Atlanta and Henrietta, closer than you think

Jan. 17, 2013 @ 05:37 AM

In 1990, the Atlanta Braves were bad and had been for a long time.

That season they finished with a 65-97 record, a full 26 games out of first place in the National League West. 1991 was not supposed to be any different. After all, Atlanta was the perennial doormat of the division. But somebody forgot to tell the Braves.

Under new manager Bobby Cox, Atlanta became the first team in MLB history to win a division after finishing in last place the year before. The legend of the “Worst to first season” has grown steadily over the past 22 years and is now seen as a major turning point in Braves history.

Why am I bringing up baseball in the middle of January? After all, pitchers and catchers don’t report for another month, around the same time that our local high schools hit the diamond. Basketball is still dominating the sports scene. There is one local basketball team, however, that is exhibiting the same qualities as the 1991 Atlanta Braves, the Chase Trojans.

Think about it. The Trojans have not exactly been a basketball powerhouse over the past two decades. 

If memory serves, during my time of roaming the halls of Chase from 1998-2002, they won a grand total of six games. During that span, three different head coaches were on the sidelines and it was hard to build any consistency. Chase did find success in the early part of Ken Hines’ tenure in Henrietta, but had once again had fallen on hard times. Like the Braves, they were once again at the bottom of the division. Outside of the Trojan locker room I’m not sure if anyone expected this season to be any different.

But it is. Chase is off to a 9-4 start and they sit in a third place tie in the SMAC conference with Freedom behind East and Shelby. That’s the best record the Trojans have had at this point in the season in at least two decades.

No one around the Chase program seems to know exactly when the Trojans last posted this kind of record, but Assistant Principal Rick Millwood may have put it best when I asked that question after a recent win. “Heck, I don’t know. You can just say it’s been awhile.”

 So what has caused the turnaround? For the Braves in 1991 it started with Bobby Cox. For the Trojans in 2012-13, it has been Joe Jessen.

Coach Hines is a great coach and I’ve said on many occasions that I would have loved to play for, but sometimes players need to hear a new voice. Apparently they are listening and there is an enthusiasm among the players I haven’t seen in recent years.

Another similarity between the Braves and the Trojans is nine. No, I’m not talking about the number on the back of Terry Pendleton’s uniform but instead the number of players on each squad. On opening day in 1991, Atlanta took the field with nine Braves and the Trojans also have nine players on their roster.

The talents these young men display on the hardwood are not at all unlike those of Smoltz, Justice, and Nixon, just to name a few.

For example, point guard Shad Blanton reminds me of John Smoltz. Smoltz always seemed to be at his best in big games as he worked a complete game shutout in game 7 of the 1991 NLCS. Blanton too always seems to hit the big shot when his team needs it the most. Then there are the Big Boppers in the middle. The Braves had Ron Gant and David Justice to clean off the bases. Steven Holland, Caleb Lancaster and Trey Lancaster are just as proficient at clearing the glass for Chase. As for speed, Tarrio Young brings an Otis Nixon like presence to the team. With 72 stolen bases in 1991, Nixon would run at every opportunity and so will Young.

It remains to be seen if Chase’s success this season will mark a turning point in their program as it did for the Braves. I don’t know if this Trojan team will be remembered as fondly as Atlanta remembers  the ’91 squad. But, If they can get past Freedom tomorrow and then spring an upset against rival East Rutherford on Jan. 22, Chase will be well on their way to doing just that.