Archive for December, 2007

10: The Loch Ness Monster ate my truck – & other baseball legends

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by Lew

RANDOLPH,VT _ Most of the time I think in a somewhat linear fashion. I see or hear something, which suggests something else, which suggests something else-you get the picture. Maybe it’s nothing more than a bizarre form of Attention Deficit Disorder. Whatever.

The other day I was in my studio working on a future Wurlitzer drawing and I had the History Channel on the tube. They were broadcasting a documentary about the Loch Ness Monster. The first thing that occured to me was a flash of the new SUV commercial, where The Loch Ness Monster reaches out of the Loch, grabs the SUV like Ozzie Smith going into the hole for a hot shot to short, submerges the vehicle like a Gene Garber sinker and then throws it back to shore like a Nolan Ryan fastball. It then drives away. Not a bad advertisement as these things go and maybe it’s all those hours spent watching 50’s sci fi movies, but I would rather it had just eaten it. Much more interesting to my way of thinking.

Now Nessie has always intrigued me. So has Dracula. Frankenstein. Lost Civilizations. Archaeology and paleontology. All of which leads to the next thought (detecting a pattern, here?). Most of what I find interesting and enjoyable, or that I have flat out idolized- has been with me since I was quite young.

I have always been an artist. Family anecdotes of my artistic exploits go back to age two, when I reportedly embellished the refrigerator with chocolate pudding and proclaimed myself a painter. My Mother noted in her neat copperplate script in my baby book-right next to the curls from my first haircut- at age three “Draws pictures that look like what he is drawing-mainly Pirates and Indians.” My favorite coloring books were of Lost Civilizations and Space Raiders. Little has changed throughout the intervening decades. I still enjoy action and swashbuckling adventure movies and books. I became a Sci Fi/Fantasy artist. I have painted Cowboy s, Indians, werewolves, Vampires, Faeries, Dragons and all sorts of mythological creatures. They’ve always been a part of me.

Which (here we go again) leads me to this-Baseball, Too!!!! I love baseball. I always have. I remember the first time I ever played the game in first grade-1957 at Warwick Elementary. Didn’t even mind carrying the bat to first so another first grader wouldn’t trip over it and mess up recess (I’ve never forgotten, Beth Ann). I remember my Step Father’s stories of the Philadelphia A’s and Connie Mack-his tales of Jimmy Foxx’s and Hank Greenberg’s prodigious Home Runs. I remember reading every baseball book I could get my hands on-from “Treasure At First Base”, to my all-time favorite “Ballplayers Are Human, Too”, by Ralph Houk, which documented the chase for Ruth’s 60 Home Run mark by Maris and Mantle in 1961.

I saw many legends play at old Connie Mack Stadium at 21st and Lehigh in Philadelphia. I saw Gibson , Koufax, Drysdale, Marichal and Spahn pitch. I still remember the longest Home Run I ever saw hit-by Ernie Banks. I saw Richie Allen leg out an inside the park shot to right center. I saw Johnny Callison hit three consecutive Home Runs over the 30 foot tall, industrial steel right field wall. The Phillies STILL lost the 7th of the infamous 10 in a row to end the 1964 season to Hank Aaron and the Milwaukee Braves. It almost killed this 13 year old. I saw Fergie Jenkins and Pat Corrales play as rookies. I saw Jim Bunning’s perfect game on TV and Randy Johnson’s, too.

Which leads-finally-to this. What would we do without baseball in our lives? What would we do without the sport we all love so much? How much more empty would our lives be? Would we even know one another? In this season of new beginnings, I’d like for us all to reflect on what baseball means to us. Let’s do it before we start the endless cycle of arguments and debates about wins and losses, trades and deals, HR’s, RBI, OBP, OPS, ERA and VORP. Do it now. Only a few weeks remain until the daffodils and dogwoods bloom, the leaves return to the trees and the bats crack and leather pops (likely hamstrings, too). I for one, will be there the first day the pitchers and catchers throw to each other. I damn well intend to revel in it. Hope you’ll be there, too. Now, Baseball (There’s your transition, Oh Scribe)-Discuss it amongst yourselves. It’s almost time and I can’t wait.

Lew

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9: Throw another log on the fire as we warm by the hot stove

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by Gil


MECHANICSVILLE, VA – The great thing about sports is it acts as a catalyst to have people from all walks of life to gather together to discuss an area of common interest. As we root for our favorite team year after year, we discover some are just fair weather fans. Those who like to jump on the bandwagon of a front running team. Other are true diehards, sticking it out each season rooting for their favorite nine, sometimes long after they have been eliminated from the chase after the first month of play.

The type of baseball fan someone is reflects I think as to the type of friend one could expect another to be. There are those who are fiercely loyal, perhaps to a fault, willing to defend a friend even though that loyalty is misplaced. Or they might just be a passing associate, friendly when it benefits only them.

We all form opinions of people based on our personal experiences. Some of those are good and some bad but we all have our reasons. Blogs have become gathering places for persons with a like interest. Some of the really good ones make them must more than that. A place where everyone feels comfortable to be accepted for who they are. Where people can say what they mean and feel and not fear it will be taken out of context or misinterpreted as a personal attack.

I do not know if many realize how special a place like this can be. Humor, politics and religion as well as sports are all taken in stride. We all know that our gentle chiding is without malice. A wise man once told me that a friend is someone who can tell you what you need to know, not always what you want to hear. We are fortunate that we have found such a place.

It is my wish that our little corner of the blogosphere will continue to grow and prosper. A place where both the meaningful and the inane can be posted and folks will know the difference. No apologies needed, we can all come as we are. Each in their own unique way adding much to the conversation.

Gil of Mechanicsville

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Blog email: bravesandstuff@hotmail.com

8: Carolina Lady made me write this

 

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by Berigan

(Editor’s note: I did not! He ‘volunteered’!)

JONESBORO, GA – The kind lady from Carolina said I could write anything I wanted as long as it was on baseball, so the next 5,000 words will be an incredibly detailed explanation as to why Ted Simmons MUST be inducted into the Hall of Fame right now!

THIS JUST IN, I am told if I do continue on this topic, I will be banned for life and will have to post on the AJC’s Australian rules football blog, and see if anyone’s interested there about who will be the back-up catcher for the braves.

Since I am not the wordsmith that JJS, Scribe and Savannah guy are, and since Ted Simmons is verboten (even though he did have more hits, RBI’s and a higher batting average than either Johnny Bench or Gary Carter-sorry!), what else can I talk about in mid December???

Hows about Braves starting pitching for next year?

Some life may be left in this horse. It ain’t dead yet, let’s beat it! Very hard to read this staff, isn’t it? If this was 2001 and we had Smoltz, Glavine, Hudson, and Hampton, I’d say we would have the best staff in NL! But, it will be 2008 when they all stand on a mound again for the braves (not at one time though).

John Smoltz is still the man, but he will be 41 in May. How many power pitchers are there at his age who don’t have a deep and abiding belief in better living through chemistry??? Of course we all know Smoltz is a freak of nature, so it may not matter. Smoltz still gives up less than a hit per inning. His strikeout numbers have not dropped either, still about 1 per inning as well. His WHIP was 1.182 last year, and his BFP was only 853!!! I have no idea what these numbers mean, but all the smart folks mention them, so I will as well.

Tim Hudson. As long as he stays healthy, the one guy we most likely won’t have to worry about. Just 32, a full decade younger than Glavine. Thank God 2006 was just an aberration. I do wish he’d put on a few pounds though. He makes us overweight guys look bad.

Glavine will be 42 in March. We all know he’s a gamer, won the biggest game ever for the Braves in the 1995 WS. Even though Glavine had a few terrible playoff series before leaving the Braves, he was the Mets best pitcher in the 2006 playoffs, going 6 shutout innings against the Dodgers in round 1, and went 11 innings in 2 starts against the Cards in round 2 with only a 2.45 ERA. But, he also had 131 strikeouts in 198 innings in ’06 , only 89 strikeouts last year in 200 innings. Will that tend downward continue?

I like to waste time, so I dug deeper into his numbers last year. I know, the last few starts messed up his overall numbers, still check out these stats:

– opponents hit .269 against him before the all-star break, .297 after.
– pre All star ERA was 4.36, after 4.57.
– his ERA for day game starts(8 of them) was 7.62, yikes!!!
– how’s this for a weird stat: batters hitting 4th hit .378 off him, with a .480 OBP.

Just walk the clean-up guy next year Tom! And what happens if he swoons again next September and we are in the hunt for the playoffs? Will Bobby rest him, or keep running him out there no matter what? Silly question. To me, Tom is the biggest question mark next year, even over……Hampton.

I’m sure KC is projecting for 15 wins from Hampton, but who knows if he will pitch one inning for us? I don’t think he is much of a question mark, cuz you can’t expect much of anything from a guy who has missed so very much time. Hampton pitched only 69 innings in 2005, and none in 06 and 07. He only pitched 172 innings in 2004. So, even if he stays healthy, and is effective, he will be a huge drain on the bullpen, just like Chuck James was last year.

Hampton is paid a lot more than Chucky, so can we assume Chucky won’t be in the starting rotation next year?? Surely we wouldn’t go with 3 soft tossing lefties would we??? Perhaps the 3rd pitch James is working on this offseason is a 97 MPH heater!

How does one round out the starting rotation (figuring Chuck or Hampton will not be in the rotation opening day)?

Hey, if we left Chucky in, how about having 4 soft tossing lefties in a 6 man rotation!!!

Wait, that’s not fair to Jo-Jo, his fastball might at least crack, if not break a pane of glass. 😉 Last year, Jo-Jo had a 6.22 ERA. Uh-oh. But, he really did improve. For the month of July, his ERA was 8.20, August, 8.49, then things came together in September: a 3.10 ERA in 20 innings. Only 17 hits given up, meaning opposing hitters only hit .239 to end on a very good note.

Jair Jurrjens? Checking his stats for the brief time he was with the Tigers, 4.70 ERA, and only 13 strikeouts in 30 innings. But, only 24 hits allowed in those 30 innings. Not bad against hitters in the superior league (oh how it pains me to say that)!

Checking thebaseballcube.com, he had very good numbers in the minors, and he’s only 21!!! Those clips that were on the Braves website made him look like quite the stud, with a very good curve, and above average fastball. But since he is only 21, I guess he will have to season a bit with the Richmond team for awhile unless one of the 40-something’s hurts his back putting on his sock garters. Notice I did not pick on Hampton’s health, or lack thereof.

I really wish Jeff Bennett had been brought up sooner! I know I am not the only one that was impressed with what work we did get to see. He may be 27, but he was injured, and missed all of 2006. And just became a starter late last year for the first time since 2002.

I joked about a 6 man rotation earlier, but we know the Red Sox are at least considering it; getting the starts spaced out really helped Curt Shilling last year in the playoffs, as well as shutting him down for about a month.

And Smoltz likes the idea. It’s tricky, I know…but, who besides Hudson should be pitching more than 200 innings next year? Neither Smoltz nor Glavine really should pitch more than 90 pitches per game (stats I spared you from seeing back me up on this) IF Hampton is healthy enough to pitch, he can’t be going far into games either. Jair Jurrjens is only 21 (22 in January) and teams are learning to keep innings down on guys that young. Chuck hasn’t shown the ability yet to go past 5 innings either.

Hmmm. Is a 6 man rotation the answer or are we better off with 2-3 long relievers?? Chuck can go and pitch 4th, 5th, and 6th innings in games Hampton starts, Jeff Bennett can pitch the 5th and 6th innings in games Jair-Jair pitches in, Tyler Yates can do the same for Jo-Jo, and the 3 long guys can draw straws for who pitches the days Glavine, Smoltz or Hudson don’t have it!

There, is that clear as mud?? Ok, I have said more than enough, who do you guys and gals think should be our starting 5 or 6 come opening day??????

Berigan

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7: With Javy, it was all about hits & hit avoidance.

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by Savannah Guy

SAVANNAH, GA – It will be no surprise to denizens who are familiar with my typical posts and perspectives, I’ll look not to his stats, but try to add a little different perspective on Javy the catcher, batter and mentor. I watched almost every game that he played in while he donned the Braves cap.

My general impression of Javy remains clear even after not seeing him play for five years. Images of his plate work, both standing with bat and crouched with mitt, are forever etched in mind. Foggy perhaps, but there.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on any of this. Correct me and add to my knowledge and you’ve handed me a gold coin.

So, Javier Lopez is rejoining the Braves franchise with a minor league free-agent contract and an invite to spring training. Will this be a Javy Lopez redux? Not a chance. Many moons have passed and, such as in life, you cannot leave, change and return to the home you left. The team has changed. Management has changed, Javy has changed and for that matter, the world has changed. He’s older and wiser, yet he’ll return to the team or not – based on his own health, capability and competitive circumstances which may have nothing to do with his skills, his history with the team or his charm to many fans.

So, I’ll begin with the hope and assumption that Braves management are keenly aware of all the pertinent details of the capabilities of Mr. Lopez. I’ll also assume they possess the strategic intelligence to know where this likely small piece fits into the potential roster of 2008.

All in all, the Javy contract opportunity is a move that, whether successful in spring or not, is well worth taking. If his spring performance were equal to or less than younger players (like Pena, Miller, Sammons) he would surely be dismissed. If he has an apparent sustainable resurgence in hitting, tests healthy and demonstrates a mentoring attitude, he could be quite a positive player and veteran influence in the clubhouse.

If those things happen, he’d be a bargain and a helpful addition to the roster. My hope is the latter option prevails. A nice story that would be: coming home to a place he’s never been, as it were.

Whether we hold out hopes for a storybook dream for a dramatic return of the sort that will land Javy at Turner Field as a serious backup catcher, off-bench option and pinch-hitter or just a spring washout can be discussed until the cows come home. But I’ll venture that this move by the Braves to invite Javy to spring training with a $750k contract is a sound and affordable move. Basically, we have something useful to gain with very little to lose by this move.

Crouching tiger or hidden dragon?

What about Javy’s ability as a backup catcher? Javy’s defensive skills have and will no doubt continue to come into question, yet I believe he was a very competent and pretty darn good catcher. I never considered Javy “bad” defensively as some do. Not at all. At times he was good to very good and he did carry a cannon on that shoulder of his. Seems the slew of leg/knee injuries took away much of his crouching capability and lessened his overall mobility (remember those calf-cushion thingy’s?). Injuries could have accounted for many of his passed balls and misplays. Still, a good catch.

Ok, here’s the “hit avoidance”. There was one thing that always really bothered me with Javy’s defense, pre and post injury: Javy seemed to have a fear or natural inclination to avoid taking hits at home plate. He would go out of his way…up the first base line, to stay out of collisions and harms way. That cost the Braves runs on more than a few occasions. Remember the many times an opposing runner slid around the plate to avoid Javy’s missed swipe tag attempt?

I’m not talking about macho, bruiser, not-afraid-to-play, rumble and butt-heads-at-the-plate-at-all-costs, but there are times when a catcher has to know when and how to block a run from scoring or take one for the team.

Greg Olson had finesse. He was not a large or hefty man, but he took hits when he needed to. I was at the game when he took the big hit that knocked him for a loop, broke his ankle and essentially ended his playing career. Bad example – never mind.

Charlie O’Brien took hits and he was a superb defensive catcher. Johnny Estrada was not afraid to block the plate and take a hit. That is, until he got nailed by Darin Erstad, if I remember correctly. It was a brutal, head on, hockey type hit. Estrada never really seemed to recover from that concussion and injury…or maybe he just became gun shy.

Brian McCann seems to be able to block the plate also. He’s been run over a few times and has an ankle injury to show for it, yet he seems able to chin-up, man-up and take a hit when he needs to. At the same time, he isn’t foolish about standing on the plate when he’s sure to get unnecessarily hammered either. Brian just needs to know the difference between the 1-Hop and a passed ball.

Anyway, Javy never really conquered that quick decision making technique. Maybe it was the Achilles heel of his defense. That and the hammy’s and the knee.

Taking hits comes with the territory with a few positions. The two bases that require a tough mentality and fearless, stand-your-ground approach are home plate and second base. As I’ve pointed out before, Kelly Johnson is not a natural second baseman in that regard. He will drop the ball or miss the bag to avoid a hit. I still think Kelly would be better suited for first base somewhere. Could be an Olerud. Anyway, The Lemmer was a great example of a tough, stand your ground, own your bag second baseman. That caught up with him with a body block by Derrick Bell pretty much ended his career. Lemke called it a clean hit but I never considered it such. Seemed like blatant kneecapping to me.

As I make an argument for fortitude and willingness to take a hit, I’ve just listed two examples of that style of play ending two careers. Those are the exceptions and those are the bad breaks. Second base and home plate are tough positions to play. Some take hits and last, some don’t.

Perhaps Javy has conquered that fear of physical confrontation of the violent kind and hopefully Kelly will too, but Bench and Berra, Lemke and Biggio they are not. Kelly has time. Not so much for Javy.

Will Javy see in Kelly the same predilection to avoid hits and help him? Will Javy see in Brian the habit of pan caking pitches in the dirt, passed balls and not jumping quickly with agility at wild pitches? That would be truly cathartic for Javy and helpful to Kelly and Brian.

Here’s hoping McCann is practicing with pitches in the dirt, slimming down and muscling up a bit.

Here’s hoping Kelly is taking hard grounders to his right and turning double plays with runners sliding in.

Here’s here’s hoping Kelly and Brain don’t see the “hit” plays I recounted here.

Jere’s joping Javy jas jappy jolidays….

Savannah Guy

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6: Waiting for the music to begin again

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by ssiscribe

ATLANTA – The ballpark on the corner of Hank Aaron and Ralph David Abernathy stands quiet for now. An occasional gathering of show cars will congregate in one of its parking lots from time to time on weekends. On holidays, Atlanta’s homeless come here to be fed and shown they truly are not forgotten.

 

Otherwise, all is calm at the Home of the Braves.

 

Driving past on the Downtown Connector Sunday afternoon, heading into the city with my best girl to wrap up our Christmas shopping, I cast my eyes toward Turner Field, its third-base side running parallel to Interstate 75/85.

 

“I want to sit on that side more this season,” my bride said, recalling the final game we attended in 2007 and how she loved sitting along the third-base side of the field, where she could look inside the Braves’ dugout.

 

(One may opine it’s a way for her not to lose sight of the strapping young first baseman who may or may not open 2009 in the same place he opens 2008. Let’s hope she’s staring at him in a Braves uniform for years to come.)

 

It’s moments like this, as the December winds usher in its frostiness, where I miss baseball the most. The ebb and flow of the sport’s day-in, day-out action becomes a backbeat to our daily existence, and it’s a bit lonely when November, December and January come to call.

 

But then we reach February, and it begins anew. It starts with a distant drumbeat, reverberating from ports of call far to the south, from Lakeland and Clearwater and Jupiter and, of course, the palace at Mickey’s Place, aka The Ballpark at Disney. It builds its steady crescendo with reports a plenty, news of this prospect and that newcomer, of this rehabbing star and that veteran contributor. It climbs until the symbols clash, the trumpets blare and, against the backdrop of red, white and blue bunting, Opening Day arrives with all the pomp and circumstance fit for a king.

 

Baseball is back; long live the king.

 

From there, the rhythm continues through spring and summer, through week-long homestands and West Coast road trips. Some days, the drums beat at a frantic pace, as the team rallies for late-inning victories, the starters dominate, the relievers throw pure gas and the stars pound out homers and doubles and clutch hits. Other days, the music slows, as the starters can’t escape the fifth inning, the relievers can’t hold the lead, the offense sputters and the manager adds to his “record” of seeing the clubhouse (or, to be factual, the hallway leading from dugout to clubhouse) before the final pitch is delivered.

 

Before you know it, September arrives. The playoff push is on for still most everybody in this day and age of the wild card. The days fly off the calendar, the drama builds, the music rises in volume until we reach Game No. 162. And then, for all but eight fortunate teams and their legions of fans, it’s over. Winter comes early; curses, foiled again.

 

We watch the Elite Eight battle it out during the next month. Postseason memories are added to our scrapbook, the heroes of autumn etched alongside Mazeroski and Fisk and Reggie and Gibson and Morris and Cabrera and Glavine and Jeter and Beckett and a hundred other names whose exploits when the music played at its grandest and the spotlight glared at its brightest will keep us warm for years to come.

 

Then, it ends. One team takes home the trophy, its fan base awash for all of time in the glory of residing – even if for just one year – in the hall of champions. But even the euphoria of winning the World Series cannot keep the cold Arctic winds from plunging south. The leaves fade and fall. The music goes silent. Baseball is gone, off into its winter hibernation.

 

And we find ourselves on a cold December afternoon driving past the place where grown men play a kid’s game, and we find ourselves longing for warm sunshine, the National Anthem, the sound of “play ball” and the return of baseball’s rhythm. On this, the coldest morning of the year along the southern rim of the capital city, how I long to see nine men in white uniforms standing on the green grass and brown dirt of my hometown ballpark. How I miss baseball so on mornings where the fingers don’t want to do their dance across the keyboard, where even the third cup of coffee fails to warm the body, where the slightest gust of wind makes me wonder if it ever will warm above 50 degrees.

 

But it will. The temperature will rise. The days will get longer. We will celebrate Christmas and the birth of our glorious Savior, taking delight with the fact our children know the real reason for this magical season. We also smile in thinking of the T-ball bat under the tree for one son, the baseball glove under the tree for the other one. We know it won’t be long until the backyard is filled with the sounds of summer, even if the calendar says spring has yet to arrive.

 

And in time, spring will be here. It will be time for the music to play its annual song yet again, and we’ll tap our feet to its rhythm as baseball takes us on another journey through another season. This grand ol’ game, for all its flaws and self-inflicted wounds, continues its march. And we, those who love it so, sing right along.

 

The Scribe abides.

 

–30–

 

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5: journalist talks baseball . . .

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by journalist jimmy smith

oh, the humanity! so many good baseball bloggers here now. welcome! soon, a guest blogger will post a new blog, but for now, journalist jimmy smith has this to say: we slowed down the blog! congratulations, bloggers!

now, baseball . . . will the mitchell report really make a difference? looks to jimmy smith like the report is in and now it’s business as usual. baseball is waiting for someone else to clean up the game? if the braves organization wants to lead, now is the time.

and if a team really prospers when it is sound “up the middle” what can be expected of these braves? questions remain. who will fill the key spots? how sound will the defense be? let’s hear what you think. jjs

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4: chop seal on the mitchell report – braking news!

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by Chop Seal

Hello evrybudy, llok at all those hits! Somebudy is reeding this blog. Seel s write gud enuff to do jurnalism and beet writeng. The Mitchell report comes out today and what do you thikn it will say about the BRaves? Oh, the sealmanity! I have lurned that Jimme Smith is up for an award and may have to go to Norwae. Dian LAne is coming to stay with me. Now, baseball . . . who will batt behind TushY? Talk basseball now. Sealthinks.

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3: journalist jimmy smith doing journalism with help

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by journalist jimmy smith

jimmy smith has been invited by carolina lady to help with this blog. and journalist is happy to do so. but, because jimmy smith is a busy, busy, journalist who goes far beyond what jimmy smith must do on the blog, and as a result, jimmy smith cannot be held responsible for jimmy smith’s actions here or elsewhere, this journalist has recruited a helper: chop seal.

chop seal will take it from here.

hello, evrybudy, i am chop seal. my favorate pitcher out of the pin is peter moylan. crazy aussie with an attitoode. lots of tattoos and calls jimmy smith ‘bloke’. how should peter moylan be used next season? and how long will it be before peter moylan becomes the braves closer? i’d like to know what you think.

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2: Hello, World!

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by Carolina Lady

OK, I think everything is working now….I think….. so let’s start a new page!

I am tremendously happy to see each of you! Together we can make a pretty nice blogging home here.

Remember: keep it clean and no attacks!

Our blog now has an email address:

BravesAndStuff(at)hotmail.com

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1: Hello, World!

by Carolina Lady

Hello, everybody!! This is the place to talk Braves baseball and other topics, meet friends new and old, and just hang out and enjoy yourself!

The rules are simple: keep it clean and no attacks.

(Bear with me as I work out the kinks. I’m still learning. Some of the posts are going to appear out of the order from which they were posted on this first page; it has taken the ‘time stamp’ a while to catch up.)

Play ball!!!

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