Burke Badenhop made his Major League debut on April 9, 2008 when he tossed a scoreless inning of relief for the Marlins. In the eight years that followed, he pitched 512 1/3 innings of 3.74 ERA ball with the Marlins, Rays, Brewers, Red Sox and Reds. He’s been a part of four trades (most notably the Miguel Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis blockbuster), tested Major League free agency and been in more than a dozen Major League and minor league clubhouses. We are thrilled to have Burke bring some of that unique perspective to MLB Trade Rumors. This is his third offering; he has recently written about the importance of September roster expansion and the experience of playing the spoiler.
From kindergarten through eighth grade I grew up in Greenville, North Carolina. Greenville is tucked away in the eastern part of the state, situated between Raleigh and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s home to lots of barbecue spots, tobacco fields, and East Carolina University. Despite North Carolina’s love affair with college basketball, baseball is big in Greenville. I grew up loving Little League Baseball and the Atlanta Braves.
My parents are both from Ohio and neither had too much of a rooting interest in one particular big league team. Even though the closest big league city to Greenville at the time was Baltimore, I didn’t consider cheering for a team from up north. Folks from Greenville definitely fancied themselves Southerners and Atlanta, not Baltimore, was a better fit. Throw in the convenience of watching every game on TBS and a Braves fan was born.
As it turns out, I picked a very opportunistic time to enter the fandom of my new team. In 1991, when I was eight years old, the Braves were in the midst of their ‘worst to first’ season. There was a lot to love as a kid about that Braves team. They had exciting young starting pitchers Steve Avery, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Their outfield had the speed of Otis Nixon, the power of Ron Gant and the all around amazing-ness of reigning NL Rookie of the Year David Justice. The middle infield featured scrappy fan favorites Rafael Belliard and Mark Lemke. They even had a guy, Deion Sanders, who played in the NFL! What more could a kid want?
Despite finishing in last place the year before, the Braves battled for supremacy in their division that summer with the Dodgers. My Dad and I would check the paper every morning hoping for a Dodger loss that would tighten the standings. We watched every game down the stretch as the Braves crept closer and closer to LA, finally overtaking them and clinching the division on the next to last day of the regular season.
If the drama of the regular season wasn’t enough for my eight-year-old nerves, the postseason surely put them to the test. The Braves would win the NLCS in seven games and faced the Minnesota Twins in what most people would argue was the greatest World Series of all time. Since I was only eight, I wasn’t allowed to stay up late and see the finish of each game. I’d typically watch until the fourth or fifth inning before heading to bed. To add to the intrigue, before he left for work the next morning, my dad would write the score to the game on my bathroom mirror with a bar of soap. Just like the NLCS, that World Series went seven games. I raced to my bathroom the morning after Game 7 and couldn’t believe what I saw. Braves-0 Twins-1 10 innings. A World Series was obviously what I had hoped for, but I think that loss truly made me love the Braves even more. From then on, I called the Braves mine. That commitment lasted, ironically, until other teams began calling me.
During my junior year of college major league organizations began to scout me. Even though I was never a potential top round pick, everything relating to baseball just kind of changed for me. The dynamic between the big leagues and myself now shifted from lifelong fan to potential player, something I didn’t count on happening. In college, ‘baseball’ meant a scholarship to help pay for school, but it was now a potential post collegiate career opportunity. Did I hope that the Braves would show a lot of interest and draft me? Of course I did. My head would have literally exploded. Unfortunately, they never showed that much interest and I would instead get excited if a new team would call or send a letter to my coach. I was no longer focused on the one team I grew up rooting for since I hoped to attract the interest of all thirty teams. As other teams’ interest grew, the Braves’ interest never materialized and I was okay with that.
I was eventually drafted by the Tigers after my senior year of college and was traded to the Marlins three years later. I broke into the big leagues in 2008 with the Marlins, a team that just so happens to play in the same division as my once-beloved Braves. My third career start in the big leagues was in Atlanta, against the Braves. It wasn’t pretty. I managed to last 5 innings, but gave up eight hits and six runs. I walked a batter, didn’t strike anyone out and gave up a two-run homer in the first inning to Chipper Jones on his birthday. It was a surreal feeling to lose a game to the team I grew up hoping would always win. The ‘tomahawk chop’ was no longer something I wanted any part of. Once I passed that initial encounter, though, the Braves were just another opponent and business continued as usual. My favorite team became the one that I was lucky enough to wear the uniform of and my favorite players were the ones I called teammates.
So do big leaguers have favorite teams? The answer is yes, just not the current version of that team. I’m not a Braves fan now and I definitely wasn’t a fan of them as they pummeled me around Turner Field that April evening in 2008, but I love the Braves I grew up with. It’s that love for my favorite team that inspired me to become a big leaguer in the first place.