanta, Cobb County and inside Truist Park. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Civic or national pride are viscerally tied to sports, a unifying bond that is almost unmatched in any other segment of society.

There are curious paradoxical definitions to the word tribal(ism). Most recently it has been used as a pejorative, characterizing the caustic tension between those choosing opposing sides in politics, identity and culture.

But dig deeper into the etymology of tribal and you’ll find a kinder, gentler connotation … when a city, region or country assumes pride and identity in its sports teams. Civic or national pride are viscerally tied to sports, a unifying bond that is almost unmatched in any other segment of society. Color, race, ideology, gender and other identities melt away as people join together to celebrate and rejoice the success of “their team.”

Such is the case with the Atlanta Braves.

Consider this: There was an election Tuesday to select a new mayor for the city of Atlanta. The turnout was stunningly low; barely 20 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. And note, though the city population is relatively small (an estimated 500,000), Atlanta is the ninth-largest metro area in the country, with a population of 6 million. It is the key political office for this historic city considered the de facto capital of the South, which is faced with major urban problems.

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James Geschke

Credit: contributed

James Geschke

Credit: contributed

Combined ShapeCaption
James Geschke

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Meantime, 800 miles to the west, the Atlanta Braves won the World Series, shutting out the Houston Astros in Game 6, 7-0.

Friday, thousands of fans celebrated the Braves victory parade, which started downtown and ended at Truist Park in Cobb County. Meantime, next month there will be a runoff for the mayoral race between the top two candidates from Tuesday’s ballot.

The guess here is 99 percent of parade attendees do not know their names.

Baseball ties

First, congratulations to the Braves. Although I claim no allegiance to the locals, I have indelible ties in the game. I worked in Major League Baseball for more than a dozen years with the San Diego Padres. But my love for baseball actually began in St. Louis, where I grew up as a Cardinals fan in the 1960s. To this day I still can name every member of the 1964 World Champions. It seems baseball is in my DNA.

Ties to the Braves? When Joe Torre was the Braves’ manager in the ‘80s, he would routinely call me in my Padres office for free passes to the Del Mar Turf Club. Braves outfielder Dale Murphy was always gracious with autograph requests. It was in the visitor’s clubhouse where I introduced myself to my childhood hero, the legendary Cardinals’ Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson, when he was the Braves pitching coach. Finally, Braves manager Brian Snitker, then a minor league coach, sat with me and other families as our sons played high school football together a few years ago.

Tribal controversies

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, is baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.” -- Character Terence Mann in the movie “Field of Dreams” (played by James Earl Jones).

After Tuesday night, I am reminded of this memorable film monologue in our troubled times. So much political, social and cultural strife has erased part of America’s unity and its common bonds.

In fact, politics invaded baseball earlier in the year when MLB moved the All-Star Game from Atlanta and to Denver in protest over Georgia’s newly passed voting laws. Moral outrage from the outside world calcified and the Braves, Atlanta and local businesses paid the price.

Moreover, during the World Series there were calls from national media regarding the Braves fans’ rally “Chop” and chant. As characteristic of moralistic hegemony, the R-word was invoked in columns and commentary during the Series, admonishing the franchise for perpetuating bigotry towards Native Americans.

It should be noted that, locally, the “Chop” chant is rarely mentioned as an issue; it is a tradition, viewed as benign as any organ-led cheer or adopted song (see Boston Red Sox: “Sweet Caroline”).

Redemption

In light of these controversies, Mann’s speech resonates with hope and speaks to our resiliency. The ethereal 1989 film “Field of Dreams” spins a dewy-eyed story of redemption, born in a cathedral -- a baseball diamond -- carved out of a rural Iowa cornfield.

From Ray Kinsella’s (Kevin Costner’s) cornfield emerge the mystical figures of baseball’s past, featuring the long-dead and disgraced hero, Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta). The story unfolds from there, eventually realizing redemption for Kinsella, Mann and Jackson, as well as that of long-forgotten Archie “Moonlight’' Graham (Burt Lancaster).

Perhaps the Braves’ World Series win serves as some sort of redemption -- for all of us. In Atlanta -- a metropolis synonymous with race relations, the past, cultural crossroads and diversity -- today is a celebration.

Today, everybody in Atlanta is a Braves fan.

Today, we are good again.

James Geschke, of Lawrenceville, is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former executive in Major League Baseball (San Diego Padres 1982-92) and a former staffer for the San Diego Union newspaper. He first wrote this for his website.