I am thankful for the Atlanta Braves.

I can feel the eye roll, but before you move on to whatever is next in the paper, allow me to explain because it’s bigger than baseball.

The Braves post-season run and unlikely World Series championship was a much-needed palate cleanser. For the first time in what feels like forever, our community came together to celebrate a win.

The global pandemic, political environment and civil unrest have laid bare the thinness of our civility.

Parents and politicians are waging ideological wars in our schools. Public meetings have devolved into shouting matches. Airplane cabins have turned into boxing rings.

Our virulent discourse has turned neighbor against neighbor, brother against brother. It’s seeped into every facet of life.

We are walking a tightrope. A single misstep could shake the wire violently and then splat. So we step delicately. Sometimes, it’s not worth it.

We’ve interacted with one of our neighbors just a few times. Once we determined each other’s political bent, there wasn’t much reason to stop and talk. It’s unspoken but mutual.

After the Braves beat the Dodgers to advance to the World Series, the neighbor asked me a question as I walked by with our dogs. I forgot I was wearing a Braves hat, one I’ve had for years with the classic lower case ‘a.’

“Did you go?”

It caught me off guard. I thought, “Go where?” Then I remembered the hat.

We talked for a few minutes about Joc Pederson’s pearls, relief pitcher Tyler Matzek and whether the Braves could win the World Series.

We parted, but not without him working in one political dig. It was weird, but welcome.

A few weeks before I saw my neighbor, we learned a friendship ended over politics, which I didn’t realize. I guess we weren’t as close as I thought. Incredulous, I expressed disbelief, to which they responded they weren’t the only ones — a final twist of the dagger.

The divisiveness has only grown worse the longer pandemic has continued.

Our circles have become tighter, evolving into little echo chambers. We turned to social media to connect, which was like running into a wasp’s nest trying to avoid a yellow jacket.

Then, the Braves happened.

There is something universal and timeless about Atlanta’s baseball team. When first baseman Sid Bream slid into home plate in game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series propelling the Braves to the World Series, I hugged everyone I could find and high-fived strangers for a week.

The giddiness lasted into the new millennium as they wracked up 14 straight division titles. You could talk to anyone, anywhere, about the Braves. Everyone knew the players, their record and who was pitching that night.

They became a passion of my late mother, Mary Bird. She called the morning after most games and broke down every big play as if she had been there. She loved her Braves more than anything and she wasn’t alone.

The impact of the Braves’ recent run looms even larger in light of the death of Hank Arron earlier this year.

His team moved here in 1966, the year after police in Selma, Alabama, clubbed future Georgia Congressman John Lewis in the head as he and his compatriots crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in support of Civil Rights.

Aaron, a Black man in the deep South, represented more than baseball, and he delivered. One of the best to ever play the game, he broke Babe Ruth’s home run record amid death threats. He served as an ambassador for the Braves for six decades.

He died at a time of great civic and political upheaval, and then his Atlanta Braves came out of nowhere and won a world championship, healing his beloved community for a brief moment.

I’m not naïve. I know sports are a distraction and not the solution for our societal ills.

This year, however, the Braves were a most welcome distraction.

{div}Thornton Kennedy is the president of PR South, a public relations firm and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at thornton@prsouth.net.

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