Thursday, June 3, 2010
A Night With The Flying Squirrels
Tonight, I’m heading down to The Diamond to see our brand-new minor-league baseball team, the Richmond Flying Squirrels, who are the Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. Yes, it’ll be fun, but this will also be a major challenge for me.
You see, before I was a Yankees fan, I was a fan of the Richmond Braves, the Triple-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. I started going to games with my Dad when I was three years old and immediately fell in love with the team.
The story as it’s been told to me is that after my first ever R-Braves game, my Dad got home and told my Mom that he didn’t think I’d had fun at the game. Evidently, I’d just sat there watching -- when other people cheered, I did nothing. The next day, I came downstairs and got some crayons and paper and started drawing. Before long, I had drawn the whole field correctly -- bases, where fielders were standing, even the on-deck circles. Maybe I hadn’t been cheering at the game, but unbeknownst to my Dad, I’d been taking the whole experience in. One game, and I was hooked.
The Richmond Braves were a great team to follow in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Atlanta’s run of success in the 90’s was mostly the result of a strong farm system. The majority of Atlanta’s players during that time -- names like David Justice, Tom Glavine, and Chipper Jones -- all passed through Richmond on their way to the big leagues. Keep in mind, this was back when all the Atlanta Braves games were on TBS, so even after these players had left Richmond, I could still follow them.
When I was younger, I rooted for both the Braves and the Yankees, the team of my forefathers. In the early 90’s though, when the Yankees were struggling, I was all about the Braves. I still remember going nuts after watching Sid Bream’s huffing-and-puffing 1992 NLCS Game 7-winning run against Pittsburgh.
As I got older though, I stopped going to as many Richmond Braves games. Originally, I had rooted for Atlanta because I felt a connection to the players. Since I no longer knew the new guys coming up, I became much more of a Yankees fan, although I always still rooted for Atlanta to do well. Suffice to say, the pair of Yankees-Braves World Series in the late 90’s made me very happy.
Then, one day in 2008, the news came. The organization was relocating the Richmond Braves to Gwinnett, a suburb of Atlanta. From a business standpoint, it made sense -- having its AAA team closer to Atlanta would allow the Braves to send players up and down with much less hassle.
But from an emotional standpoint, this was devastating. The team that had been my first true sports love, that I’d followed for 20 years, was leaving. The Southerner in me was pissed off, and the Northerner in me had to refrain from making a “Richmond is just good at losing things” joke out of fear for a full-on dissociative identity meltdown.
It didn’t matter that I’d drifted away from the team in the past few years. You never think that a team that you’ve invested so much emotional energy in is ever just going to pack up and leave like that. To me, it was as if the Braves organization had decided to take a giant, messy shit all over my childhood memories.
As a coping mechanism, I turned on the organization and have since rooted hard against Atlanta. Since they took my team away from me, they don’t deserve happiness. Ever. I couldn’t even imagine how I would have handled all of this if it had happened 15 years earlier, during the height of my R-Braves fandom. I may have sworn off baseball altogether.
Which brings me back to tonight. Richmond now has the Flying Squirrels (incidentally, as the result of another town losing their team and relocating here). Sure, it’s nice that minor-league baseball is back in Richmond. But the Flying Squirrels are most definitely not the Braves. There’s no way any team that Richmond has or will ever have will replace them, at least in my mind. Walking into the same ballpark where the R-Braves once played and rooting for players in strange uniforms is going to be tough. Am I ever going to feel even 10% of the attachment to this team as I once did to the Braves? Not a chance.
Nevertheless, I’ll embrace this team. It is my hometown, after all. I’ll even buy a t-shirt or two -- I mean, who wouldn’t love to have some “Flying Squirrels Baseball” gear? As far as minor-league team names go, this one is a winner. Believe me, I’ll be cheering loudly for them tonight. The Richmond Braves may be gone, but I know I have to make the best with what I’ve been given.
Let’s go Squirrels.