The great British music magazine Mojo has a holiday feature in which prominent music folks share The Best Thing They’ve Heard All Year. (This year’s installment offers Jeff Beck touting Trombone Shorty, Brian Eno lauding MGMT and Gene Simmons singing the praises of Lady Gaga.)
In the spirit of Christmas, er, borrowing, last year I identified Josh Nesbitt’s snatch of a recovered Georgia Tech fumble from Florida State linebacker Nigel Carr that wild night in Tallahassee as The Best Thing I’d Seen In 2009, at least sports-wise. (Only later would the Tech quarterback change his official designation to “Joshua Nesbitt.”) For this year’s BTIS, we rewind to …
April 5, 2010: Turner Field is packed for the Braves’ opener, which isn’t always the case. The masses have come to see the ballyhooed rookie Jason Heyward, who spent spring training demolishing vehicles parked behind the right-field wall at Champions Field in Lake Buena Vista. The game begins with Heyward, who hasn’t yet played an official big-league play, receiving the ceremonial first pitch from Hank Aaron, who had on April 8, 1974, surpassed Babe Ruth by hitting No. 715 in a Braves’ home opener.
Bottom of the first: Five of the first six Braves reach against Chicago’s Carlos Zambrano, who took a 3-0 lead to the mound. The No. 7 hitter watches the first two pitches. Then Heyward drive Zambrano’s third serve 446 feet. A three-run homer — to give the Braves a lead they’d keep, no less — on with his first big-league swing.
Looking back, Heyward’s Opening Day clout set the tone for a season of step-up moments. Of their 91 victories, the Braves came from behind in 45 — almost half. They won 25 times in their final at-bat. And they needed, as we know, every rally: They made the playoffs as a wild card by one game over San Diego.
Thirteen days after Opening Day, Heyward would deliver a walk-off single against Colorado 19 hours after the Braves had been no-hit by Ubaldo Jimenez. Two days after that, he would tie a game against Philadelphia with two out in the bottom of the ninth by hitting a home run off Ryan Madson. (Troy Glaus, who hadn’t hit a lick, touched off the tying rally with a two-run homer. Nate McLouth, who wouldn’t hit a lick, won it with a leadoff walk-off in the 10th.)
For TBTISAY, I considered another performance authored by another young Atlanta native playing in this city almost eight months to the day after Heyward’s emphatic debut. Cam Newton’s performance in the SEC championship game was so breathtaking it made folks wonder if the Auburn quarterback mightn’t be the greatest collegian ever. (Indeed, I asked Newton’s coach if he’d ever seen a better college player, and Gene Chizik, who’d been the defensive coordinator on the team Vince Young led to the 2005 BCS title, said he hadn’t.)
For a sustained performance, Newton’s on Dec. 4 trumped Heyward’s on April 5. (To match Newton’s game, Heyward would have had to hit four three-run homers.) But for a single moment, that one swing was my highlight of 2010.
By Mark Bradley