Richard Hyatt: A bleak day in Atlanta sports

October 8, 2013 

As an usher on Aisle 103, I felt the joy when the Braves took the field for their first game at Atlanta Stadium. I sweltered in end zone seats for Falcon games in their first season of play and was courtside when the Hawks made their Atlanta debut. I reported on a news conference that announced the city's first hockey team would be called the Flames.

Until 1972, Atlanta was home. I was in the first grade when I saw my first ball game at a park on Ponce de Leon Avenue where a magnolia tree provided shade in dead center field and a freight train behind the right field fences allegedly took a home run ball all the way to Nashville.

I present this resume to establish my credentials to comment on the events of the past few days, particularly Monday, arguably the bleakest day in the dismal history of Atlanta sports.

The Hawks lost their preseason opener, and the Dream fell in the opening game of the WNBA playoffs, but those defeats weren't painful to the masses and they certainly didn't hog the headlines like the Braves and Falcons would.

In Los Angeles, the Braves seemed poised to break out of their usual October malaise behind Freddy Garcia, a journeyman pitcher plucked out of the unemployment line in August. Atlanta led the Dodgers 3-2 in the eighth inning when the bullpen gave up a home run that put the Braves on a red-eye flight home with Craig Kimbrel -- the best reliever in baseball -- still warming up in the bullpen.

In Atlanta, with a Monday Night Football audience looking on, the Falcons fell to the lackluster New York Jets on a last-second field goal, realistically dashing dreams of postseason play. If that wasn't bad enough, the club announced Tuesday that star receiver Julio Jones is possibly done for the year with a foot injury.

Atlanta sports fans always think they have seen it all, that the grave could not be deeper only to have a night like Monday come along. They tearfully replay other games in other seasons and wonder when their teams will wear gaudy championship rings and ride down Peachtree Street with people cheering and ticker tape falling from the sky.

I was in a press box down the right field line when the Braves celebrated a World Series title in 1995. I wrote my story, then adjourned to a parking lot on Ponce de Leon Avenue to pay homage to that old magnolia tree. It was my way of connecting past and present, wrongfully assuming there would be other pilgrimages in the future.

That was 18 years ago. And I begin to wonder if I'll ever share a toast with that old tree again.

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-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@knology.net.

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