FORT BRAGG, N.C. – The stadium rocked, from the helicopter fly-over that rattled the bones of the temporary stands in pregame to a constant nine innings of loud approval from 12,500 military folk.
The field, which just a few months ago was weeds, played like velvet.
The Braves’ dressing quarters may have been a glorified revival tent, but for a day it was perfectly major league quality, from the couches in the clubhouse, to the spread in the players’ lounge to a training room that had it all, including X-ray equipment.
When the first-ever regular-season baseball game at an active military base was complete, the Braves absorbing a 5-2 loss and all but the grass and infield and dugouts scheduled for removal, there was only one question:
Wait a second, can the Braves play more of their home games here?
Hey, next year the drive to Fayetteville may be less complicated than the one to the new digs in Cobb County. And there is plenty of parking all around massive Fort Bragg.
Ah, of course, they probably couldn’t duplicate the atmosphere of Sunday. Here was the perfect confluence of the Fourth of July holiday, a terrific idea to build a ballpark on an Army base, a big investment by baseball and the players’ union and the kind of execution that revived one’s faith in the game while strengthening one’s belief in the military.
“(The first and very likely last Fort Bragg Game) accomplished exactly what Major League Baseball wanted it to. It was an unbelievably well-orchestrated event,” the Braves manager, Brian Snitker, said.
And he lost the game.
We will have plenty more time – and plenty of opportunity – to parse Braves losses. Sunday was that rare occasion that even the bottom-line-dwelling Sabermatrician would have to put aside his fractions and just feel the moment.
The losing pitcher Sunday was Matt Wisler, who wasn’t his best. He could live with that. “The big part today wasn’t the game, it was the stuff that went on beforehand,” he said, speaking of the day spent touring the fort and mingling with the troops.
“To play in front of those guys (and women), it was more for them than it was for us,” Wisler said.
Sometimes it all just works, and sometimes even high expectations fail. “It was better than I imagined it would be. A long day but definitely a fun day,” catcher Tyler Flowers said.
And, now, we can get back to the grim business of dissecting the work inside more permanent parks (at least outside Atlanta) and elevating the score above all.