There are certain American cities where the distractions are so compelling and varied, going to a ballgame ranks awfully low on the totem pole of cultural activities. Take Atlanta for instance. You’ve got Freak Week. Parties at Andrew Young’s house. The Varsity. The Dan Baird Birthplace & Museum. The Aqua Teen Hunger Force Theme Park.
Reminding us yet again that ATL’s professional sports fans are a fickle, if occasionally invisible bunch, the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Terrence Moore bemoans the Braves’ lack of support.
If there ever was a city that didn’t deserve a team doing the unprecedented and the unthinkable such as the Braves along the way to 14 consecutive division titles, that city is right here in the heart of Dixie. Or should I say that city is right here in the heart of apathy? Take it from Chuck Tanner, the Braves’ manager during their previous dark days of the 1980s. He sighed over the phone the other day after reflecting on those who have shrugged during the Braves’ nice run. “I mean, what do you want?” Tanner said, before easing into a chuckle. “I’ll tell you what they wanted. They wanted 14 consecutive world championships.”
Which brings me to this: Unless an Atlanta professional sports team is doing something or has somebody that appeals to the lowest common denominator of sports fans, you can forget it. They aren’t coming. To keep their focus away from what the Bulldogs are doing, they need a ‘Nique or a Vick or a worst-to-first miracle.
The Hawks have finished among the bottom two in NBA home attendance for each of the past five years, and even when they were at least good during the Mookie Blaylock, Steve Smith and Dikembe Mutombo years, they barely showed a pulse at the gate. The Falcons’ recent popularity is a No. 7 thing. Period. Before the 2003 season, the Falcons sold every ticket for every game, but after Michael Vick broke his leg during the preseason, the only place more empty than the parking lots around the Georgia Dome during home games were the many sections inside. The Thrashers still draw well because they remain a novelty to many, but their honeymoon is another trip away from the playoffs from becoming a nasty divorce.
Then you have the Braves, the epitome of it all with an asterisk. In contrast to the Hawks, for instance, the Braves have perfected victory. It mattered at the start of their run to the masses, when the chopping and the chanting was unique, but then winning became passe. Actually, that’s being kind when describing the Braves’ shocking lack of physical and vocal support during the past decade, especially when it counted the most in October.
The place was packed this past weekend for the Braves’ regular-season games against the Red Sox, and that was good for the Red Sox. While the Red Sox players contributed to the Braves’ slide in the standings, the Red Sox fans made so much racket compared with their counterparts that you’d have thought there was a Green Monster in left field
The bottom line is that Atlanta fans need a wake-up call regarding pro sports, and maybe they’ll get one now that the Braves’ dominance is going to sleep.
This evening, the Braves and Devil Rays find themselves tied at 2-2 after 7 innings at that hotbed of wild partisan support, Tropicana Field. John Smoltz lasted just 29 pitches before leaving the game with an as-yet undetermined leg injury.