Down To The Last Pitch
by Tim Wendel
Da Capo Press
My hometown of Atlanta, while enjoying some recognition as a business hub and occasional prominence as a popular culture mecca, has never been known as a sports town. NFL with the Falcons is a bust, with the club having a lifetime losing record. The Hawks during the Dominique Wilkins era were memorable, generally because greats such as Michael Jordan and Larry Bird delivered intense match-ups.
But baseball, well, that’s another story entirely. For the majority of my life the Atlanta Braves seemed to be yet another doormat, that despite having the home run king Henry Aaron or the wicked knuckle-ball pitcher Phil Niekro the team was a under-performing, expensive joke. I remember a common joke among fans as a youth — calls to the stadium asking “Who’s pitching?” were answered with “When can you make it to the park?”, and as the ’90s began, thinking of even a winning season was laughable.
The 1990 season ended as most had done for decades — last place in our division, sporting a 65-97 record, 26 games out of first. But something happened in the off-season, and as the ’91 season progressed, the Braves were the hottest team in the National League, going from worst to first. I can tell you from personal experience that baseball fans in Atlanta weren’t prepared. While other cities had teams that came close — such as the Boston Red Sox or the Dodgers — Atlanta had never witnessed anything like it. Suddenly games were sell-outs, everyone wore a Braves jersey, and the “Tomahawk Chop” was born. In the Championship series, lead by an amazing performance from a young Steve Avery, the Braves won in seven games, and Atlanta prepared for something new — a World Series.
It was a magical time, and the city was riveted. Over in the American League, another team was going from worst to first, the Minnesota Twins. When Game One began in mid-October in the cavernous Metrodome of the Twins, it was all so new. The Braves rarely played in a closed park (and the Twins used their home-field advantage as a tenth player, between the constant din of the crowd and selective usage of large fans), and hadn’t been this deep into a season as a club ever.
Tim Wendel covered baseball for the fledging Baseball Weekly in those days and has done a great job capturing all the drama that swept through Atlanta and Minnesota, on the way to a World Series that has become known as “the greatest of all time.” From the stars — Kirby Puckett for the Twins, and the aces of the Braves pitching staff, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine — to the fans, he touches upon all facets of the game and gives a vivid recounting of that magical moment in which two cellar-dwelling teams broke out. I lived it, and reading Down To the Last Pitch brought back a lot of memories of late nights watching baseball while pinching yourself in disbelief. In the end, when the Twins won a one-run seventh game, we didn’t grouse too much in Atlanta, because for one fleeting moment Atlanta wasn’t a joke. It was glorious, and even winning it all in 1995 didn’t feel as momentous as this first, dream-like season. You had to be there. But if you weren’t — or simply want to relive it — Down To the Last Pitch will put you right back to 1991. Go Braves!
Da Capo Press: www.dacapopress.com