I really don’t like the Atlanta Braves. As a Philadelphia Phillies fan I still haven’t entirely rid myself of a simmering resentment for the Braves’ 14-year domination of the National League East. Yet while my distaste runs deep, it doesn’t run as deep as my love for baseball, so the opportunity to be in Atlanta for their home opener was too good to pass up, particularly when I was able to get seats in the second row, just 20 feet beyond third base.
With only 30 minutes left until first pitch, some of the seats either side of me finally become occupied, starting with a couple to my left (i.e. further from home plate), early 40’s, with the man wearing a throwback Greg Maddux jersey. His conversation starter was to tell me that if a foul ball comes our way, “You don’t have to worry – I’ll get it”. Bear in mind he hasn’t heard me speak yet, so he hasn’t had an opportunity to assume that because I have a funny (English) accent, that I probably can’t catch. I assure him, smiling, that growing up playing cricket has left me reasonably adept at bare-handed grabs. “I’ll get it though”, he concludes. “Not if I get it first” I muttered under my breath.
He then told me about two balls he’d caught, one of which was a foul ball off Sammy Sosa. “Wow”, I said. “That’s great.” MadduxFan keeps it in a perspex box apparently. And then there was that great playoff series against the Mets in 2000 where he sat “over there” (pointing to the equivalent spot on the other side of the field). “Awesome” I said, “that must have been amazing”. And then there was that time that…”cool”…and the other time when he…”whew…really?”…and…and…
He didn’t introduce me to his wife sat next to him, but at some point told me that they met here at Turner Field about 15 years ago. Apparently he had about 10 spare tickets but none of his friends wanted to go. I thought about speculating out loud as to why that might have been, but he quickly moved on to say that “she” was also sat on her own that day, so they decided to sit together…and that was the end of the story… Getting married strikes me as a bit of an overreaction to having spare seats next to you at a Braves game, but whatever.
At that point, he had to leave on the first of about 10 trips for food/bathroom breaks, and his wife turned to me and said, “He’ll talk your EAR off; seriously. He just won’t stop”. If the words weren’t enough, the thousand-yard stare told me everything I needed to know.
When he came back, the first thing he mentioned was his disappointment about the seats (for which he – a huge Braves fan – had paid well over sticker for while I got mine for the normal price). Chipper Jones, the legendary Braves third baseman playing his last season, would have been bent over about 15 feet in front of us were it not for a niggling injury that kept him out of the lineup, and MadduxFan complained that “the only reason I got these seats was so she [‘the wife’] could stare at Chipper’s butt”.
It’s tough finding an adequate response to that and I really didn’t have anything for him. Eventually, his eyes met mine and we both knew, deep down, that we would never speak again.
The game, by the way, was fantastic. Home runs flying out left, right and center, a big comeback, an exciting finish, a Braves win for the home fans. But more importantly, after my time with MadduxFan I found all my resentment at the Braves dynasty melting away. You can be irritated, disconcerted, offended, bemused, bored, even slightly freaked out by fans like that – but there’s really nothing to resent.
And it seems I have Chipper Jones’s butt – or the absence thereof – to thank for that.