I’m thankful for a lot of things this Thanksgiving.
All the usual things, of course. The love of family and friends, health, and happiness. The unqualified love of devoted pets who leave us too soon.
I’m thankful that this year isn’t last year. On top of everything else, there’s nothing worse than a home run being greeted with waves of silence.
I’m thankful that I got to spend so much time with my Dad. Baseball was his favorite sport. I’ve thought a lot lately about how much he would have enjoyed the Braves march to the World Series championship.
How thankful are the rest of us that we got to witness this Braves particular team win it all? A team that believed in itself when no one else did. A team that couldn’t even play winning baseball for four months and then, suddenly, couldn’t lose.
Just last week, during a visit to a sports talk radio show, Mary Beth Smart revealed that her husband Kirby cried when the Braves won. How many of us did the same? This team got to all of us.
On Saturday, there was manager Brian Snitker being interviewed on Dooley Field. He still seemed amazed that he had managed a World Series winner. A Series hasn’t ever been won by anyone nicer or more deserving.
And while Snit never pictured himself playing a key role in the World Series, there may never have been anyone with more experience managing a Series.
“The amount of games that he’s actually managed, I don’t think he’s surprised by anything anymore,” catching coach Sal Fasano told Jeff Passan of ESPN.com. “He’s really a calming influence. I’ve seen guys go into his office [upset] and I’ve seen a lot guys come out of his office smiling and hugging. He knows how to diffuse almost any situation. But I think he’s also prepared for any situation. So I think it’s a pretty unique perspective he has on baseball.”
After a playing career that never reached the big leagues, Snitker has an appreciation for how hard the game is to play. He’s always got his player’s backs, and they appreciate it.
“He rides with his guys,” closer Will Smith told Passan. “He never loses faith in us. Even sometimes when we struggle throughout the year, he probably believes in us the most. He’ll never back down. He’ll always fight for us.”
That’s how Snitker won over this team. In 2017, he stuck with Jim Johnson as his closer, despite his 5.56 ERA. After one of his nine blown saves, GM John Hart berated Snitker for sticking with Johnson. Within earshot of the team.
Overhearing this verbal assault, outfielder Nick Markakis called out Hart to his face. Hart’s now in the MLB Network studio. Snit’s a world champion.
In true fashion, Snitker has given all the credit to his players, and his franchise player in particular, Freddie Freeman. “I don’t know what I’d do without him, quite honestly,” Snitker told Tyler Kepner of The New York Times. “He’s my rock. I go to him with things. I’ve been with him since the first day he came here in the big leagues. He’s everything that the Braves stand for.”
As much as we rooted for Snit to manage a Series winner, we rooted for Freeman to play for one. He’s been a hall-of-famer in every sense of the word, always doing the right thing, both on and off the field.
Freeman was quite outspoken after the 2016 and 2017 seasons about his feelings for his manager. He made it clear that in his opinion, Snitker should keep his job. And when Freeman caught the throw from Dansby Swanson for the final out of the Series, he made sure the ball belonged to Snit.
The Braves were right to construct their rebuild around Freeman. They were awful for four seasons. Now they’re on top of the world.
“Freddie was a believer all the way,” chairman Terry McGuirk told Kepner. “Freddie’s never had a day where he took off and didn’t play hard. That’s the makeup that enabled this team to build around him and create what we have today.
“You don’t get here without veteran leaders, and he’s the leader of the veterans.”
The nadir might have been in April, when the Braves amassed a single hit in losing a doubleheader to Arizona. Freeman, who managed the only hit, ended the day with his batting average at .205.
“After that game, I was sitting there with him, going, ‘My gosh, this could be a long year,’” Freddie’s brother, Andrew, told Kepner. “And you know what? He’s like, ‘We’re a good team.’ He believed it. He believed this was a good team. He believed they had what it took to win a championship.”