Braves vs. Orioles

I wrote this in hopes of publishing it somewhere in Atlanta, but it's shelf life has expired, so here you go world:


Everything’s going to be OK.

That was the message of Wednesday’s unattended game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Chicago White Sox. This may seem odd, given the circumstances — the first game in Major League Baseball history to have been played in an empty stadium. Without doubt, it was weird, but the fact of its having been played at all is encouraging.

Consider: amid all of the chaos and pain in Baltimore, baseball decided that for the sake of the integrity of the game as a whole, the O’s and the South Siders would have to take one for the team. And whenever the integrity of the game is a concern, things can’t be too bad.

The hometown boys — Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, and the rest — seemed perfectly happy to do their part to restore normalcy, however small their contribution may have been in the grand scheme of things. Watching Jones’ press conference before the game, one gets the distinct feeling that he cares deeply for his adopted city, just as David Ortiz demonstrated two years ago when he spoke at Fenway in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing. If that’s not convincing, go read Orioles’ executive John Angelos’ impassioned defense of Baltimore’s protesters on Twitter.

“The innocent working families,” he wrote, “of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance, and other abuses of the Bill of Rights by government pay the true price, an ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importance of any kids’ game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards.”

Like any sport at this level, baseball is a business, and one in which a high premium is placed on the public avoidance of political subjects. But when the pressure is sufficient, even the most stoic athletes drop their masks. As a fan you can be critical and dismissive and ding them as “just athletes,” or you can simply savor the realization that athletes are real human beings with human concerns like the rest of us. I have found in the last few days a sympathy for the Orioles that is conspicuously absent from my rooting concerns. Go Birds!

We’ve had little fleeting hints of this sort of thing here in Atlanta too. Who can forget Chipper Jones in head-to-toe camouflage braving Snowmageddon on his four-wheeler to rescue a traffic-bound Freddie Freeman? Sure, it was a little silly, but for a moment we recognize these two guys for what they are: two guys dealing with the same adversity as the rest of us. Icy Atlanta was a warmer place for a moment.

And what of the ills that await us? This may be the City Too Busy to Hate, but for a good slice of the population, it’s also the locus of their all-encompassing misery. We recently learned that Atlanta has the greatest gap between rich and poor of any of the 50 largest cities in the U.S. A quarter of our citizens live below the poverty line. Atlanta is increasingly two cities, and not just metaphorically, as the attempted secession of so many northern suburbs attest. Surely we’ve had time to digest the lesson of a house divided? But no.

Very near the center of this fractious house is a ballfield, built for one of the most triumphant moments in Atlanta’s history, the 1996 Olympics. And now the Braves are poised to pull their team out of it like a drain plug from a bathtub. What happens when Atlanta boils over, as it surely must one day if we continue to be unwilling to come together? Will the crisis simply be unattended by the Braves and their fans? The contrast to the Orioles’ civic engagement is searing.

It’s hard to see how any of this ends well. I love baseball, but ultimately Atlanta is more important than any kids’ game. I suppose, like so many people I know, I’ll start learning about soccer.

And with any luck, and a dab of humanity, everything will be OK.