Jungle Paradise | Dawsonville | 56 miles north of Atlanta
This is her favorite time of day, her favorite time of year, when the new flowers blossom for the first time. No one has seen daylilies like these before, not even their caretaker, Suzanne Franklin, who walks through the garden with the pride of a mother and the wonder of a child. “Oh my gosh,” she says. “This is a pretty one. Look at that baby!” But the admiration soon turns to cold-eyed appraisal. Franklin is running a business, after all. She breeds her hybrid lilies with particular goals in mind, and only the most successful experiments go to her crossing bed for further propagation. They could sell for more than $100 each. The others are removed from the gene pool and given away. She wants to see large blossoms, ruffled edges, high bud count, resistance to cold, a glorious contrast of colors. And if the flower is somehow exceptional, she just might give it a name. There is an art to naming a lily. Other hybridizers try to be funny, suggestive, subversive, or perhaps romantic, but Franklin has her own priorities. Several years ago, in the car on the way to Florida, she asked her husband and sons for help with a backlog of more than 250 nameless varieties. “I want it to be something that glorifies God,” she said. So were born His Tenderness, His Resurrection, His Sacrifice, His White Horse, His Sparkling Glory, His Sunshine, and many other tributes to divinity. And even though Franklin loves all her flowers, she must also be their judge. Now, she stops to examine a lily of dusty complexion: not quite burgundy, no ruffle, no etched eye, no treasured flecks of gold on the petals. “This is not a pretty one,” she says, “so it goes away.” She moves on to a seven-inch red blossom with white edges and ruffles. Too many ruffles. Franklin pauses, considering its fate. “I don’t care,” she finally says. “I’m keeping it.”
This article originally appeared in our August 2015 issue.
Salvage Hunter Auto Parts | Austell | 21 miles northwest of Atlanta
In this open-air market by the Silver Comet Trail, every item has a tale of calamity or violence or catastrophic malfunction. Maybe the transmission failed, or the front end crumpled, or blood spilled on the passenger seat. Maybe the airbag inflated, the windshield going translucent from shock, or maybe a young woman drew white hearts on the windows—along with the date, 3/31/15, and such proclamations as It’s My Birthday! and I’m Feelin’ 22!!—just before the engine died, and her teal-green Ford Escort LX joined a thousand other metal cadavers here in automotive purgatory. The reluctant proprietor is 55-year-old Pat Williamson (above), who’s spent half his life watching humans run the narrow spectrum between thrift and desperation. His customers wander the yard, looking for replacement doors, fuel lines, anything to keep that old Honda Accord running. He understands how thin their margins are, how a fragile economy depends on cheap used parts, and yet he can’t help wishing he could walk away. Some customers bring in crying children; others, occasionally, offer to pay with drugs. One flung an alternator over the wall and went to retrieve it and found a police officer who’d seen the whole thing. Amid rotting banana peels and old cans of Dr Pepper, the customers find small treasures that previous owners left behind. Finders keepers, if they catch the boss in a good mood. Running a junkyard is hard work—cold in winter, hot in summer, the forklifts always breaking down, the ground sparkling with broken glass. Williamson has sold the parts of nearly 27,000 vehicles in the past 20 years, but there’s one deal he can never seem to close. “Success to me,” he says, “is the day somebody buys my business.”
This article originally appeared in our July 2015 issue.
The covered bridge trembles as a Lexus rolls through, past one beam charred by fire, past several others warped by a flood. The driver goes slowly, gingerly, through pale sunlight that rises from cracks in the floor and descends from bullet holes in the roof. Tires click and pop on the old pine. First came the covered wagons, then the Model T Fords, and now this white Lexus SUV on a clear Saturday morning driven by a woman who wants to see the bridge. They are 54.2 miles south of Atlanta, the woman and the bridge, with a rust-colored creek whispering beneath them and birds singing in the trees overhead. She might be 50. The Red Oak Creek Covered Bridge might be 175. It has stood here in Meriwether County for some 63,000 days, outlasting more than 30 presidents, surviving high water and shotgun blasts and pocketknives and carpenter bees and heat and cold and rain and snow and that August humidity that makes the air a stale bath.
The Lexus emerges from inside the bridge. “I feel sacrilegious just driving over it,” the woman says through her open window to no one in particular, and then she turns around and drives over it again.
The bridge’s longevity is nearly as astounding as the story of its builder, Horace King, part black, part white, part Catawba Indian, square jaw, flinty gaze—a man so far ahead of his time that he wore a soul patch 60 years before anyone heard of jazz.
King was born into slavery in South Carolina in 1807. He and his master, John Godwin, learned a sophisticated bridge-building technique called the Town Lattice-Truss, and King showed so much talent for the work that Godwin essentially made him a partner. The two men traveled around the antebellum South, helping expand its infrastructure to the west. They built a bridge across the Chattahoochee River that linked Columbus to Alabama, and when a flood washed it away, they got a contract to build it again. Godwin, under pressure to finish the job quickly, told King that if they met their deadline he would set him free.
They finished the bridge on time. And though it took an act of the Alabama legislature, Godwin kept his word. He died in 1859. King carried on without him, a free man behind enemy lines, building more than 100 bridges in what would soon become the Confederate States of America. He built a rolling mill for the Confederate Navy. It was a strange position, helping the slaveholders fight their war, and even stranger when the army of liberators began destroying his work.
One by one, King’s bridges fell. At the Battle of Moore’s Bridge in Carroll County in 1864, retreating Union soldiers set fire to a 480-foot span across the Chattahoochee. They went on to burn Atlanta. In this pre-telephone era, a week after General Lee’s surrender, Union cavalry made a needless raid on Fort Tyler at West Point. Twenty-six men died, and the Union burned King’s bridge.
King rebuilt the bridge in Carroll County after the war, but a flood swept it away in 1881. Five years later, a few years before King’s death, another flood destroyed his bridge in Wetumpka, Alabama. Wooden covered bridges went out of style, replaced by concrete and steel, and some fell apart from neglect. Officials from Callaway Gardens preserved a King bridge from Troup County that would have been put underwater by the West Point Dam. In Meriwether County in 1985, someone torched the bridge over White Oak Creek. Covered bridges in Georgia dwindled from more than 250 in the early 1900s to fewer than 20 today.
Now, of all the bridges that King built in Georgia, only one remains in use. And if Bruce O’Neal has his way, it will never fall.
The bridge keeper is 66 years old, a collector of arrowheads and Confederate swords, an amateur historian who gets paid to run Meriwether County’s Water & Sewerage Authority and volunteers as its director of public works. O’Neal has pictures of the bridge at sunrise and sunset, in winter and in fall, and twice a year he crawls around with a flashlight to make sure all the pegs are holding firm.
He checks on the bridge whenever he can. At night in the spring, he calls to the owls, and they call back. Sometimes he imagines Horace King, in his 30s and still a slave, building the bridge that connected farmers on the southern end of the county to the hulking gristmill on the Flint River. He wonders how the workers hauled lumber to the creek, where King bought his hammers and drills and saws. He thinks of mules pulling wagons across the bridge, the corn ground to meal on the water-driven wheel, the farmers reaching home before dark because the bridge saved them 15 hard miles. He imagines President Franklin Roosevelt going to bathe in the therapeutic waters of Warm Springs and then using this bridge as a shortcut to the river to catch a few smallmouth bass.
O’Neal remembers the cataclysmic flood of 1994, which killed 31 people, disinterred the remains of several Confederate soldiers, and swept away the Auchumpkee Creek Bridge near Thomaston. O’Neal paddled a 14-foot aluminum boat through the floodwaters and found the Red Oak Creek Bridge nearly submerged. Water had risen high above the floor, rushing through the interior, bending inward the wall on the north side. But the bridge stood. O’Neal drove a nail into the south wall to mark the water line and later affixed a small plaque at the same location to commemorate the flood: HIGH WATERMARK, JULY 7 1994.
Others love the bridge, too. They swim beneath it in the summertime and pose there for wedding and graduation pictures and eat Sunday lunches at nearby picnic tables. That’s fine with O’Neal, as long as they don’t mess with it, which some people do: a shotgun blast here, a board kicked out of place there. Devilment, he calls it. Some jackass put a chain around the historical marker and yanked it from the ground. O’Neal set the marker back up.
The graffiti that O’Neal has not removed tells an alternate story of the bridge, a people’s history in marker and spray paint. Mary Ann + Matthew obviously loved each other in 2003, but Andy + Amanda probably loved each other even more in 2010, given the repeated declarations on the eastern piling. The seniors of 2014 included Chandler and Lindsay. Someone had a thing for marijuana. CC + JD were best friends and planned to remain so forever. Chester was here. So was Steve H, apparently a real stud. Kim loved Brian. Jason loved Tiffiny. Mick loved Tammy. Someone implored us to save the whales.
O’Neal lives less than a mile from the bridge, and he watches day and night for this sort of devilment. Recently he posted a sign that said NO GRAFFITI $1,000 FINE. When someone threw it in the creek, O’Neal made another one and put it up too high for the vandals to reach.
From Atlanta, you can reach the bridge by going south on Georgia State Route 85 through Fayetteville and Senoia down to Imlac, where you turn left on Covered Bridge Road. A sign says PAVEMENT ENDS, and another says ONE LANE ROAD and NO THRU TRUCKS. A green metal frame straddles the road, the doorway O’Neal put in to filter out vehicles like the boom truck that came through last year and splintered beams in the bridge’s roof.
An hour before sunset, the air is sweet with honeysuckle and whining with mosquitoes. On the far side of the bridge, shadow engulfs the lower foliage while the treetops still glow fluorescent green. An old truck rolls through the bridge, headed east toward the river. The timbers shudder faintly. The truck stops, and the window rolls down. The driver is Bruce O’Neal. He says hello, but he can’t stay long. He has to go demolish some beaver dams with a mallet and a chainsaw.
The creek rolls under the bridge with the sound of an open faucet. Honeybees guard the queen who has taken up residence inside the northern wall. A woman and a man emerge from the woods and walk toward a silver Buick LeSabre. He is talking on a cell phone, offering someone an unsanctioned ride.
“You just don’t even ask me no more,” she says. “I would like to be asked.”
They get in the car and it pops and crunches along the bridge and then turns around and crosses again and they disappear to the west amid a rising trill of crickets. A dragonfly lurches above the creek like a small plane with engine trouble. A truck crosses the bridge, red cooler in the bed next to a fishing pole, followed by another truck, a Ford Super Duty F-350 containing a man and two women and at least two dogs. The man has a floppy-haired little dog wedged in the crook of his arm by the open window, so that for a moment the dog appears to be driving the truck. The big truck turns and goes back through, a load of 7,000 pounds, and the timbers hold. O’Neal believes the resin hardens with age, and he thinks the timbers could last another hundred years.
The sky goes pale, with red seeping in from the west. The creek rolls south toward the Gulf of Mexico. High in a tree, a bird makes a strange and plaintive sound. The old bridge stands in the fading light.
This article originally appeared in our July 2015 issue.
The military veterans of Post 105 had spent their best years doing hazardous jobs on behalf of their country, and now, on a windy blue morning, they did one more. A somber tune played on a portable stereo. Someone said a prayer. Then they lit the fires. Nearly 700 worn-out American flags had accumulated at their headquarters, deposited by various local patriots, and it was time for the quarterly cremation. “Hey, don’t burn the flag,” a passing driver said, not unreasonably, because once in a while the sacred resembles the profane. “It’s not burning,” said Robert Ladd, 74, a former lieutenant colonel in the Army. “It’s retiring.” The men retired the flags in four 55-gallon drums that emitted noxious black smoke and spilled black liquid on the gravel. Some members had stayed home to avoid the fumes of melting nylon. “Don’t breathe that smoke, gentlemen,” Ladd advised the troops. “Get upwind!” Larry Newsome, a former Air Force engine mechanic, recalled the time a confused bystander saw the flames of flag retirement reflected in the windows of the fire department across the street. “So he called the fire department and said, ‘I guess you know your fire department’s on fire.’” But it was only the flags, melting, smoking, disintegrating, rendered to the fire by the men who pledged their allegiance and carried them around the world and brought them home to cover their brothers’ coffins. “We’re kind of putting these flags to their eternal rest,” said David Niebes, former post commander, as smoke rose toward the clear blue sky.
This article originally appeared in our June 2015 issue.
1. Repeat after me, young man: There is no shame in carrying a diaper bag.
2. You still have a beating heart and a 266-horsepower engine. You can still go out and paint the town. But you’re a man now, with grown-up responsibilities that James Dean never imagined, and your Porsche 550 Spyder has become a Toyota Sienna, and your cigarettes have transmogrified into Goldfish, and your new adventures will have one slight complication:
3. You’re going to bring the kids.
4. The Dangerous Playground stands on a plateau near the eastern terminus of 13th Street in Midtown. You might call it the Noguchi Playscape, which would be accurate, or That Place Where They Used to Sell Drugs, which would also be accurate, given the history of its hidden staircase. The staircase winds upward nearly 20 feet inside a tall white cylinder and leads to a long and fast and wonderful aluminum slide that curves down the tower’s outer wall. Don’t let your children go down this slide without you. Someone has to make sure they’re safe.
5. The Flying Trick is an outdoor trick involving a small child and a father where the father picks up the small child and hurls the child into the air so that the child is briefly flying, and then the father catches the child—much to the relief of everyone who is standing by and trying not to look horrified. All I can say about this trick is that children really like it and ask for it by name, and children should always get what they want.
6. Stay gone as long as you like. What’s your wife going to say? Please bring the kids home; I miss them? The house is too quiet? The house is too clean?
7. The Dangerous Playground also has a mound of concrete that is useful for playing king of the hill and possibly knocking out your teeth. Also, large cubes of concrete that lead to vertiginous open space. And another set of lightning-fast slides that can only be reached by climbing hazardous metal ladders. This playground is one of two at Piedmont Park. Take your children to both, then ask which one they like better: the Regular Playground or the Dangerous Playground? They will answer correctly.
8. The Spinning Trick is another outdoor trick involving a child and a father and a whole lot of centrifugal force. Afterward, you’re both dizzy, so you lie down in the grass and look up at the sky and consider the self-evident truths of life, such as this one: Children need to play outside, even at age 34.
9. It would be a little weird for a man to show up alone at the DeKalb Peachtree Airport and sit there for hours and watch the planes take off and land and take off and land with their screaming jet engines and their vapor trails and their general breathtaking awesomeness. If, on the other hand, the man had children, and he were taking his children to the playground next to the airfield, he would not be weird at all. He would just be a good father.
10. The Scary Trick is similar to the Spinning Trick but slightly more dangerous. It’s done only upon request, preferably when no one else is looking.
11. When it’s cold and wet outside, sometimes a theoretical man might drive to a theoretical downtown to a certain very large theoretical hotel with a cavernous atrium that has numerous elevators and escalators and staircases and acres of carpet that children and their father could run up and down and around on if they happened to be there. Atlanta magazine does not condone such activity, for what it’s worth, which isn’t much because the whole scenario is imaginary.
12. In this same theoretical downtown, there is a subway station deep in the earth with an escalator that has been accurately described as the Big Big Giant Escalator. This escalator is located outside the turnstiles, which means one could ride it unlimited times without ever paying the fare. If one were so inclined.
13. Diaper change on the grass in Centennial Olympic Park, and you have to do it really fast, and it’s a special kind of diaper that requires two plastic bags, and the kid is twisting and wriggling and laughing with evil delight, and you’re trying to get the job done before anyone notices, and you go through half a box of wipes and wrestle his pants and shoes back on, and you get this big rush—this pulsing thrill of victory—the same way you might feel on a boat at sea reeling in a blue marlin.
Thomas Lake is a freelance writer in Decatur. His work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.
This article originally appeared in our June 2015 issue.
Lockheed Martin Aeronautics | Marietta | 17 miles northwest of Atlanta
They build airplanes here, and the noise is terrific: a general whirring and whining, a clatter of rivet guns. Seated before the upper wing panel of a C-130J Super Hercules, Valerie Branch plays her own part in the cacophony. Country music spills from her battered radio as she applies chemical sealant to the dome nuts that hold the wing together. The sealant gun makes a soft hiss. Time passes in the changeless artificial light of the oldest continuously operating military production line in history. Branch’s grandmother worked here, decades ago, on the B-29 Superfortress, the bomber that won World War II. Branch’s father worked here for 31 years. Now here is Valerie Branch, a 49-year-old senior mechanic, wiping away excess sealant with a paintbrush. The avionics have changed, but today’s C-130 military transport planes look much the same as the ones that first came off this line in 1955. They bring soldiers to war and bring them home. They carry supplies for disaster relief. Whenever Branch sees a C-130 on television or on a test flight outside the plant, she thinks, I was there. I built that. She is four hours into a nine-hour shift. The sealant gun hisses. The work is easy after 11 years, not mindless but nearly automatic, and so she can sit here and still go somewhere else in her mind: often the same place, West Point Lake, near the Alabama line, in a boat with her twin sister, Vanessa, and sandwiches in the cooler, and the sun rising through the fog, and the shallows full of bass, and somewhere in the world a C-130 roars through the sky, but not here on the lake in the morning, where you can barely hear a sound.
This article originally appeared in our May 2015 issue.
The Braves will leave Atlanta for Cobb County after the 2016 season. But in essence, they’re already gone. During the off-season, team executives cut three of the top four sluggers—Justin Upton, Evan Gattis, and Jason Heyward—from a lineup that already ranked second to last in run production. They did little to improve their rotation or their bullpen. Then, just days before the season opener, they traded Craig Kimbrel, one of the best closers in baseball. “None of Atlanta’s moves seem particularly astute,” baseball analyst Cliff Corcoran wrote on SI.com. The Braves are playing the long game; they’re restocking the farm system and leaving room on the payroll for bigger contracts down the road, in hopes of contending at their new park in 2017. But in doing so, they’ve also ended any real chance of winning in the two seasons left at Turner Field. Las Vegas oddsmakers have them losing more games this season than all but four MLB teams. Barring a miracle showing, what’s an Atlanta fan to do? Well, you could embrace the sorrow and reminisce with us. Through six decades in our city, the Braves gave us some wonderful memories.
1. April 22, 1966
You may know the name Ralph McGill for the boulevard that runs from downtown to the Old Fourth Ward, or for his writing that thundered against segregation. In an Atlanta Constitution column on opening day for the city’s new team, McGill also hit upon the reason we watch sports:
“So we welcome the Braves and the teams that will contend with them. And if there is, in this brilliant and spring-green and flowered beauty, also the aroma of a distant baseball pennant and a World Series, who shall say it is not possible?”
Who shall say it is not possible. Popcorn, peanuts, cold beer. As the managers bring out their lineup cards, as the catcher takes the last warm-up toss and fires to second, as the pitcher winds up for the first pitch, everyone is innocent. That’s how it felt in the pale blue wheel of Atlanta Stadium in 1966. Our Braves had never failed.
That night they claimed the Mets were throwing spitballs, but it didn’t matter with all the rain and mud. Eddie Mathews came up in the first with Felipe Alou on base and cracked one down the third-base line. It came to rest in a puddle. Alou slogged home. The Braves would go on to win 8–4, the first home win in the first season for the first Major League baseball team in the South.
McGill could not have known how distant that pennant was, or how much the Falcons would lose when they showed up that fall, or how many times the Hawks would choke, or how often Atlanta would be called Loserville, or how high we would rank, year after year, on the Forbes list of most miserable sports cities. He saw the Braves miss the playoffs in 1966, and 1967, and 1968. In February 1969, two days before his 71st birthday, eight months before the Braves won their first division title, Ralph McGill died of a heart attack.
2.September 30, 1969
In August they lost five in a row and dropped to fifth in the National League West. Then things got strange. They pulled off an unthinkable triple play against the Cubs, first baseman to shortstop to catcher to third baseman to pitcher to second baseman to the left fielder covering second. The next night, Morganna the Kissing Bandit dashed onto the field and embraced third baseman Clete Boyer. And the Braves stormed back into contention: Over one stretch in September, they won 17 of 20 games.
The division-clinching victory was just as implausible. Starting pitcher Phil Niekro singled and scored the game’s first run. The game-winning RBI came from Rico Carty, who had recently spent 165 nights in a tuberculosis sanitarium. Hoyt Wilhelm, a 46-year-old knuckleballer claimed on waivers earlier that month, came in to save Niekro’s 23rd win. Braves 3, Reds 2. At least 2,000 fans rushed the field. One player lost his cap. The bullpen gate disappeared. Third base turned up at a bar, where one guy bought it from another guy after punching him in the face. Niekro poured drinks at his bar on Ellis Street. Manuel Maloof gloated at Manuel’s. Mayor Ivan Allen doused himself with Champagne. Atlanta celebrated as if the Braves had won the World Series, blissfully unaware they would soon be swept by the Mets in the National League Championship Series.
3. April 8, 1974
Hank Aaron was 40 years old, worn down from two decades in the majors and a barrage of hate mail from racists who didn’t want him breaking a white man’s record. That year he would hit just one home run for every eight games the Braves played. But the world watched that cold Monday night as if his 715th were a foregone conclusion. He walked onto the field through a gantlet of 40 women who wore shirts with his name and number. Attendance had fallen as low as 1,362 the previous season, but now 53,775 jammed the stadium; 40 million watched on TV. Al Downing walked Aaron in the second inning, provoking boos, and faced him again in the fourth. The second pitch was a fastball that stayed up. Aaron swung for the first time that night, driving it over the wall in left-center field.
As Aaron trotted around the bases, his mother watched from a seat near the dugout. She heard gunfire and thought the racists were following through on their threats. But it was only the Braves mascot, Chief Noc-a-Homa, firing his cannon. The celebration delayed the game for 11 minutes. Then, the mass exodus. By the time the Braves finished beating the Dodgers, 7–4, most of the fans were gone.
4.October 22, 1991
They lost pretty much nonstop for 16 years, pausing just long enough in 1982 to get swept by the Cardinals in the NLCS. At the 1991 All-Star break, they were 39–40, trailing the Dodgers by nine and a half games. What followed was the most memorable three-month span in Atlanta sports history. The Braves went 55–28 in the second half, snatching the division from the Dodgers, outlasting the Pirates in a seven-game NLCS, pressing on to face the Twins for the championship. After two excruciating losses on the road, they hosted their first World Series game ever.
Midnight came and went, and the game kept going. It was 4–4 in the top of the 12th when Braves second baseman Mark Lemke let a routine grounder roll past him. The Braves got out of the inning only because the Twins ran out of pinch-hitters and had to send a relief pitcher to the plate. In the bottom half, Lemke came up with two outs and a runner on second. He was a small man—drafted in the 27th round, a minor leaguer for most of eight seasons—but now, in the game of his life, he lined one to left and brought David Justice home for the winning run.
The Braves would win two more at home, taking a 3–2 lead back to Minneapolis. And then, in two extra-inning heartbreakers, they let the Series slip away. Atlanta fans deserve their reputation as a flighty and mercurial bunch. But give them their due: In 1991, nearly 750,000 attended a parade for a team that came in second.
5. October 14, 1992
Game 7 of the NLCS. Those Pirates again. Down 2–0 in the bottom of the ninth. The Braves loaded the bases. They might have pinch-run for their hobbling first baseman, Sid Bream, but they didn’t have a good replacement. “As hard as it is to believe,” said Sean McDonough of CBS Sports, “there are a lot of empty seats in the upper reaches of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. And there are many people . . . who are making a U-turn in their cars trying to come back.” Down 2–1 with two outs, the Braves had Justice on third and Bream on second. Francisco Cabrera singled to left. Justice scored. Bream ran toward home about as fast as you’d expect from a guy who’d been through five knee operations. He slid in with the winning run, just ahead of the tag. The Braves would return to the World Series and lose to the Blue Jays in six games.
6. October 28, 1995
By now the fans had gotten properly cynical. They had been tired of losing, of course, but now they were especially tired of not quite winning it all. Which is to say, the mere appearance in a World Series was no longer enough to send them over the moon. David Justice noticed this lukewarm reception during Games 1 and 2 in Atlanta, and he noticed it more in retrospect when the Series went to Cleveland and the Indians fans went insane. When the Braves returned to Atlanta, leading three games to two, Justice told reporters, “If we don’t win, they’ll probably burn our houses down.”
The fans read Justice’s comments and booed him in Game 6. But in the sixth inning, Justice crushed a fastball into the right-field seats. Thanks to Tom Glavine’s one-hit masterpiece, it was the only run the Braves needed. And when 600,000 people turned out for the parade, they cheered not for what might happen or for what almost was. The 1995 Braves actually finished the job. To this day, over 49 years and 162 seasons in the four major sports, they remain Atlanta’s only champions.
7. October 19, 1999
The regular season Braves kept winning, and the playoff Braves kept letting them down. After their third straight 100-win season, they took a 3–0 lead on the Mets in the NLCS. Then they gave away Games 4 and 5, and gave up a five-run lead in Game 6. In the bottom of the 11th, Andruw Jones walked to drive in the winning run and bring home another pennant. The last time we saw the Braves in the Series, they were getting swept by the Yankees.
8.October 12, 2001
There were 10,000 empty seats at Turner Field as the Braves finished off the Astros in the divisional round. More fans might have shown up if they’d known this was the last playoff series the Braves would win before announcing their departure to Cobb County 12 years later.
9. September 27, 2005
Bobby Cox earned his place in the Hall of Fame with seasons like this one. He and his 18 rookies had no business contending for anything, but with a 12–3 win over the Rockies, they clinched their 14th straight division title. No one could have blamed them finishing third, or even last, but it all played into the special Atlanta malaise when they lost in the first round of the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.
10. October 4, 2013
Their next superstar was going to be this local kid named Jason Heyward. At spring training in 2010, he kept smashing the ball into the parking lot, damaging one vehicle after another, and in his first Major League plate appearance, he cranked it into the bullpen for a three-run homer. Regular season Heyward was good that year, with an on-base percentage near .400, but playoff Heyward was a lot like playoff Braves. He slumped through his sophomore season, got better in 2012, and played through terrible misfortune in 2013: an emergency appendectomy, a fastball that broke his jaw. The Braves were good that year, as good as they’d been in a decade, and Heyward was back for the division series against the Dodgers. Game 2, bottom of the seventh, bases loaded, two outs. Heyward lined a single up the middle, giving the Braves a 4–1 lead that became a 4–3 victory. Nobody knew it would be their last win of the series (almost certainly their final playoff win at Turner Field), or that in November they would announce plans to leave for Cobb County, or that after a disastrous 2014, they’d deal Heyward to the Cardinals. What the 48,966 fans knew is that the J-Hey Kid had just driven in the first runs of his postseason career, and the Braves were on the verge of tying the series. Anything was possible. It was a clear night, 64 degrees, and from the grandstand you could see those towers on Peachtree.
After the second late-season collapse in four years, the Braves gutted their roster in the off-season with an eye toward rebuilding for 2017. Goodbye, fan favorites Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, and Justin Upton. (Alas, B.J. Upton—we mean Melvin—is going nowhere.) Here, a primer on some incoming free agents, with tidbits for the hard-core fan, the casual observer, and those who think pine tar is an ingredient in asphalt.
Nick Markakis, Right fielder
Hard-core stat-head Nick’s power at the plate has greatly diminished; he hasn’t hit 20 homers in a season since 2008. Casual fan Although not quite as good a fielder as the departed Heyward, Nick is a Gold Glove defender in right. Layperson Like J-Hey, Nick is a hometown boy, who grew up in Woodstock and attended Young Harris College in northeast Georgia. Pricetag $44 million for four years
Jonny Gomes, Outfielder
Hard-core stat-head He still hits left-handed pitchers: a career .277 batting average against southpaws. Casual fan Despite being a prominent part of Boston’s 2013 championship team, at 34, Gomes is a part-time platoon left fielder, at best. Layperson Jonny (yes, that’s the correct spelling) helped make those nasty, bushy Civil War beards a thing in Boston. Pray his Atlanta teammates have better fashion (and hygiene) sense. Pricetag $4 million for one year
Alberto Callaspo, Infielder
Hard-core stat-head He hit an anemic .223 in 2014, with only four homers and 39 RBIs. Casual fan Has played every position in MLB except pitcher, catcher, and center field. Will probably see time at second until uber-prospect Jose Peraza gets here. Layperson Infamous for an episode recorded in a minor league teammate’s tell-all involving a hot dog bun and a certain part of another teammate’s anatomy. Pricetag $3 million for one year
A.J. Pierzynski, Catcher
Hard-core stat-head The career .281 hitter can still add some power off the bench, having hit 17 homers as recently as 2013. Casual fan The former All-Star is now 38 and strictly here as a backup for prospect Christian Bethancourt. So the less you see of A.J., the better. Layperson A notorious brawler and trash talker, A.J. is one of the most reviled players in baseball. In other words: He might be your best chance for on-field entertainment at the Ted. Pricetag $2 million for one year
Illustrations by Jason Schneider, Photographs by AP Images
Update 4/27/15: This story was updated from the original print version to reflect the trade of Craig Kimbrel.
This article originally appeared in our April 2015 issue.
Between night and day, between Centennial Olympic Park and the county jail, Jimmy Rivas is praying. He and his coworkers have agreed to spend one year within these walls, recovering from alcohol or other drugs. In five minutes, they will serve breakfast. The workers have been here since 4 a.m., cooking sausage and biscuits and oatmeal for roughly 230 people who slept here last night. Standing to Jimmy’s left is a man in an orange shirt. A moment ago, he stirred the oatmeal in a large vat with the joy of a child playing in a sandbox. The man in orange is 50 years old. He used to do cocaine back when he played the drums in a rock band. He drank a lot, beat people up, fell into ditches, passed out on the floor. They told him he was one arrest from doing hard time, so he came here and played drums in the chapel band and whipped up the oatmeal and said, “Manna from heaven! Manna from heaven!” Jimmy Rivas is still praying. He is not so free with his story as the man in orange, but in a moment, while chopping vegetables, he’ll say, “Just working hard to change me. Change my life. Better direction.” Frost covers the ground outside. In the dining room through the high windows, you can see the yellow ring of lights on the Westin Peachtree Plaza above a luminous billboard for Crown Royal whiskey. “Amen,” Jimmy says, and the metal window rolls open, and the hungry men collect their breakfast, plates clattering on the sill, and the man in orange is drinking something from a paper cup—a kale smoothie, as it turns out—and he says, “I’m pretty grateful to be here.”
This article originally appeared in our April 2015 issue.
The police chief has several guns, including a 12-gauge shotgun and a semiautomatic rifle, but he almost never puts them to use. “This is the modern Mayberry,” says T.J. Sosebee, the only full-time officer in Kingston, population 646, a hidden Bartow County village on a narrow plain between Cartersville and Rome. The chief’s job was vacant for most of last fall, leaving the town with no police department, and in the ensuing anarchy, someone kicked in the doors of the restrooms by the baseball field. Sosebee started work in early December, and the rest of 2014 passed without serious incident. A woman called 911 because her father was choking on a peanut butter sandwich, but the man fell down and dislodged the obstruction before Sosebee arrived. He caught a woman driving 72 in a 40 zone. He did not catch the thief who made off with two large bottles of Coke from Dollar General, but he was pretty sure he knew who it was. There was no need for a SWAT raid. He walked around town, Tic Tacs rattling softly in his pocket, waving to men in pickup trucks. Around Christmastime, he got a call about stolen electricity. A man had his power cut off, so he plugged an extension cord into a neighbor’s outlet to keep the heater going. He was sorry. Sosebee could have arrested him, but he wrote a citation instead. On New Year’s Eve, he cruised the streets and found people worshiping in churches and drinking peacefully in the town’s only bar. Around 9:30 p.m. on Reynolds Bridge Road, a man hit a deer. The man and his truck were all right, but the chief looked down at that 45-pound doe and knew she was suffering. The chief has many responsibilities, some prescribed by law, others simply understood. He took aim with his pistol and pulled the trigger.
This article originally appeared in our March 2015 issue.
Hunter Park Community Center | Douglasville | 24 miles west of Atlanta
Angelica Blackwell was seven on the night of the dance, old enough to know about looking good. She wanted the red stockings—not the black—and red bows in her hair, with the puffs done just right. And because this was a mother-daughter dance, and because daughters of a certain age hold themselves responsible for their mothers’ appearance, she had to inspect her mother’s dress. “Mommy,” she had been known to say, “maybe you should consider something else.” About 30 daughters and their mothers stood on the floor of a rented ballroom on a cold Friday night and danced to John Legend and celebrated nature’s most complex parent-child relationship. “Your mother is a guide and a protector,” said guest speaker Chaunnie Dodds, a senior at Alpharetta High School. “Savor every moment.” But this was easier said than done. Event co-organizer Alana Gillespie and her 14-year-old daughter, Milan, had been clashing lately—over the dishes, homework, and so on—which made it all the more surprising when Milan took the microphone for an unscheduled announcement. “I just wanted to recognize my mom,” she said, voice cracking. “I just wanted to say sorry to her.” Then DJ Muzic Warfare cranked the tunes back up, and Alana took Milan in her arms, and a moment later Alana was in the hallway, tears in her eyes, fanning herself with a tissue. “Unexpected,” she said, because 14-year-old girls are never wrong. Back on the floor, in a room scented with perfume, Angelica looked up at her mother, Lynita Mitchell-Blackwell. For a moment, everything was simple. Lynita wore hoop earrings and a green sleeveless dress and open-toed gold shoes. They had all passed inspection. “Mommy,” Angelica said, “this is perfect.”
This article originally appeared in our February 2015 issue.
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