Sunday, September 30, 2007

Good-bye to all that

Just after 4:30 this afternoon, when the last gasp of my childhood slipped quietly into the early autumn sun, Skip Caray said that a page has been turned.

But, for me anyway, it is time to find a new book.

Thirty years and a million memories later, TBS is no longer broadcasting its flagship program, Atlanta Braves baseball. The final episode was forgettable, a 3-0 loss to Houston, that will be remembered only as Craig Biggio's final game -- and as the end of an era.

I told J.M. Ramsey, who came over to toast one last drink to the Bravos, that I guess I've spent more time with Skip and his longtime broadcast partner Pete Van Wieren (and Ernie Johnson and Chip Caray and Joe Simpson and Don Sutton) than I have members of my own family. Think about it. Three hours a night, six months a year, for something like 20 years. Hard to believe.

But the memories linger.

The really awful years, losing 18 in a row. But Skip made turning in a must. It didn't matter that the Braves were awful. This was, after all, a family -- and families stick together when the going gets tough.

There were moments. Rick Camp. The first few games of '82. That 19 inning affair with the Mets on July 4-5 of '85. Murph. Chuck Tanner. Bob Horner's four dingers. (OK, forget about Chuck Tanner.)

But then, like a beautiful, insane dream, 1991 happened, worst-to-first, the "you've got to be kidding me" season for the ages. And they kept winning and winning and winning.

Smoltz. Glavine. Maddux. Crime Dog. The Lemmer. Sid's slide. Beating the Indians for the whole damn thing in '95. The Baby Braves of the new century.

I was a kid when it started and was well into my career when it stopped. Through it all, Skip made you laugh and Pete wowed you with his brain. Joe and Don were pretty cool, too. And we'll never forget dear, sweet Ernie.

TBS hasn't been the same for many moons. Dean Harned would tell you the beginning of the end came with the takeover by Time Warner, when his beloved WCW wrestling was canned in 2001.

This is true; but there was more. "Andy Griffith" reruns, redneck movies like "Walking Tall" and, yes, professional wrestling all disappeared, gone with the wind you might say. Corporate blandness took over, indicative of the politically correct effort in this country to eradicate regionalism, destroy anything that makes a people unique, proud of where they're from. What's amazing, looking back on it, is that the Braves survived as long as they did.

So now it's over. I feel like I've lost a best friend.

Oh, the Braves will continue, on Fox and other regional telecasts. Simpson has survived the changes and at least Boog Sciambi has made us all forget about the horrible nightmare that was Bob Rathbun. Skip and Pete will hang out on radio and show up on a new regional channel, Peachtree TV, that we may or may not get here in Knoxville.

But this is it. The era is over; the old picture show has closed its doors.

Knowing this would soon happen, I began weening myself off the Braves, like the addict kicking the habit. Satellite TV means I can watch my other team, the Detroit Tigers, nearly every night anyway. The Internet means I can listen to Skip and Pete if and when I choose.

It is a death in the family, but two decades of sweet, sweet memories will never die. I could write a million words and never tell these guys, and this team, how much they have meant to one little baseball fan in one little corner of the world.

So good-bye to all that. Go to hell, TBS. Make yourself over to look like the other, undistinguishable, 500 other channels on the dial. Your ratings won't be that good and you'll never know the loyalty, or the love, we gave Ted Turner's station -- and this baseball team.

But as the sun sets on a sad moment, here's to you Skip, Pete, Ernie, Joe, Don, Chip, Glen and the crew. It may seem trite to say it, but this journey called life won't be near as much fun without you.

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