Braves win, now it’s time for Bulldogs and others to follow

Braves manager Brian Snitker hoists the World Series trophy after beating the Astros in Game 6 of the World Series Tuesday. So, who's next?   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Caption
Braves manager Brian Snitker hoists the World Series trophy after beating the Astros in Game 6 of the World Series Tuesday. So, who's next? “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

HOUSTON – The Braves have delivered a second it’s-way-bigger-than-American-soccer championship to Atlanta, and thus own the only two of the major, hands-related titles in town.

As Dansby Swanson was throwing to Freddie Freeman for the World Series’ final out Tuesday night, I could hear the echo of Skip Caray calling the final out in 1995: “THE ATLANTA BRAVES HAVE GIVEN YOU A CHAMPIONSHIP.” As if it were a baptism gift for an entire region.

That one was uniquely special because it was the first. It broke a drought dating to the very beginning of Atlanta’s ascendance as a serious city. But it didn’t quite usher in a golden era of sport for the area. No one exactly picked up on the theme and advanced it further. So, maybe, that first one didn’t take.

Perhaps the second will be different.

Now, it’s your turn Georgia. Compared with a Braves team that fought for a good two-thirds of the season just to get its nose above .500, the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs are a relative sure thing. The Bulldogs never have had a more wide-open field of view, the possibilities spread across the horizon. Time to update the 1980 fable.

All eyes are on you now, Bulldogs. Why, even Braves manager Brian Snitker was overheard late Tuesday night asking who Georgia was playing this weekend (it’s Missouri). He was so looking forward to watching someone else straining for a title with his feet up.

And soon enough, it’s your turn Hawks. Last season’s run to the conference finals was just the tease. The bar has been placed at the very top, but not so high that John Collins can’t jump and reach it. The city’s baseball team has left no doubt that the fact that you wear Atlanta across your chest doesn’t exempt you from the highest expectations. Trae Young and company need run just a little bit faster to keep up.

That the Braves won here in Houston, site of the most epic collapse in Atlanta sports history – the Falcons come-from-way-ahead Super Bowl loss to New England in February 2017 – gave the illusion of a curse lifted. A further sign that it is OK for the Georgia-born fan to dream large without having to constantly equivocate, tiptoeing around the nagging dread of disappointment.

Swanson, the shortstop from Marietta who contributed a home run to the clinching cause Tuesday, picked up on that right away. “I was here in Houston when the Super Bowl happened,” he said postgame Tuesday, “and it just kind of feels like no better story could be written than God making us come back here and winning the World Series in Houston. So, everything comes full circle.”

Atlanta sports curse? Nonsense.

“Wow, it’s been broken, I guess. It’s been broken,” Swanson said. “We’re coming back home as World Series champions.”

Even the Braves, the most successful franchise in town, were caught up in the Atlanta sports malaise. Given their stretch of 14 consecutive division titles reaching from the 1990s into the 2000s, their lone championship was seen as insufficient. Every struggle thereafter was dumped into the same bin shared by every team in town. Up to and including gaining a 3-1 advantage in last season’s NLCS only to fall to an obviously superior Los Angeles Dodgers team.

Consider them freed from that particular stalled elevator.

“We killed that narrative in the (2021) NLCS, and we get to kill it for a long time,” Freeman said. “This city has been hungry for a championship for so long. I cannot wait to see the crowds here in the next couple days when we get back home. I’m just so thankful that we were able to bring them home a championship.”

The course of this championship only sweetened the experience. Rather than being some mega-team in the mold of the Dodgers, a favorite each day they pulled up their stockings, these Braves were a beat-up bunch that faced diminishing prospects all summer. With the knee injury to their best player, Ronald Acuna, in July, surely they were sunk.

But they pressed on and recast themselves as champions even as the disbelief around them grew. That both the NLCS MVP (Eddie Rosario) and World Series MVP (Jorge Soler) were players General Manager Alex Anthopoulos plucked from the clearance table at the trade deadline spoke to the utter irrationality of this championship.

The Braves were the betting underdog in each of their three playoff series, and all they did was to knock down Milwaukee, the Dodgers and Houston like milk bottles at a carnival. No, it wasn’t easy. Nor, in retrospect, did it seem all that difficult. Amazing. Clearly, no more good reason exists for any Atlanta-area team to give in to the instincts of defeat. Winning is very much an option.

So, Bulldogs, it’s your turn now.

Hawks, it’s your turn, too.

And Falcons ... well, let’s not get carried away.

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