Click here for Today's Sign of the Apocalypse, Game to Watch, Leading Off gallery and much more!
Last night, I finally got a taste of what it would be like to attend an Olympic event in Athens: I attended a Braves baseball game in Atlanta. The Braves -- winners of an unprecedented 13 straight division titles -- are, this side of the Yankees, the closest thing to baseball royalty, and yet attendance in Atlanta is about as robust as the crowds lining up to see the new Anaconda movie. Around town this week there was far more buzz about Michael Vick's hamstring and John Mayer's weekend concert than there was surrounding the Braves' remarkable season and Barry Bonds' weekend visit to Turner Field.
Yes, rooting for Atlanta to make the playoffs is a bit like rooting for Barnes & Noble to wipe out another neighbhorhood bookstore, but the Braves have quietly been one of the best stories in baseball, right up there with the Rangers' renaissance in Texas and Adrian Beltre's major league leading 41-home run season. A popular pick to finish in the middle of the pack in the NL East, the Braves are running away with the division, as they opened up a 9 1/2-game bulge after completing a three-game sweep of the Rockies last night.
The Braves are like Ralph Nader: they just won't go away. Unfortunately, the fans in Atlanta are staying away. Covering the Braves-Rockies game last night I escaped the sterile confines of the stadium press box and planted myself in the cheap centerfield seats, a few rows from Phil Niekro's painted closeup on the Smurf-blue outfield wall, where there were no more than two dozen people scattered in the entire section during the game. Attendance is up at 21 of the 30 major league ballparks, but here in Atlanta, the Braves are drawing their smallest crowds since 1991. This year the first-place Braves have attracted fewer fans than the bottom-feeding Diamondbacks, Rockies and Mariners.
Stacked against other ballparks that opened in the mid-90s like Camden Yards and Jacobs Field, Atlanta's Turner Field, christened in 1997, is drab and characterless. Over the last few years Turner Field has been the most uninspiring backdrop for playoff baseball because the stadium is often not filled for postseason games.
Sitting in centerfield last night, sometime between J.D. Drew's 77th RBI and John Smoltz's 34th save, I suddenly became nostalgic for those days in the early and mid-'90s when the echoes of the Tomahawk chop chant at the old Fulton County Stadium seemed to shake your living room TV set during the playoffs. The recent Braves playoff teams, 100-game winners that wilted in October, have been called uninspired and criticized for lacking fire. That may or may not be true of the team, but, based on the shrinking crowds crossing Hank Aaron Drive and going through the turnstiles these days, it certainly seems to be the case of their fans. ...
... In honor of Craig Kilborn's last show on CBS tonight: Five questions with Braves ace starter Russ Ortiz, the National League Pitcher of the Month for July.
1. Better actress: Julia Roberts or Lindsay Lohan?
2. Are you insane? Okay, last movie you saw?
"The Bourne Supremacy. It wasn't great. I loved the first one but nothing really happened in this one, they just showed Matt Damon driving around in a car for 15 minutes. Not enough action. Two stars out of four."
3. Last book?
"A James Patterson one, 1st to Die. Good read. I like thrillers, plus I'm in it. It's set in San Francisco and they're at a baseball game at Pac Bell and I'm pitching in the background."
4. What's in your CD changer right now?
"Warren Barfield. Third Day. 3 Doors Down. Todd Agnew."
5. Any contemporary players out there that you find yourself in awe of when you watch them?
"There are. Guys like Roger Clemens, Albert Pujols, Sean Casey, Pudge Rodriguez. There are a lot of amazing players out there."
... Lots of buzz recently about Beltre deserving the NL MVP. Plenty of support for Scott Rolen, too. Yes, Beltre has had a terrific season, proving that players on their contract walk-years are the best ones to draft for your fantasy team.
The Dodgers may not be where they are without Beltre's production. But have we forgotten so quickly that Bonds still changes the game like no other player? Bonds, who is hitting .367 with 35 homers, has been reaching base in over 60 percent of his plate appearances with an astounding .612 on-base percentage, more than .200 points higher than both Beltre's and Rolen's. The NL MVP race should be as close as the NL Central race is. ...
The Blog's Book of the Week: For you baseball fans, the Blog recommends Buster Olney's new book, The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, an interesting and brisk read on the great Yankees teams from the last decade. Olney covered the Yankees for The New York Times for four seasons, and there are lots of terrific and funny anecdotes and insights here, particularly the ones taken from the dysfunctional relationship between George Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman. ...
Fantasy tip of the week: Need some cheap steals for the stretch run? Take a look at recent Padres call-up Freddy Guzman, who has replaced Jay Payton as San Diego's starting centerfielder and swiped 253 bases in 369 games in the minors. ...
Caught the end of the Eagles-Steelers game on ESPN last night, with the inimitable Pat Summerall calling the game. Strange hearing Summerall doing the play-by-play without John Madden next to him, kind of like watching David Letterman without Paul Shaffer. ...
l will miss the Olympics, but I won't miss those nonstop commercials for the new Siegfried and Roy show. But nice spot last night during the Olympics with the unveiling of the new Apprentice cast. Yesterday the Blog compiled a solid list of TV's top five shows, but left out all sports and reality shows. Problem is these days, putting together a list of the best TV shows that aren't reality shows is like restricting a list of the best NBA players to only Olympians. Apparently, there's a guy named Raj in the Apprentice who wears bow ties and is obsessed with wearing pink, and there's no question he's going to be more annoying than Omarosa and Sam combined. The Blog's already hooked: we can't wait for Raj's first meltdown. ...
That's it for the Blog this week. Have a great weekend, everyone.