Braves Opening Day is always a big kick in the trousers. But Opening Day 2016 – Monday afternoon at the doomed Ted against the hated Washington Bryce Harpers – doesn’t quite demand our full and rapt attention.
Sure, it will be a hoot to see how the current bodies filling out the major league uniforms match up early with a division heavyweight. You want to see which Julio Teheran reports to the mound. And check out the fellow occupying the space where Andrelton Simmons used to be.
At the same time, there’s the sense that there is business just as meaningful, if not more so, taking place elsewhere.
There are workman hammering away on a new ballpark just across the Cobb County line. There are players vital to the hoped-for resurgence of the Braves preparing to play at places like Lawrenceville and Pearl, Miss., and Rome.
There is nothing to tell us that this year is going to be anything so special, other than seeing off a ballpark to which we hold so few sentimental attachments. Everything is pointed down the road, to some distant point at least a year from now, probably further. In the meantime, the Braves will engage in the current season because it is expected.
As it is with any remodeling project, living with it requires a good amount of understanding and patience. This is a very tough spot to occupy for those who care deeply about the Braves. As another player who went through some similar growing pains on the way to great success put it, “It’s easier for the organization than it is for the fans. The organization knows what it’s trying to do.”
The source was Tom Glavine, HOF, who lost 21 of his first 30 games as a Braves starter in the late 1980s before an influx of home-grown talent and some canny additions led to 14 straight division titles, and one straight World Series championship. In other words, exactly the plan the Braves are hoping to recreate now.
How that plan turns out is unknown. What we can expect of the process has been laid out for us already, a couple decades ago.
As Glavine spoke about how he measured his personal progress in his Braves beginning, one can hear a suggested way to go about viewing today. It’s about dealing with subtleties beyond the standings, and that is the most difficult request that can be asked of a fan.
“The measuring stick is if you are improved, not wins and losses,” Glavine remembered. “You’ve got to be honest with yourself and your progress beyond winning and losing. Winning and losing doesn’t paint the entire picture. How many times do you give your team a chance to win? Do you make all your starts and pitch 200-plus innings? And if you do that, winning and losing eventually will take care of itself.”
Another pitcher from the same era, Steve Avery, was likewise understanding of the uncomfortable position in which the Braves and their fans now find themselves.
“I know it’s hard on fans watching the people they’ve watched the last couple years leave,” Avery said. “But if they’re honest, they know that they weren’t going to win the way they were doing it. Better off kind of starting over a little bit, building from the bottom up and then hopefully you have a stronger organization top to bottom.”
So, here we go trying to put our brains on split screen, keeping part tuned to Opening Day 2016, another to the vague and incomplete promises of the future.
By the way, the home openers for the Mississippi and Rome Braves are Thursday. Gwinnett is one week later.
Another view of the Braves 2016 season, from Braves long-time broadcaster Joe Simpson.