OPINION: For the love of baseball, leave the Braves out of politics

Every Braves fan can tell you just how long they’ve been waiting for a season like this. It was a Cinderella story, an underestimated team of almost-made-its and recent arrivals, who rose up together to win a spot in the World Series over the gold-plated Los Angeles Dodgers.

After a two-decade drought, it finally happened. Atlantans and Georgians, two parts of a slightly dysfunctional extended family, cheered on the Braves, everybody’s shared hometown team, with one joyful voice.

But then, literally two minutes after Dansby Swanson scooped up a ground ball and threw it to Freddie Freeman at first base to clinch the series, Gov. Brian Kemp dumped a huge, smelly pile of politics onto Braves fans’ perfectly miraculous moment.

“While Stacey Abrams and the MLB stole the All-Star Game from hardworking Georgians, the Braves earned their trip to the World Series this season and are bringing it home to Georgia,” Kemp tweeted. “Chop On, and Go @Braves!”

Ugh. Just when we were all having so much fun.

It’s obvious why Kemp felt the need to dunk on Major League Baseball before the Braves could even uncork the champagne in their locker room at Truist Park.

The governor hasn’t had a moment so good since the day in April when MLB announced it would pull the All-Star Game, then planned for Cobb County in July, out of Georgia in protest of the Republican-sponsored election law, SB 202.

The impact stung Cobb County and the team, but it also gave Kemp a powerful, merciful point of outrage to share with his fellow GOPers, just when he needed it most.

For most of the previous five months, Kemp has been dodging fire from former President Donald Trump, still obsessed and raging over Kemp’s refusal to entertain flipping the Georgia election from Joe Biden, who won the state, to Trump, who did not.

Finally, the MLB announcement gave Kemp and Republicans something else to talk about. He quickly fired off a press release accusing the league of caving to “fear, political opportunism, and liberal lies.” A Saturday morning press conference soon followed, with a small army of Georgia Republicans standing shoulder-to-shoulder, united, for once, behind the governor.

The results were instant, with internal polling showing Kemp getting his mojo back with many of the conservatives he needed to win back.

Even external polls, too, showed the League’s popularity drop like a rock. Data from Morning Consult Brand Intelligence, which tracks consumer attitudes, showed MLB’s net favorability rating among GOP voters plummeted from 47% to just 12% in the week after it pulled the game out of Georgia.

With 2022 just around the corner, the reasoning seems to be, if fighting the MLB worked once, why not get the band back together and do it again and again?

State Sen. Burt Jones, who is running for lieutenant governor, tweeted Monday that, “Stacey Abrams and Major League Baseball stole the All-Star Game and $100 million from Atlanta based on a series of lies. But guess what? They’ll never be able to steal this World Series we’re about to win.”

Attorney General Chris Carr shot a video in front of the stadium, calling the Braves’ victory “poetic justice” for the League to have to play the World Series back in Georgia.

And Kemp went on Fox & Friends to slam the MLB one more time.

“It’s really ridiculous to inject politics into sports and then to baseball, but that’s what they did,” Kemp said of the MLB.

Did the MLB inject politics into its decision to move the All-Star game in April? Yes, it did. And Kemp’s response in April was fully expected. But piling Saturday night was not.

Because sports are a part of our culture, it’s never been a completely politics-free zone, and some periods have been more fraught than others. But at its best, sports have been a catalyst for change for the better.

There’s a lot to be said for being better than the people you are criticizing. Or rising above pettiness. Or letting baseball be America’s pastime, not a political football.

The MLB should not have pulled the All-Star Game in the first place. But resurfacing that fight, just as the Braves were having their moment Saturday night, was something, as a Braves fan, that I wish had been left for another time.

So on behalf of all Braves fans who just want to savor this moment, please, whoever you are, wherever you are, leave baseball out of your political hot takes, at least until the World Series has come and gone.

As the club’s manager Brian Snitker said Saturday after the team won the National League Championship, “Braves country is a real thing.” Fans from all corners of the state have stuck with the team through the ups and downs of the last 20 years. “It is a powerful, powerful element to our game,”

The players on the Braves roster aren’t the only ones who need Braves Country right now. Georgians need it, too.

Along with the Georgia Bulldogs, the Braves are doing what political leaders seem to have given up on — exceeding expectations and unifying Georgians.

After a year of individual heartbreaks, divisions, drama, and depression, we all need something to cheer for. We need something to be excited about. We need something that brings us together, no matter who we are, where we’re from, what language we speak, or who we voted for in November.

We all need the Braves, ideally far away from the political storm that will sweep through Georgia soon enough.