Atlanta Braves fans are a little more hardcore than you think



For people in some parts of the country with generational connections to a local team, it's sometimes very hard to understand why fans of Atlanta's teams aren't like them.


Local sports fans here relish the successes of the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Hawks, but the connection to the Atlanta Braves is on a completely different level. It's something that visiting sports writers and often fans don't get.


Sure, all three teams arrived at roughly the same time in the mid-to-late 1960's. As someone who has spent time coming in and out of the city since the early 1980's and lived here since 1999, I'm telling you, it's different.


Yes, the Falcons get some love when they win. The city will transform and everyone will get involved. But unless they make it to the playoffs, it's interest--not passion. The Falcons have not had tons of success, two Super Bowl appearances, two embarrassing losses. They've made it to the NFC Championship game a few times, winning again, only twice. Yes, the fans got behind them at that time.


Same for the Hawks. They've had some moderate success and when they made it to the Conference Championship in 2020-21. The fans got excited. But the Hawks have been largely an NBA afterthought having never made it to the NBA Finals and last year serving as their first NBA Championship series.


Fans for both teams are often fans of the sport who have relocated to Atlanta. There are some who grew up and love them, but it's not like it is in New York or Philadelphia or Boston or someplace like that. There aren't generational fans of the Falcons and Hawks who have become passionate because of success. It's just not there.


Atlanta offers so many things for people to do that many become or are just "casual" fans.


The Braves are different. Very different.


The Braves are part of the culture of Atlanta. They have been for now going on 50-years. They benefitted from WTBS back in the "Golden Era" of Cable TV in ways still being felt today. Passions and ties run deep and are not just local. There are fans in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Tennessee and more. And they come. They support the Braves and always have. The WTBS connection developed fans in unexpected place. Wyoming, California, Oregon, and the Dakotas.


One of my good friends lives in Ohio, he's from Toledo and has never lived outside his home state. He's every bit the hardcore Braves fan that I am.


The Braves have had that much impact.


Unlike their professional sports brethren in Atlanta, the Braves have tasted success. They've won the World Series. They've been to the league championship series multiple times. They've won 18 National League Pennants in 55 years. The Braves of the late 1970's and 1980's were mostly bad and almost comically so. But they developed a strong and deep base of fans.


I started following the Braves as a child of the 1970's (yes, I'm old). I loved baseball, watched games when I could and was one of those kids who looked for and found the WSB AM 750 radio broadcast on clear nights in the metro Orlando, Florida suburbs. And when we first got cable, yep, I was that guy watching every chance I could.


As a 10-year-old, I still remember going to Fulton County stadium and watching the Braves play the Pittsburgh Pirates. We had great seats near the first base dugout and I remember watching in awe when guys would hit a home run or even a base hit.


The older I got, the deeper my love for the Braves became. I watched whenever I could after going away to college in Statesboro at Georgia Southern. We took a trip up for a game once, it was a three hour drive and worth every minute of it.


I can remember watch the 1991 "worst-to-first" team make it to the World Series against the Twins. I was living in Jacksonville, Florida working at the local TV station. I watched every game, living and dying pitch to pitch. In 1995, when the Braves won the series against Cleveland, I was living in Nashville. I lived on an upper floor apartment and no doubt made my neighbors crazy, screaming like a madman when they won.


By this point, my family had moved to the Atlanta suburbs and every visit to see them became an excuse to go to a game. My dad would always go with me, I was never sold on him being a fan, but he loved to see how passionate I was about it. Same for my grandfather. We dragged him to games when we could, he giggled like a school kid every time we went.


My dad and I were at Fulton County stadium the night of the OJ Simpson slow speed chase in Los Angeles. We had no idea what was going on until it showed up on the TV monitors inside the stadium as we walked out. We were there the night Greg Maddux threw a one-hit shutout vs. the Cardinals. I knew something was up, my dad couldn't understand why I'd get up to go to the concession stands or bathroom while the Braves were hitting. I had to explain it, it was worth every word.


The Braves returned to the World Series in 1996. My friend Tom and I got tickets and yes, we were in the stands when the Jim Leyritz game happened and the Yankees turned the tide, denying the Braves their chance at back-to-back titles.


By mid 1999, I finally landed a job in Atlanta. Just a few days after starting, I found myself in my news truck driving to Turner Field to get Braves post game reaction. We got to the park in the 8th inning and went to the lockerroom, waiting to be let in.

After the game ended, I had my fanboy moment. My producer and I walked into the locker room and I stopped. Dead in my tracks. I had to. I had to take it in. Here I was, living a childhood dream, walking into my favorite team's locker room and getting to talk to the players.


A few seconds after walking in, my producer punched me in the arm and said "Stop gawking, we got work to do".


I would spend the next decade covering a World Series in 1999, an All-Star game a couple of years later and countless playoff games. I got comfortable going to the locker room on my own to talk to players on my own. Developed a rapport with some. Heck, I ran into a slew of them in 2006 at the gym near my then house. Multiple players lived not too far away. They'd take over the basketball court at the nearby LA Fitness, I played with them: Brian McCann, John Smoltz, Andrew Jones, Kelly Johnson, Jeff Francoeur and more. I played with them one time. It was fun, but I don't recommend it, pro athletes can be some seriously competitive bastards.


Before I got married, I would use my credential on off days and go sit in the press box, watching games. I couldn't cheer, but that was ok. I was there. Nobody seemed to mind, they knew me and I didn't make a ruckus.


Sorry, I got away from the topic at hand.


My point is this: Braves fandom runs deep. The crowds for the NLCS this year, deafening. Thousands showed up to sit or stand outside the ballpark at the Battery to watch and listen to it happen. More were at home screaming at the top of their lungs.


You can sit there at home and say "Atlanta sports fans aren't passionate" you'd be wrong. If you believe that, you've never been here. No, I can't sit here and tell you we've got dozens of world championships because outside the Braves single World Series win and the Atlanta United winning the MLS Cup, pro teams here haven't won much.


You can jam on Falcons fans, some of whom are only fans when things are going well. You can mock Hawks fans for the same. But the Braves fans, yes, they come out. They come out whether the Braves win or lose. They come out on 95 degree July days and 45 degree October nights. They always have.


And I'm pretty sure, they always will.


Don't come at me with the "racist" tomahawk chop thing. Just don't go there. I get trying to be sensitive and not offend other cultures. Really, I do. But unless the Florida State Seminoles or Kansas City Chiefs go away, you got no argument here bud. Best I can tell, Indian Tribes are mixed, some don't care, some do. The ones that do only care if you go track them down and ask.


And keep your freaking politics to yourself. Already politicians in Georgia are taking shots at Major League Baseball for pulling the all-star game from the Braves due to some questionable state policies. That's their choice and the all-star game and the World Series are two completely unrelated things. I don't care about politics and neither should you.


Anyway, I look forward to watching the series. I can't wait to see what the Braves can do against the Astros. I hope we win, I don't know if I can get tickets to be at a game, but that's ok. I'll be watching. I'll be yelling. I'll be living and dying with every pitch.


And so will a million other people in metro Atlanta and around the country.


Which is all that matters.


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