We used to live in a world where, if you were this sort of person (and I was), you could let the static-suffused voices of baseball play-by-play announcers pull you out of your own humdrum childhood and into another life. You could sit in a car in your driveway -- an antenna rising from the hood like a conductor’s baton -- and turn the dial slowly, let Bob Prince take you to Pittsburgh, hear Ernie Harwell tell you the comical names of the people catching foul balls in the stands of Detroit, let Jack Buck pull you into downtown St. Louis, catch Herb Score saying improbably that once more in Cleveland it was a beautiful day for baseball. In another part of the country you could hear Vin Scully, the master, tell you a story, or Dave Niehaus shout that baseballs in Seattle were flying away.
You can still do this sort of thing, of course, in fact you can do it more effectively than ever -- you don’t even need an old Chevy Nova. The radio voices from all over the country come across your iDevice, your Sirius radio, your computer, your phone, and those voices aren’t covered in static, and they don’t fade away when the wind changes course. This is better, no question.
And, maybe, at the same time, it’s also less of an adventure. And I think the point for us car-parked radio explorers was the adventure.
You know what I think is an adventure now? Baseball blogs. Every team’s fans have them, of course, there are hundreds and hundreds of them out there, lurking in between error pages, waiting to be found in the midst of the spam and the politics and the family photos and the naked pictures. The blogs are all passionate, every one of them, because who else but a passionate fan would start a baseball blog? But passion is where the similarities end. Some are hopeful and some are angry, some are vicious and some are playful, some are shrewd and some get every detail wrong. Some are astonishingly well written and some use a lot of exclamation points so that you get the point!!!
But the real difference between them is the commitment. Few last. The idea of writing every day about your favorite baseball team fits right into the “sounded good when I started” category. At that start, there might have been a specific and fiery purpose -- get the GM fired, celebrate a favorite player, break down the games in a way that the local paper does not. But that worn-out old line about a season being a Paul Ryan marathon isn’t just true for the players and the coaches and the scouts … it’s true for the fans, too. You say what you want to say about the awfulness of the GM, and another morning arrives. You talk about how breathtaking it is to watch Torii Hunter chase down a fly ball or to watch Derek Jeter make the jump throw from the hole or to watch Matt Holliday swing the bat, and another morning arrives. You empty your anger, you unload your joy, you drain your creative juices, and another morning arrives.
And so blogs, many of them, crack and wither in the dull Internet light, with a dateline “May 4, 2005,” at the end to remind everyone of the moment the author ran out of words.
Mac Thomason began Braves Journal in 1998 -- because, as is written in the touching words written about him, CompuServe offered free web hosting. It was so long ago that “CompuServe” does not clear today’s computer spell check. It was right around that time that I actually wrote for a website by CompuServe called “WOW” which was short for “Wow, this idea won’t last very long.”
Mac’s idea for Braves Journal shifted and varied through the years, but it always came from the same place: An undying love for the Atlanta Braves and a defiant intolerance of the stupid things they did. And of course, intertwined in that was a strong feeling about baseball, its rhythms, its myths, its joys, its many annoyances. Today, I go to the site and just read down the categories chart.
There’s 400 Not Greatest Braves, which includes the classic “The all-Mac Hates Them Team,” with its double play combination of Bret Boone (152 games with Atlanta in 1999, didn’t hit, didn’t field, 0.0 WAR) and Ozzie Guillen (two part-time seasons at the end of his career).
There’s the “44 Greatest Atlanta Braves” and the “64 Worst Atlanta Braves,” and yes it’s probably telling that there are more of the latter than the former.
There’s “History” and “Interviews” and “Putative History” and “Francoeur Sucks.”
There’s joy … throughout. It isn’t always happy joy -- sometimes it’s angry joy, sometimes it’s sad joy, sometimes it’s bitter joy, and that might not make much sense but that’s kind of the point. One thing that stands out about writing for me -- whether it’s literary fiction or baseball blogs or tweets -- is when it is ecstatic, filled with life. It doesn’t matter so much to me it is enraged or goofy or profane or stupid (well, maybe not stupid), but I love it if the person is writing something that so clearly has to be written, something the person cannot keep inside, something that the person would write even if he or she knew that nobody would ever read it. That’s the feeling I got from Braves Journal and Mac Thomason. It was obvious to me that the author had something to say, and he was going to say it, and it was up to you if you wanted to read it.
It seems, from the pieces I’ve been able to piece together about his life, that this was at the heart of Mac Thomason. He went to the University of Alabama, and his day job was as a librarian at a college, and he loved the Atlanta Braves. He was from a family of lawyers, and he wrote a wide-scoping blog that covered matters large and small and utterly unrelated to sports, and he loved the Atlanta Braves. He was an interesting political thinker who refused to be boxed in to a single line of thinking, and one of his favorite themes was that former Braves outfielder Melky Cabrera was fat (how prophetic) and he loved the Atlanta Braves.
And checking in on the site -- to read what Mac and his fellow Braves Journal writers were moaning about, complaining about, celebrating about -- was always for me a little thrill, an opportunity to dive into a world I did not know, to get inside a baseball team I did not follow closely, to understand what was ticking them off that particularly day, to transport myself the way I had as a kid sitting in the front seat of a Chevy Nova and trying to find baseball voices in the dark.
There are many wonderful team baseball blogs out there now; I check in on many of them throughout the year and I would not tell you Braves Journal was the best of them. It was one of the best, certainly, but it wasn’t the quality that drew me in. It was the constant energy. It was the hard viewpoints. It was the attitude and the certainty and the daily up-and-down of what it is to be a fan in today’s world. And it was the consistency. Braves Journal has lasted for more than a decade, and the writers never ran out of things to say … well, maybe now and again they did, but even if Mac and company did run out of things to say, they kept pressing forward.
Three plus years ago, Thomason was diagnosed with testicular cancer. There were, based on my reading from far away, brief moments of hope, agonizing turns of bad news, a solemn effort to keep fighting. In other words, it was like the cancer fight so many across the country make, the cancer fight that has touched all of our lives in very personal ways. A few days ago, the awful news that Thomason was moved to hospice crisscrossed our little corner of the Internet. On Saturday, he died. He was 41.
Braves Journal will go on … that was one of Thomason’s dying wishes. And right away there was a moment. Sunday, the Braves, improbably and absurdly, scored five runs in the bottom of the ninth -- capped by a Chipper Jones three-run home run, no less -- to beat the despised Phillies 8-7. To commemorate this moment, Braves Journal reached back to Mac’s thoughts on Chipper’s five previous walk-off home runs. My favorite recap is this, when Chipper hit a home run to beat Florida in the 11th:
“Chipper finished with three hits and five RBI. I was starting to get worried about him; he was getting on base but not hitting the ball with any authority. Hopefully, that’s over with.”
No, it wasn’t like screaming “The Giants Win The Pennant” over and over again. But that isn’t Braves Journal. That isn’t the Internet. This was just a moment of hope for a baseball fan, a moment Mac Thomason allowed us to share, even those of us who did not know him.