Alex Anthopoulos and the Braves have built something fans can believe in

MIAMI — When Alex Anthopoulos is at the airport – and probably most places in public – Braves fans will come up to him and express their excitement about the team. These scenes serve as a few of the many reminders of how professional sports can be so important for a city and those affiliated with it.

This is something that drives the Braves’ president of baseball operations and his front office. They know this team’s importance to people in Atlanta and the entire Southeast, not to mention Braves fans in other parts of the country.

“I think it’s a big deal,” Anthopoulos said. “I know it’s corny, but I do think it’s a responsibility of this job. I represent the community. It’s a source of pride. It brings everybody together. We can all argue and not agree, but one thing people can agree on is we love the Braves, we love the Falcons, we love the Hawks. In that same way, that creates pressure, in a good way, for us, that you want to deliver for them. You know what it means to them and how important it is.”

As Anthopoulos said this, he stood in manager Brian Snitker’s office in the visiting clubhouse, soaked with champagne and beer. Outside the office, players, coaches and staff members were celebrating still.

In November 2017, Anthopoulos came to Atlanta to be the Braves’ general manager.

Since then, the Braves have finished only in first place in the National League East. Meanwhile, they’ve taken annual steps forward. One after another, they continued to improve. This season, they boast baseball’s best roster.

In this moment, it’s important to remember the magnitude of what Anthopoulos and the Braves have done. They have made Braves fans believe. And in sports, belief is special. It is quite fickle. It can be difficult to earn the trust of sports fans.

These fans had watched Georgia cough up a lead in the national championship game. They watched as the Falcons blew a massive lead in the Super Bowl. They had high hopes for the Braves for so many years, only to experience postseason heartbreak.

And before the Braves defeated the Reds to begin their postseason journey in 2020, they had not won a postseason series since 2001. They suffered 10 consecutive first-round exits, including in 2018 and 2019, Anthopoulos’ first two Braves teams.

“I know me and Snit, we felt that,” Anthopoulos said. “Once we beat the Reds, it was a relief. We weren’t going to have to hear about that again.”

And since then, the Braves have won a World Series. They’ve captured three more NL East titles to give them the longest active run of division crowns in the sport.

The 2023 Braves have been a historic bunch – individually and as a team. Records are meant to be broken, but no one anticipates one club wiping out so many of them in one season.

Two years ago, the Braves brought Atlanta a World Series trophy. Since then, times have only gotten better.

They’ve given all of their fans a reason to have faith in them.

“I think that’s huge,” Austin Riley said. “Our fans are great. They show up every night. I think the only thing that would’ve been sweeter than tonight would’ve been to do this at home, in front of our fans. That would’ve been awesome. But I know they’re back home rooting for us. They’re the reason why we get to play this game.”

Of course, baseball’s best team doesn’t always win the World Series. Just ask the Braves teams of the 1990s. They won a record 14 consecutive division titles, but had only one World Series ring to show for it. Baseball’s postseason features so much randomness.

On Wednesday, the Braves celebrated winning their sixth consecutive division title. This remarkable feat also made Anthopoulos and Snitker reflect on an incomprehensible accomplishment – that former Braves GM John Schuerholz led the club to those 14 consecutive first-place finishes in the division – 14!

In 2018, Snitker told Schuerholz: “I don’t know how you won 14 of these in a row because it’s so hard to win one.”

And now, Snitker, Anthopoulos and Co. have won six in a row.

They clinched the most recent one on the Phillies’ field, where last season ended. It seemed like a fitting full-circle moment, as Wednesday marked the beginning of the Braves’ push toward their biggest goal of winning a ring.

And because of how dominant the Braves were, they have made people believe – believe in them, believe they’re special, believe the best is yet to come.

“It feels good, regardless of where we do it,” Ronald Acuña Jr. said through interpreter Franco García. “The job’s not done.”

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