Friday, March 13, 2015

Favorite Braves List - Defensive Replacement

(Previous information on this series can be found here. Of importance, this is not a best list, but a favorites list since I started to follow the Braves. That limits options from 1991-to-now.)

Favorite Braves List (so far)
Ace Starter - Greg Maddux
#2 Starter - John Smoltz
#3 Starter - Tim Hudson
#4 Starter - Tom Glavine

Closer - Craig Kimbrel
RH-Reliever - Peter Moylan
Catcher - Brian McCann
First Base - Fred McGriff
Second Base - Marcus Giles
Shortstop - Andrelton Simmons
Third Base - Chipper Jones 
Left Field - Ryan Klesko
Center Field - Andruw Jones
Right Field - Jason Heyward
Backup Catcher - Eddie Perez

Favorite Defensive Replacement
Rafael Belliard

I'm going to warn you. This post makes no mention of Belliard's dWAR or DRS or even UZR.

I call this series my Favorite Braves. It's a group of guys that I watched, followed, and loved. No one better exemplifies the idea of a "loved" Brave than Belliard. Sure, he only hit two homeruns in his 17 year career and I imagine if I looked at his defense enough, I probably couldn't find any real justification for him getting over 2500 PA in the majors when he had a lifetime .530 OPS. But I loved him and he's a fitting addition to this team because...he was my dad's guy.

That's right. Let's get real personal. My mom and dad were not meant to be. When I was born, he was 65. She was 29. A day after a divorce to his second wife (we think) was finalized, he married my mom, who was very pregnant at the time with yours truly. That's not how love stories go. Interestingly enough, a month after I was born, Belliard made his major debut for the Pirates on September 6, 1982. A few years later, my parents would be on their way to divorce and my father moved away to be near his sister. On the other side of the country. My only contact with my father for roughly two years was through the occasional phone call and audio tapes he would record and send in the mail.

When he finally returned, it was just in time for me to begin my all-too brief little league career. I was a very limited player. I had no power, was (and am) a chubster, and my arm - while pretty good - was completely inaccurate. But I loved baseball and as did my father. He made a point to make sure I made it to every game even when I wanted to just stay home and play video games. He also returned to a job he had before he had left for Washington. He was an usher for the Lynchburg Mets and the Red Sox that followed. What this meant to me was that every home game he worked, I got to go for free. The concession staff looked after me and slipped me sodas, hot dogs, and popcorn. I went into the parking lot freely and met other kids that were also hoping for a foul ball to come flying back. It was actually a pretty fun time.

The more I got into baseball, the more I was willing to sit down as a child and watch it on TV. Ultimately, this culminated in us watching whatever game was on. Back then, there were two games that you could count on. The Cubs played in the day and the Braves played in the evening. I never cared for Harry Caray and besides, I often was in school during Cubs games. But the Braves were easier to watch. Hell, they were often on after WCW Saturday Night so we could have a real manly bonding experience (wrestling, baseball, and awful Little Caesers Pizza).

About this time, something weird was happening with the Braves. They started to win. A lot. And my dad, being the non-sabermetric guy that he was, really liked the diminutive shortstop out of the Dominican Republic who the Braves had brought over from the Pirates. Pac-Man had his best offensive season in 1991. He hit .249. But my dad loved him. Like Belliard, my dad was pretty short and nimble...I know the latter because at City Stadium, they called him "Mean Gene the Dancing Machine." And me...being a kid who wanted to impress his father...did something for him. I changed my number from #3 to #2 for the next season of little league. It was this small thing, but I loved my dad.

I stayed with #2 with two other little league squads, including my final year where I convinced the other guys to adopt the team name "Braves." Playing for the Braves with the #2. That 1994 squad won a league title, though I certainly wasn't in consideration for any All-Star claims.

That was also the year I lost my father. It was fitting that the 1994 season would end without a champion that year. It's kind of amazing how you can remember things so vividly. I had came home from school to my mom's house and fell asleep on the couch. When I was woken up, it was to a room full of relatives. My mom had his wallet and told me he went to sleep watching the old Jimmy Stewart movie, Strategic Air Command and never woke up. He loved World War II movies and had been in the war himself. I was 11 when my father died. It wrecked me to the point where middle school was nearly impossible for me. It wasn't until high school that I started to feel normal again.

My escape from the sadness I was not mature enough to deal with was baseball. I could still tune into TBS every night and there would be a game and when Raffy made a nice play, I knew my dad would have told me once again, "that's why he's in there. He might not hit, but he can damn sure get the ball." I remember having an almost cathartic moment in 1995 when the Braves won it all. In the World Series, even when everyone knew that Raffy would put down a suicide squeeze bunt, he still got it down and still drove in a run. Belliard went 0 for 16 in the World Series. He even committed two of the Braves six errors in the Series. But I only remember that bunt.

So, I'm sorry to do this to you. This blog is about stats and analysis, not personal feelings. And this stream of consciousness is probably a sad mess and I'm sorry about that, too. Except I'm not really sorry at all. I'll forget most of what Andrelton Simmons does. But I won't forget Raffy. No way could I ever forget #2.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing. Just think - this is how kids today will write about Simba one day.