It’s been eight days since my beloved Atlanta Braves won the 2021 World Series, and I still can’t believe it.
I’ve spent the last week relishing the Braves’ first world championship since 1995 and each day brings new joy and satisfaction. The parade through Atlanta and the party at Truist Park last week was splendid. It was the best postseason celebration I’ve experienced since the Carolina Hurricanes won the 2006 Stanley Cup.
I grew up a Braves fan, listening to the great Milo Hamilton and Ernie Johnson Sr. on radio before Superstation TBS made the Braves a household name. When Hank Aaron and Dusty Baker smacked home runs at my first Major League game in Atlanta, I became a fan for life.
I grew up during the ‘70s when the only Braves highlight was Aaron’s record No. 715. But thanks to eccentric team owner Ted Turner, the ‘80s were interesting. Dale Murphy and Bob Horner led the Braves to the NL West title in 1982, but they were soon back to being perennial cellar dwellers.
Then the ‘90s arrived with a bang. The 1991 Braves stunned the National League, going from worst to first behind the pitching of Hall of Famers John Smoltz and Tom Glavine and young phenom Steve Avery. They fell to the Twins in the World Series but came roaring back in ’92 to win the pennant in dramatic fashion before falling to the Blue Jays in the World Series. The climax of those two seasons were the first times I remember shedding a tear over a sporting event — tears of joy when they won the National League pennant, and tears of disappointment and sadness when they lost the World Series.
The Braves quickly emerged as the team to beat in the National League in the ‘90s but lost consecutive World Series before they finally broke through in ’95 behind a young Chipper Jones and the Hall of Fame trio of Smoltz, Glavine and Greg Maddux.
Over the next decade, they won a record 14 consecutive division titles, but only made it back to the World Series twice, losing to the Yankees both times. They had not been back since 1999 — a long drought for an organization that once dominated a decade and was used to winning.
The 2021 team was a joy to watch because it overcame such great adversity and was a huge surprise. They were favored entering the season after taking the champion Dodgers to the brink in 2020. But they struggled after losing their best starting pitcher (Mike Soroka) and their whole outfield, including Ronald Acuna Jr., the rookie card delight and arguably the best player in the game. In early August, they were still below .500 and things looked bleak.
But then the Braves made a series of moves at the trade deadline that jumpstarted a comeback. I was in Chicago for the National Sports Collectors Convention when I met Braves legend Chipper Jones, who told me they had just made deals for Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler. I admit I was underwhelmed and a bit skeptical. But Duvall wound up leading did the National League in RBI, while Rosario, Soler and midseason pickup Joc Pederson all became postseason heroes.
Watching the resilient Braves celebrate the first World Series title in 22 years was pure joy. For the past week, I have relished the moment with old friends and other lifelong Braves fans. Seeing how beloved the team is throughout the South and much of the country has been deeply satisfying.
And though I have covered sports for more than 30 years, I reacted to the triumph like a true fan. As soon as the World Series ended, I immediately started buying up World Series merchandise. When Topps released its commemorative World Series cards, I was all in. Before I even started my official Christmas shopping, I spent a small fortune on T-shirts, caps and other World Series trinkets.
Before the playoffs, I had picked up rookie cards of Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies and Max Fried. They are now treasures, along with my old Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy and Chipper Jones cards.
It’s been fun watching memorabilia from the World Series become valuable collectibles. Fried’s Game 6 spikes and Freddie Freeman’s home run bat are already in the Hall of Fame. I can’t wait to see what happens to Soler’s bat and the ball he blasted clear out of Minute Maid Park.
My favorite part, though, has been watching my 14-year-old daughter become a die-hard baseball fan. We had attended many games before, but when we went to Atlanta again early this season and watched them rally to beat the Phillies, she was hooked. Now she follows the Braves and MLB on Instagram, TikTok and every other social media platform. She gets notifications every time there’s a new development. She is now my source for Braves and baseball news.
We watched every playoff game together, hanging onto every pitch and riding the emotional roller coaster side by side. There were tense, anxious moments when she just couldn’t watch anymore. She went to bed, followed on her phone, and we relived the ups and downs on the way to school the next morning.
Finally, on Nov. 2, we celebrated together, staying up way too late to soak up the joy of the Braves’ first World Championship in 22 years. Explaining to her how this might be a once-in-a-lifetime moment might seem trivial, but it’s also a life lesson. Even the simplest joys in life are worth celebrating, and usually worth waiting for.
The next day, like a true fan, she began agonizing over whether the Braves will resign Freeman and what will happen to Soler, Rosario, Duvall and Pederson.
Moments like those are priceless. They are moments that make sports so enjoyable and wonderful, and a World Series championship worth cherishing.
You Might Also Like: Al Kaline Collection tells story of one of baseball's most humble stars
— Jeff Owens is the editor of SCD and sportscollectorsdigest.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @jeffowens_jeff.