ATLANTA, GA- As I walked into Turner Field today, I smelt something in the air I had not smelled before covering the Atlanta Braves the last couple of years. Even though I knew what it was, it still felt somewhat uncomforting. That smell was called sadness. Not as in “oh another opening day has come and gone”, or we lost a shot at the playoffs, not another popular brave being traded or signing with another team, but sadness as in that after today there are only 80 games left at Turner Field, for today is the last opening day here…ever. I have been fortunate to see many games here, lots of wins, lots of losses, many heartbreakers and many closely won games as the “chop” has pulled us through. But today I stopped for a second, and smelt the air as best as possible while walking to the press box. I, like many Braves fans will miss this place. It has given us so much since 1997 that not seeing my old parking spot, or my conversations with the elevator guy will actually be emotional after this year. I firmly believe in change being a good thing, but that doesn’t make it any easier. But with that being said, baseball is back!
After a first inning of 31 pitches and a bomb from Bryce Harper (his second in as many years, joining Vladimir Guerrero and Gary Carter as the only Nationals/Expos to do back 2 back opening day homers) Julio Teheran found a sweet rhythm until Daniel Murphy (son of former braves great Dale Murphy) went Yard giving the Nationals 2-1 lead. Through out the game Teheran would find a few jams and then prevail, collecting 4 strikeouts along the way while keeping the National hitters at bay through the sixth. Daniel Winkler would come on in the seventh and get 3 up/3 down to carry a tie into the 8th. After the Braves went ahead in the 8th from a bases loaded walk that Shawn Kelley provided, Jeff Francouer scored as he made his debut in a return to Atlanta (Braves fans were overwhelmed with joy for his return, as all 48,000 plus fans screamed “Frenchy” as he walked home) giving the Braves a 3-2 lead into the ninth. Jason Grilli, making his return after a tear of ligaments ended his season in 2015, almost walked away with the save. With two out, on a base hit from the nationals, Jason Worth scored on what seemed to be an out, until AJ Pierzynski realized he didn’t have the ball on the throw home that had Worth beat at he plate. After a routine bottom of the ninth, this game carried into extras. In the top of the 10th, it didn’t take long before the Nationals had 2 on and Daniel Murphy drove in the go ahead run before the Braves managed 3 outs, as that is how it would finish.
The Braves did have a flash of offense as Freddie Freeman and Adonis Garcia both went yard, to give the Braves a fighting chance. Freddie’s came as an answer to Brice Harper in the bottom of the first, and Garcia’s came in the 4th to tie it up as he took a 0-2 pitch off Max Scherzer to left center.
So, with the first game in the books, the last opening day at Turner Field wrapped up, I sit in the press box writing and thinking about that smell I had when I first walked in. Its gone, for now, as the season is underway. It doesn’t quite feel like it yet, but maybe a new stadium and a new area of Atlanta will do some good for this team. Whatever the case, I am just glad I got to spend this Monday the way it should have been spent, and that is watching baseball and enjoying America’s past time from the TED, from the press box, feeling lucky and humbled, yet excited and pumped, because Braves baseball is back in the TED, at least for 80 more games.
By Josh Black
HMG Sports Atlanta Analyst