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GOOD SEATS STILL AVAILABLE: Who needs 2,000? Ample tickets in Atlanta
By John Mullin, Tribune staff reporter. Tribune staff reporters Fred Mitchell and Paul Sullivan contributed to this report
September 29, 2003
ATLANTA -- Yovania Rose doesn't trust the Atlanta Braves. Neither does her father. They want to be Braves fans. It's just, well, difficult sometimes.
"My dad hates the Braves," said Rose, like so many Atlantans a transplant, having come from Puerto Rico several years ago. "They do really good during the season and then fall apart when it comes to the playoffs. He feels like he's been lied to."
The Roses are not alone in their disillusionment. The Braves started winning National League division titles just after one George Bush had left the White House and have done it so long now, every non-strike year since 1991, that another generation of George Bush is in the Oval Office.
But there has been only one World Series championship to show for all those sorta-good seasons. So some Braves semi-fans have concluded that it's better never to have loved at all than to have loved and lost. For them, Braves Fever is a virus they're in no hurry to contract. They'll wait, thank you very much.
"If one person is not playing, then it seems as though the team can't go on, and I don't understand that," Atlanta resident Walter Jackson said. "As good as they always are, they can't even make it to what they're working for the whole year.
"That disturbs me."
The lack of committed fandom bodes well for Cubs faithful. There are "thousands of seats available" for Games 1 and 2 of the National League Division Series, according to a Braves official. So if Wrigley Field seating isn't available, Turner Field is.
Braves semi-fans typically don't buy out Turner Field for the first two rounds of the playoffs. Owner Ted Turner's former wife, Jane Fonda, was known to doze off during the games. Fans apparently choose to sleep at home instead.
The Braves themselves can't really take issue with their fans not getting up for the Cubs series. They started Greg Maddux on Sunday in a meaningless game against the Philadelphia Phillies, evidently not seeing a need either to rest Maddux for the Cubs or hold him a day, as the Cubs did Kerry Wood, and have him available for Game 1.
And the lack of support is not lost on the players. In the playoffs, even the fans who do come aren't the ones with much passion.
Former Atlanta pitcher Mike Remlinger, now working out of the Cubs' bullpen, said it annoyed the Braves when their early playoff games didn't draw packed houses.
"I'd like to find out why," Remlinger said. "I'm thinking if you win 12 straight years ...
"Some of the people say, `Well, I'm just going to sit at home and watch it on TV.' You can't really knock that.
"Last year we didn't sell out, but the core group of fans we had, the 25,000 or 35,000 who showed up pretty consistently, they were every bit as loud as if the place had been sold out. You have a lot of corporate people come in for the playoffs, so they're not really into the game like the true fans who have been there all year."
For true fans--Cubs fans--this is good news. Seats can be purchased at the Braves' Web site, Atlantabraves.com, for prices ranging from $45 near the dugouts to $8 in the upper right-field pavilion. Airfares for a Tuesday departure with a Thursday return are in the range of $225 leaving out of Midway, $309 out of O'Hare. Hotels range from $211 per night at the Marriott Marquis, the Cubs' hotel, to $150 at other quality hotels. And there are vacancies.
Factor in food and some ground transportation and the first couple of playoff games here could be yours for something in the range of $1,000.
That is all possible because Cubs fans won't have to fight through long lines of Braves fans. Myriad reasons are offered for Atlanta's apathy toward its Braves.
One is transience. While Chicago has lifelong fans who are the descendants of lifelong fans, much of Atlanta is from somewhere else. Even the Braves are--they're from Milwaukee. And Boston before that.
"In Atlanta, like Houston [which also didn't sell out last week in the final days of a tense playoff race], you'll find more people who have migrated in than are from here," said Walter Jackson, a Houstonian whose loyalties aren't even in Houston. An Oilers fan, he now follows the Tennessee Titans, the team that was transplanted from Houston to Nashville. And his father-in-law was Crazy Ray, the blue-and-white-dressed, hyper cowboy who was the zany fan "mascot" of the Dallas Cowboys.
"There's a lot of `implants' here," said Nathanial Fuller, a Washington, D.C., native who is still a Redskins fan after 20 years in Atlanta. Then Fuller laughed. "Wait, that's not the right word. I mean, `transplants.' Then again, I'm an implant."
Chicago is a Bears town and a Cubs town. Between Georgia and Georgia Tech, Atlanta is a college town.
"I think it's more a [Georgia] Bulldogs town," said Janet Pace, a native of Jacksonville, Fla. "For the Bulldogs I see all kind of banners, stickers and junk, where for the Braves and even the Falcons I don't see that much."
Remlinger isn't sure of the reason for the lack of support.
"I think it was a lot of different things," he said. "Part of it may be that here in Chicago, the ballpark is right in the middle of the city. In Atlanta, it's an effort to get there because not a lot of people live downtown. The traffic in the downtown area to get there is really bad at game time.
"I don't know if that's a function of ticket prices or what."
In one respect, at least, the Braves and Cubs may have something hugely significant in common: a curse.
Pace was a student at Georgia State University when she learned of a supposed curse that was put on the Braves, much as the Cubs have labored under the Billy Goat Curse since 1945. Seems an elderly Native American woman was among those offended at the Braves' continuing use of a screaming Indian and the "Braves" name as their team identity, but rather than join the protests, she set a curse upon them that they would never be champions.
Whatever the reason, playoffs are no big deal to Atlanta, either because fans don't think they'll lead to anything or simply because there are playoffs every year.
"It's pretty routine after a while," Fuller said. "It just happens so often. It's a continuous thing, ongoing, and people are used to it."
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