“Last year at Chop Fest, people didn’t even know who Ozzie (Albies) was. We’re in a much better place already this year,” Mathison said.
He thought of the playoff appearance as something that would make the Braves more comfortable going forward.
“It’s just like a job interview. Once you get a couple of those under your belt, you get better at it and you get more composed and you have more success,” Mathison said.
For other fans, Chop Fest represented a chance to build a connection with the team. Andrea Calabrese lives in Buffalo, N.Y., where she became a die-hard Braves fan by watching them on nationally televised games.
She took the two-hour flight from Buffalo to Atlanta so that she could meet players from her favorite team and get photos with them at Chop Fest. She has another trip scheduled to see the Braves play the Giants in September, when she hopes they’ll have an eye on the playoffs.
“I’m hoping they make it back to the (Division Series) since they made it there last year. There are a few players who are older now that can really bring the team together,” Calabrese said.
The Braves are not without their critics. Jordan Goss, a fan from right down the road in Smyrna, is the type of person who lives, eats and sleeps baseball year-round. He is skeptical of the $23 million Donaldson signing in the offseason, and he feels that the Braves have a big hole at right field.
But even for Goss, it’s hard to ignore the great things the Braves have going. In all his time as a Braves fan, Goss said his favorite memory was Ronald Acuna’s grand slam last season in the NLDS against the Dodgers, a moment that he said brought tears to his eyes. Last year’s upstart team has brought new excitement to this season that simply wasn’t there before.
“From last year to today, there is definitely more hope and optimism of bringing another championship to the city,” Goss said.
With the Braves back to their winning ways, the fans are back as well. As the gates closed at SunTrust Park at the conclusion of Chop Fest, the timer unofficially began ticking down to opening day. The message from the fans: The sky is the limit.