LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Early to Braves camp, young shortstop Dansby Swanson showed up here Thursday already emotionally red-lining.
So much so that at one point, he had to stop and collect himself, saying, “I’m sorry I’m rambling. But I love it so much.”
The topic wasn’t specifically the Braves but rather his hometown, and the little recent disappointment it suffered in Houston during the Super Bowl. The Marietta-raised Swanson, as native to Cobb County as the Big Chicken and such an important part of the Braves’ ambitious restructuring, went to Texas and was a first-hand witness to his Falcons squandering that 25-point lead.
If you think the play-for-pay set is too cool and too self-absorbed to be a fan, listen to Swanson and think again:
“(The Patriots) started coming back, and I honestly was sick to my stomach,” he said. “It was depressing for sure. I don’t know if I’m over it.
“I cared so much about the Falcons and this whole city. I’ve been waiting my whole life for that. … And that happened.
“I didn’t talk for two hours after the game. It was tough.”
Swanson and a buddy made the spontaneous call to go to Texas after the Falcons won the NFC championship. Because, after all, how often does such a chance come around for the lifelong Atlanta fan? Swanson was 4 the only other time the Falcons were in the big game (1998 season).
As the Falcons pulled out to their big lead, fans around Swanson began celebrating. As an experienced Atlantan, he urged caution. “I kind of kept my cool because I understood what we were going up against,” he said. “What I told my best friend – he was going crazy – was you realize that there’s still time left on the clock and (Bill) Belichick and (Tom) Brady are still over there. They don’t play blowouts. That honestly is not going to happen.”
Whatever the Braves might contribute from here to a fan base in need of victory, they have the point man in Swanson. Fans always are saying they wish the outcome meant as much to the players as it did to them (as if they were so much more invested). But there can be no such silliness where this hometown player is concerned.
The Falcons run to the Super Bowl showed, “the passion and love this place has,” Swanson said.
“People always give a hard time about Atlanta being a good sports town. … I know I can speak for true Atlanta people – Atlanta sports means everything. I thought it was cool with what (the Falcons) did with the ‘In Brotherhood’ thing. I felt it. I felt the emotion. I felt the power. It shows what kind of connectivity this place can have. You just got to have the right people to do it. I think Atlanta sports is trending in the right direction. I really do. It’s a great place to be now.”
“I love the city. I’d do anything for it. It helped raise me. I feel it’s a part of my family.”
Helping to usher his baseball team back to a place of relevance would be more than contribution enough.
Optimism is high around Braves camp, as it must be at the dawn of spring. There is a palpable sense here of a team heading in generally the right direction after wandering the wilderness.
And wounded as he may be, Swanson also holds out hope that he’ll have another chance in his lifetime to go to a Super Bowl and actually enjoy it to the end.
“They were really young,” he said of the Falcons. “If they can emotionally get themselves back in check, they’ll be right where they need to be. They’ve got the culture to do it. They’ve got the players. It’s just a matter of whether they can get emotionally charged back up.”