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Seeing the Braves in first place heading into the final 10 days of the regular season — yes, we’re there already — inevitably gets me thinking about Octobers past.
And when it comes to the Braves, one October memory inevitably stands out above the rest: Sid Bream rounding third, torso bending forward in an I-think-I-can chug, willing himself down the baseline before sliding across the plate as Mike LaValliere lunges for the tag.
Skip Caray: “He is … SAFE! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! Braves win! … Braves — WIN!”
If you look closely at video or still photos of that spellbinding sequence that ended Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series, you can see that the right leg of Bream’s uniform pants is bulkier than the left, an unnatural framework visible around the knee.
That Össur CTi2 brace, barely hidden from view, carried the 32-year-old first baseman throughout the season — and never more so than in the agonizing final 90 feet against the Pirates. In that moment, the brace became an indispensable part of Braves lore.
When the Braves opened a museum at Turner Field in 1999, Bream loaned them the brace. The trusty CTi2 took its spot alongside other memorabilia from that magical decade, usually displayed in an old locker from Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. But when the team moved into the stadium now called Truist Park in 2017, the fabled brace truly achieved pride of place.
Monument Garden stretches out along the concourse behind home plate, with Henry Aaron taking his rightful place as the central attraction. But down the ramp, stage left, between a Tom Glavine-signed champagne bottle from the 1995 World Series title celebration and the bat Bob Horner used in his four-home run game in 1986, is that glorious contraption of plastic and metal and velcro.
I’ve been to Cooperstown and numerous other repositories for baseball memorabilia, large and small, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like that: a knee brace, mounted on a pedestal, encased in glass, displayed with affection among the usual bats and balls and uniforms and trophies.
A little … weird, perhaps? Carolyn Serra, the team’s Senior Director for Ballpark Tours, Braves Heritage and Hall of Fame, doesn’t think so.
“When you think of great moments in Atlanta Braves history, that is definitely in the top three,” Serra says. “Those were big moments, and that’s one of them, so if you’re looking for something unique, 3-D, from that moment in Braves history, that was a good piece to put in there.”
The other two moments are of course Aaron’s 715th home run and the 1995 World Series win, the franchise’s crowning achievements in its 55 years in Atlanta. While that 1992 season ultimately ended in disappointment thanks to Pat Borders and the Blue Jays, the stadium-rocking euphoria that erupted at 11:52 p.m. on October 14 was momentous enough to reach that level.
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“I mean, how many knee surgeries did he have?” Serra says, and the answer at that point was five. “Probably the slowest guy in baseball, and he was able to get in there and make that moment what it was. (The brace has) just always kind of been there, and people seem to really enjoy seeing it. It’s just different and unique from your typical artifacts that you see when you go to ballparks.”
“When I take tours out and show people around, a lot of people get a kick out of it. Obviously the younger kids now don’t remember — it’s the older people that appreciate it. But again, even the younger ones are like, ‘What’s that?’ because knee braces nowadays are a little more high tech-looking. It definitely creates conversation.”
For a sport that sometimes struggles to connect, that’s always a positive, even if kids these days might roll their eyes at your musings on the outlandish improbability of Francisco Cabrera’s line drive to left. So send them to YouTube, play Skip’s rapturous call. Perhaps they’ll appreciate it in time.
Either way, be sure to stop by that brace once we can all go back inside Truist Park again. Thankfully, it’s on loan in perpetuity.
“He obviously loves having it there,” Serra says, “because there’s no other place that it means as much as it does in Atlanta.”