Braves deserve to celebrate title before they ‘turn the page’

Fireworks explode after the 2021 pennant is revealed before the start of the game with the Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park Thursday, April 7, 2022 (Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Fireworks explode after the 2021 pennant is revealed before the start of the game with the Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park Thursday, April 7, 2022 (Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

The Braves played their first official game in 155 days on Thursday. They are the reigning World Series champions and every key player from that team is on this team, with one big exception. But last season has nothing to do with this season. Now the Braves are one of 30 teams trying to win the next Series.

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They have a better chance than most but they’ve got a lot of work to do over the next 161 games. First, though, the Braves will celebrate what they did last time they gathered for a real game.

“I think you have to, right?” shortstop Dansby Swanson said before the Braves opened the season against the Reds at Truist Park. “You have to understand and recognize the accomplishment and the achievement that we had last year. At the same token, you also have to compartmentalize the banner, the ring ceremony, the Battery walkthrough and understand you still have a job to do and still have to compete.

“I think that’s one of my favorite things about this group of guys. It’s all about competition for us.

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Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (7) high fives manager Brian Snitker (43) before a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Atlanta. Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (7) high fives manager Brian Snitker (43) before a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Atlanta.  Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

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Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (7) high fives manager Brian Snitker (43) before a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Atlanta. Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

Credit: Branden Camp

No one can doubt that after what the Braves did last season. They lost their best player, Ronald Acuna, to a season-ending knee injury in July. They were scuffling in mid-August. The Braves stayed afloat and eventually found their footing for a fourth straight NL East title. Then the Braves went through the defending Series champs, the Dodgers, on the way to their first championship since 1995.

It was a special run. It’s in the past, but the Braves deserve to soak in the celebration while taking care of current business.

“I want them to enjoy everything about this,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said before the game. “You are never guaranteed to do what we did. You are never guaranteed that you are going to be able to experience this again so enjoy every second of it.”

A packed house celebrated with the Braves. Fans witnessed the reveal of the World Series banner on the light tower in right-center field. Many of them left as the Braves fell hopelessly behind. The Reds interrupted the party with a 6-3 victory.

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Fans cheer before a game between the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Atlanta. Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

Fans cheer before a game between the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Atlanta.  Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

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Fans cheer before a game between the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Atlanta. Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

Credit: Branden Camp

Before that, the Braves enjoyed a festive and lively salute to their Series victory.

“It was awesome to get back out there,” Braves lefty Max Fried said. “There was a lot of adrenalin. It was nice to start celebrating, but we also are trying to turn the page and realize it’s the 2022 season.”

Fried gave up five earned runs over 5 2/3 innings. His performance wasn’t that bad. The Reds hit eight singles off Fried. He was charged with one run when new reliever Collin McHugh replaced him and surrendered a two-run homer that put the Reds up 6-1. The Braves could only muster Austin Riley’s two-run homer in the eighth in response.

“Obviously not the results you want, but it’s Game 1,” Riley said.

Fried will have better outings. The Braves will score more runs. The party will start up again on Friday and continue until Sunday. The only sour note before before Thursday’s loss was struck by Acuna. He caused a stir with critical comments about Freddie Freeman, who signed with the Dodgers as a free agent after the Braves acquired Matt Olson as his replacement.

During a Wednesday Instagram Live discussion in Spanish with reporter Yancen Pujols, Acuna said he’d miss “nothing” about Freeman. Acuna said he and Freeman had conflicts as teammates. He referenced a 2018 incident in which Braves veterans rebuked Acuna for how he applied his eye black and wore his hat tilted, though he didn’t name Freeman as one of his critics.

Acuna met with reporters before the game Thursday and said through an interpreter that his comments were blown out of proportion.

“Instead of talking about the reigning world champions, we’re here talking about these things,” Acuna said.

Well, Acuna can blame himself for that. He said what he said, when he said it. I suppose you could call his comments a distraction. I don’t see it that way. Freeman doesn’t play for the Braves anymore. That’s the point Acuna made when he said he didn’t regret saying he wouldn’t miss Freeman.

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Atlanta Braves first baseman Matt Olson (28) runs to first after a hit during a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Atlanta. Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

Atlanta Braves first baseman Matt Olson (28) runs to first after a hit during a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Atlanta.  Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

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Atlanta Braves first baseman Matt Olson (28) runs to first after a hit during a game against the Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park on Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Atlanta. Branden Camp/For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Branden Camp

Credit: Branden Camp

The Braves’ lineup shouldn’t miss Freeman much. He’s great hitter but so is Olson, who came from the Athletics in a trade. The Braves should get about the same production at first base. The only question is Olson’s place in the unpredictable alchemy of team chemistry.

Swanson and Olson go back to their high school days. Swanson played for Marietta and Olson for Parkview.

“He fits right into what we do,” Swanson said of Olson. “I never had any doubt about that.”

Olson said he’d never been inside Truist Park until Thursday. The last time he played a game at home was with Parkview in the 2012 state championship game. Soon after that, the Athletics selected Olson in the first round of the amateur draft.

Reds 6, Braves 3

Olson broke into the big leagues in 2016 with the A’s. He went to the playoffs three straight years from 2018-20. Those A’s teams never got close to the World Series. Now Olson is back home playing for a contender.

Fans gave Olson a standing ovation before his first plate appearance. He was looking forward to seeing his new teammates honored for their Series victory.

“I’m going to have a front-row seat for what I want to accomplish,” Olson said before the game. “These guys had a hell of a run last year. Getting to know them more and seeing the guys they are and the way they work, I’m very happy for them.

“It’s going to be cool to watch all the festivities and see what they’ve earned. Hopefully we can go out and do it this year.”

The 2021 championship in the past. The Braves will celebrate it for a few more days and then move on to trying to make this year like last year.