It had been 15 games since a member of the Braves hit a ball far enough to trot around the bases and only 65 runs had crossed the plate. It was a lost year before the first batter even stepped up to the plate against Max Scherzer on the first day. Much has been written about the tank, including here on Tuesday. This is not about the tank.
This is about the pilgrimage that the fans are on towards the opening of the new ballpark in 2017, which will theoretically coincide with team becoming competitively relevant once more. It is incredibly hard to imagine that the 2017 Braves will contend for a playoff spot, given the young talent present in New York and Washington, as well as the ascendant Phillies. However, the signs of success will likely begin to show.
On Tuesday, we discussed the slow march of time towards an eternity in the grave and Freddie Freeman hitting sixth in the Braves' lineup. The outlook was grim. Freeman was struggling, the Braves were struggling, and the light at the end of the tunnel was probably just a large luminescent orb attached to a large angler fish. To that point, the entire team had combined to hit only three home runs.
Providence awaits us all, even if providence is just a large angler fish. The Braves lost once again on Wednesday night. The Red Sox trounced them 9-4 for their eighth straight defeat. They lay prostrate in the mud at 4-17. But, on that same Wednesday night, which was last night, two pearls emerged out of the muck.
A.J Pierzynski tallied his 2000th career hit, though much more importantly, Freddie Freeman hit a home run.
Lefty reliever Tommy Layne pumped a fastball down Broadway, and Freeman did what good hitters do. He lofted it over the fence. It was the first by a Brave in approximately a century, or so it felt. In a vacuum, the homer is nothing special. Freddie Freeman hit a ball out of the park, as he does from time to time, and the scenario itself was the very definition of garbage time considering Boston was winning 8-2 in the eighth inning, but don't tell that to Braves fans. These fans are weary pilgrims looking for anything to hold on to at this point.
Providing that nugget of hope is, after all, the least that the franchise can do for the taxpayers that are funding SunTrust Park. It will be a long and hard slog for a team that PECOTA projects to win only 59 more games. Worst-to-first stories usually involve teams that radically under-perform and have the money to plug holes on a grand scale. The Braves are full of holes right now. So yes, they will sign an interesting player or three come the winter, and yes, they will graduate prospects this year, and more the year after. The pilgrimage will take fans, Tomahawk Chop and all (much to the chagrin of many), to the new park in the suburbs. The Braves will still be bad. Not the current flavor of unspeakable horror, but more of the garden variety that isn't laughingstock material.
As we said on Tuesday, the front office will have their time in the sun, and their draft picks, and likely their success ------ eventually. What Freeman's home run symbolized on Wednesday night is what comes next. The 15 games without a long ball is the current waiting period. The home run is that shining moment when Braves fans can gather themselves off the mat, look at each other with eyes wide and full of wonder, and realize that the team is good once more. The Tomahawk Chop will ring out, as loud and obnoxious as ever, and there Freeman will be at the center of it all. Still just 26 years old, Freeman will be in his prime for the next Atlanta powerhouse. He will have better hitters than Nick Markakis and Jace Peterson surrounding him. The Braves won't have only four home runs on April 28th.
Until that day comes, the Atlanta faithful will wander on, brothers in arms in the jerseys of Maddux and Jones, and yes, Freeman. Freeman hit sixth on Monday. On Wednesday, he returned the all-important euphoria of hope and fun to Atlanta baseball, even as his team was routed by five runs. These are the moments that the fans will have to cling to for some time to come, a time that will feel so much longer than it actually will last.
Hopefully, it will all be worth it in the end.