The joke, said Braves broadcaster Skip Caray, is that if half the people who claimed to be at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium during the Bad Times (1985 to 1990) had actually been there, no seat would’ve been available. Jason and I were there — wandering, hounding autographs, chasing foul balls across acres of empty seats. We smoked our first cigarette in the solitary shade of the orange upper deck in left centerfield. Once, with no crowd noise to compete with our pubescent jeers, Padres slugger Jack Clark turned and flipped us a bird.

The stadium organ waltz of another Braves lost season was the soundtrack of our summers.

Routed. The Cellar. Loserville, USA. Defeat for the Braves was inevitable until it wasn’t. In the summer of ’91, enchanted words — Magic Number, Clinch, The Pennant — belonging to distant cities — New York, St. Louis, L.A. — could suddenly be touched each morning in the paper. Now only winning mattered. And the game rewarded us each fall by finding new ways to break our heart.