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My World Series Story

My quest to attend a 2021 World Series game in memory of my dad.

In March of 2020, my Dad showed up at my house unexpectedly. He had some news. He had been diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer. He didn’t seem worried or scared about it. He just reassured me that he was going to fight hard and take it one step at a time. So, I followed his lead and didn’t worry too much about it. As time went on, the cancer started spreading like wildfire and eating away at his bones. He went through several rounds of chemo, with each one being harder on him than the last. The worry definitely began to set in. 

   We’re huge fans of the Atlanta Braves, and that was always my biggest connection to my dad. Most of our conversations revolved around baseball or the Braves. So I made it a point to go watch the Braves’ Opening Day with my dad at his house in April of 2021. My older brother, Mark Jr, actually ended up joining us. I hadn’t just sat and watched a baseball game with my dad and my brother in years. I loved every minute of it… until late in the game when my brother left the room and my dad started opening up to me. He broke down in tears just telling me how hard it had been on him, and he asked me to pray for him. It shook me to my core to see my dad so defeated and scared. I started trying to think of ways to lift him up and encourage him through this time. I went home that night and couldn’t stop thinking about it. I sat down and emailed someone in the front office of the Atlanta Braves. I explained my dad’s situation, told them that I come from generations of Braves fans, included pictures, and poured my heart into the email. I remember saying, “Honestly, I don't even know what I'm asking for, except that I just want something to bring a little bit of hope to my dad as he goes through the hardest time of his life.”   

My brother, my dad, and me on Opening Day 2021.

   A few weeks went by without a response, so I decided to try to make something happen on my own. I had the idea to make a video for my dad of current and former Braves players and people associated with the team, wishing him luck and encouraging him through his fight with cancer. One of the Braves players, Marcell Ozuna, played for my hometown Minor League Baseball team (the Greensboro Grasshoppers), and I got to know him while he played here. I reached out to him on Instagram and asked if he would be willing to send a short video to my dad. He agreed! I was thrilled, and I began to think of who else might be willing to add to this video project. I took to Twitter (which I mainly use for talking about Braves baseball) and asked Braves Twitter for help. I was blown away by the response. The post got over 500 likes, over 100 retweets, and so many comments from people tagging players, former players, radio guys, famous Braves fans, etc. After a few surreal days, I ended up getting 11 short clips from people affiliated with the Braves, including his favorite player of all time, Dale Murphy. Sharing that video with him was one of the most special moments I ever had with my dad. It took him about 10 seconds to start crying, and he cried through the whole video. At the very end, Dale Murphy says, “Keep fighting, Mark, and take care.” I’ll never forget his response: “I will, Murph.” Apparently, the tweet also got the attention of the Atlanta Braves organization, because I also got a call from someone in the front office. They wanted to send my dad and the entire family to a Braves game! I had never been more excited for anything in my life. I couldn’t wait to make it happen for him. I was in the process of talking to my family and the Braves front office, looking into hotels, and making arrangements for the game. Unfortunately, my dad passed away about a month before the game, and we never got to make that trip. In one of our last conversations in the hospital, he told me, “I wish I would have been able to make it down for one more game.” Man, how I wish that too.   

The video I was able to create for my dad from people associated with the Braves.

   Dad passed away on June 17th, 2021… just a few days before Father’s Day. The Braves Father’s Day hats (the special-edition hats they wear during the game for Father’s Day) that year just happened to have a light blue ribbon on the side for prostate cancer awareness. As a collector of Braves hats, I had to have one. It was difficult to find, but I ended up getting my hands on one, and it was so special to me. Because of our shared love for the Braves, the cancer ribbon on the hat, and his death being so close to Father’s Day, it was a perfect way for me to keep him close every day.  

Wearing my Father's Day hat at a baseball game on Father's Day 2021.

   On Father’s Day 2021, the Braves had a losing record, and they were not playing good baseball. However, they got hot at the right time and actually ended up winning the division. They even started winning games in the playoffs! It was an unbelievable run, and I kept telling myself, “If the Braves make it to the World Series, I HAVE to go to a game in honor of Dad.” My dad had surprised my siblings and me with a monetary gift when he passed away. My brother bought an heirloom watch to pass down in his memory, my sister got a tattoo with my dad’s handwriting, but I just knew a World Series game would be my thing. I wanted it to happen so bad. Sure enough, against all odds, the Braves beat the Dodgers to make it to the World Series against the Houston Astros. I couldn’t believe it. No one could. It had been 22 years since the Braves last played in the World Series. 

My family celebrating the Braves making it to the World Series.

   The day the tickets were released, I was ready; I had gotten a presale code from a buddy on Twitter, and I was glued to my phone - ready and excited to make it happen. That elation quickly went from the highest high to the lowest low. Tickets were selling for several hundreds to several thousands of dollars per ticket. Tickets in the upper deck, two rows from the top of the stadium, were selling for over $800 dollars! And they were selling faster than you could even buy them. I was frantically searching through the available seats… then, they were gone. I had missed the presale. I tried again when tickets were released to the public. Exact same outcome. They sold out within minutes. I tried to find tickets through Twitter, Facebook groups, and Ticketmaster, but all of them were just too expensive to make it happen. I was so disappointed. I decided that maybe I could settle for the next best thing: my siblings and I could drive down to Atlanta, go out to The Battery around the stadium, and just soak in the World Series experience. It would be great. Except neither one of them could make it. I didn’t really want to go by myself, but I was considering it. Going to the actual game by myself was one thing, but just hanging out at a bar near the stadium by myself didn’t really sound like fun. I continued scouring social media and ticket sites trying to find JUST ONE affordable ticket to make this dream come true. After making a desperate post in a Facebook group, I got a tip from one of the members that there was a rumor that more Standing Room Only tickets were going to be released the next day. I called the Braves ticket office that night and left a message, hoping I might be first in line. I called again in the morning before they even had a chance to call me back. I was informed that no extra tickets had been released, and that I should just keep an eye on the third-party ticket sites. Even the standing-room tickets were going for over $1000 each on the third-party sites at this point. When I told them, “I just can’t afford the prices on the third-party sites,” they responded, “Yeah, I understand. Sorry.” It was another dead end. It felt like there was just no possible way this was going to happen. I went into work and couldn’t stop thinking of ways to try to get a ticket. On my lunch break, I decided to give it one more shot, and I called the ticket office again. When the man answered the phone, I explained that I had heard that there might be more Standing Room Only tickets being released, and I was just checking to see if there was anything available for the game on Saturday. (It was currently Friday. You know, the day before the game.) He responds, “Hold on, let me check… uhhh, yeah it looks like we have some available. How many do you need?” I was in absolute shock. My jaw dropped as far as it could open. I stammered out a, “Uhhh… two? I’ll take one if that’s all you have, but two would be amazing.” He said, “Okay, I’ve got you down for two. How would you like to pay?” Oh no… now I had to put my money where my mouth was. “How much are they?” I asked. He responded, “$300 each.” I literally started jumping up and down in the parking lot at work. A grown man with absolute child-like joy. $300 was way more than I would ever pay for any ticket… except in this one instance. It was actually happening.

Screenshots I sent to my wife in disbelief while trying to buy a ticket.

   Now that I had the tickets, I needed to find someone to go with me. Since my siblings weren’t able to go, I started thinking about who else would be a good fit for this trip. I wanted it to be someone that would understand the weight of this trip for me and who would really understand how important it was. I finally thought about my cousin, Connor (who comes from the same line of generations of Braves fans). He’s my dad’s sister’s son, and my dad loved his nieces and nephews as his own. He also lives in SC, which would be on the way for me, and potentially a place to stay after the game (which was nice since all hotel rooms in the area started at around $500/night because of the World Series). I knew it might not work out because Connor, like me, has a family, a job, responsibilities, and not a ton of expendable income. If someone called me in this same scenario, my answer probably would have been, “I would love to… but I just can’t.” I was absolutely thrilled when he said he was going to make it happen! My dad would have been thrilled that we were making this trip together also. It seemed like everything was suddenly working out perfectly. 

   The next day, I was headed to Atlanta - Braves Father’s Day hat, Braves jersey, Braves shirt under the jersey, Braves jacket, and pearls around my neck (a trend started by Braves outfielder, Joc Pederson during their playoff run). I picked Connor up on the way, and we arrived in Atlanta about 4 hours before game time. One thing I really wanted to do on this trip was to go by Dale Murphy’s restaurant, Murph’s, near the stadium. I knew it would be a long shot, but if by chance I could see Dale Murphy on this trip, it would just make the whole thing that much more magical. We arrived at Murph’s, and sure enough, Dale was there, taking pictures and signing autographs! I got to talk to him about my dad. He remembered me, he remembered sending Dad the video, he remembered seeing me post about his death, and he offered such sincere condolences. It was an incredible moment for me and for this trip. Before we left, I asked him to sign my Father’s Day hat. He was worried that his Sharpie might not show up on the hat, so he signed it on the inside on the white backing. I couldn’t believe that just happened. My dad’s most favorite player in the world just happened to be there at the same time we walked in. The trip was off to a great start. 

Me with Dale Murphy at his restaurant before the game.

   We walked straight to the stadium from there. The Battery was absolutely packed with people decked out in Braves gear. After waiting in line during a drizzling rain for a bit, the gates opened and we made our way in. One of the first things we see inside the gate is a Stand Up To Cancer table. I had no idea it was happening, but this was going to be a game where they took a moment of silence during the game to honor people who have had and are currently fighting cancer. They had little posters that said, “I stand up for…”, which you could take and write the name of someone you wanted to honor. Of course, I picked one up and filled in ”DAD”. From there, we walked down to field level to take some pictures and soak it all in. As we were taking pictures, my cousin suggested that I should rub some of the World Series field dirt in my hat. I loved it. I stuck my hand under the gate, grabbed some of the muddy field dirt, and rubbed it on the inside of my hat… right beside Murph’s autograph. It was perfect. No one would ever see the dirt or the Braves legend’s autograph, or even know the significance of the Father’s Day hat, but I would always know and cherish it forever. 

At field level holding my Stand Up To Cancer sign.
The inside of my hat with dirt from the field and Dale Murphy's autograph.

   Since our tickets were Standing Room Only tickets, we wanted to find a good spot to watch. We decided on the left field concourse, right behind the lower level of seats. It was still lightly drizzling, and there was some protection from the rain, but still a great view. We picked the spot we wanted and planted there for the next couple of hours. As it got closer to game time, the crowd began filling in more and more, until it was a few rows deep along the rail where we were standing. We made friends with the people on either side of us, and we would spread out to hold their place when someone had to leave for the restroom or concessions. While talking to the guys to our right, they told us that they paid around $1200 each for their SRO tickets. My $300 ticket was looking better and better.

   The stadium was electric and buzzing. There was a swell of noise and energy with every pitch and every out, just waiting to explode. However, in the 5th inning, while the Braves were losing 2-0, the buzz in the stadium was silenced during the Stand Up to Cancer tribute. As I stood there holding up the sign I had made for my dad, tears began streaming down my face as I thought about how badly I missed him and how I wished he could see his Atlanta Braves in the World Series. I wanted him there with me. The trip had already been more fun than I could have imagined, but that moment made me stop and realize that this was bigger than a game for me. The next inning, Austin Riley hit a double that drove in the Braves’ first run to make it a 2-1 game. But the real magic finally came in the 7th inning when Dansby Swanson and Jorge Soler hit back-to-back home runs to give the Braves the lead. Looking out across the centerfield stands, there was popcorn flying, pearls twirling, arms in the air, and liquid from various drinks flying all throughout the sea of fans. In the 8th inning, Houston’s Jose Altuve hit a ball high and deep to left field. From where I was standing, I could see Eddie Rosario running toward the fence; he disappeared from sight… then the arms of everyone on the front row shot up, and a roar charged throughout the stadium. It was an incredible catch (that I later saw on the big screen). The Braves bullpen came in and shut down the Astros to end the game. The Braves won 3-2! When the game ended, my cousin and I were jumping up and down, screaming, and giving high-fives to everyone around us. My goal going into the game was to lose my voice from cheering as much as I could, and I definitely succeeded. 

My cousin and me at the game.
Cheering after Eddie Rosario's catch in the 8th inning.

   On the way out of the stadium, we stopped at the Braves Clubhouse store, and I picked up some things to remember this incredible night - including a new hat with a World Series patch on the side. The Father’s Day hat has since gone into retirement. I only wear it on days when I need to feel especially close to my dad. 

   It has now been one year since he died, and I can’t even type out this story without crying. In a way, it’s one of the best memories and one of the worst memories of my life. Although his death is the reason I got to go to this game, I still feel like this is a memory that I got to experience with him… and I will cherish it for the rest of my life. To this day, I can’t believe things worked out the way they did, and I actually got to see the Atlanta Braves play in a World Series game. Oh, and by the way... just a few days later, the Braves went on to win the World Series for the first time since 1995. 

   Thanks, Dad.

Me with the 2021 World Series trophy.
I can't help but picture my dad standing right there on the other side.
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