I have been watching the Atlanta Braves play baseball long before watching the Atlanta Braves play baseball was cool.
Since 1969, and my very rough guess is that in those 54 years I have watched the Braves on television or in person about 4,000 times. Not once have I enjoyed doing so more than on Thursday night.
That includes all the victories in their 1995 and 2021 World Series championships, which were satisfying but wrapped in the worry that they could lose. The Braves could have lost on Thursday night, but it is the regular season, and a single loss in a 162-game season is not something to fret.
It helped that Thursday’s game was against the loathsome New York Mets, the losers of five straight games – make that six – and 7.5 games behind the Braves entering the night. The pitching matchup featured the Mets’ Justin Verlander, a first ballot Hall of Famer when that time comes, and Spencer Strider, the Braves’ flame-thrower who is striking out about half the batters he faces.
So, no one thought that both pitchers would be taking early showers, Verlander after three innings and Strider leaving after four. There was plenty to hang around for even if the marquee pitching matchup turned out to be a dud.
The Braves, who trailed throughout the game, would ultimately win 13-10 when second baseman Ozzie Albies hit a walk-off three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the 10th. That alone would have slipped this game into my top 25 all-time favorites.
But what made this game No. 1 was that in the booth was former Brave Jeff Francouer, who does some color from the booth during Braves broadcasts when he is not coaching little girls in softball. With him were legends John Smoltz, Chipper Jones and Tom Glavine, all key members of the 1995 championship team and all Hall of Famers.
It was not long into the game before I realized that I needed to start taking notes so I could share some of their banter. I suspect there was some alcohol involved – I know it was with me – although during the many looks inside the booth I did not see any evidence.
Story after story was shared, with plenty of archived video provided as evidence.
My favorite was when Greg Maddux, another Hall of Fame pitcher for the Braves, called in and a story shared about what happened on April 26, 1995, which was Opening Day and rookie Larry “Chipper” Jones was getting his first start in the majors at third base. During what should have been a routine popup handled by the first baseman turned into something else. And overly enthusiastic Jones plowed into Maddux – the “10 Million Dollar Man,” Jones noted – while chasing the ball in a story that is funny only because Maddux was not injured.
I must clean up Maddux’s words, but he essentially told the rookie to relax, there were another 161 games to play.
That was one among many of the night’s gems as the four were clearly enjoying story time, getting in blatant and subtle digs while also providing keen insight. The best, however, was saved for last.
Throughout the game, each was designated to make a home-run call in a particular inning should the opportunity arise. Smoltz was up in the bottom of the 10th, and as soon as the crack of Albies’ bat was heard, Smoltz stepped up to the plate with this walk-off call, “That’ll do it.”
Francouer countered with, “Pour Larry a Crown.”
I suspect he should have said another.
I grabbed a Bud Light.
Reach Donnie Douglas by email at [email protected].