Looking back on an unlikely World Series: What the Atlanta Braves teach us about perseverance and trusting God’s plan

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It’s been a full week since the Atlanta Braves won the World Series, and as a lifelong Braves fan, I still can’t believe they did it and that I got the chance to see it happen. This is a team, of course, that for decades has been known as much for its bad luck as its great play.

In fact, much of the post-game analysis over the past week was all about how the Braves shouldn’t have actually won: They had a losing record into August, they won fewer regular season games than the other playoff teams, they lost many of their best players to injury — even during the World Series.

Everything, it seems, was working against them, and yet they still won. Why? To me, after following this team for so long, reading their stories, and reflecting on the journey of the past year, particularly the post-season, two things stood out: perseverance and trusting in God’s plan.

For starters, there is Braves manager Brian Snitker, who is one of baseball’s greatest examples of stick-to-it-iveness and loyalty. The 66-year-old started with the Braves organization in 1977 as a minor league ballplayer, eventually became a coach, and never left — all the while toiling, growing, even taking a few demotions back to the minors from time to time, before finally getting the opportunity to manage the team. When Snitker took over as interim manager of the Braves in 2016, the team was in a rebuilding phase and had a 9-28 record. He was named full-time manager in 2017 and, beginning in 2018, has delivered four straight division titles to Atlanta. 

After winning the Fall Classic, Snitker called the experience “surreal.” He added, “In my wildest dreams I never thought I’d be sitting up here talking to you guys.” 

Snitker managed a team that had been a pre-season favorite to win the World Series. But even before the year started, it began to look bleak. Several of the team’s legends, such as Hall of Famer Phil Niekro and true home run king Hank Aaron as well as former player and radio voice Don Sutton and former owner Bill Bartholomay, all passed away. Soon after the season started, the team had the All Star Game taken from Atlanta for political reasons.

Then the injuries started, with the team eventually losing star pitcher Mike Soroka and MVP candidate Ronald Acuña, Jr. When Acuna went down, the Braves were given less than an 8 percent chance to make the playoffs, and they still had a losing record as late as August 4.

Some of their issues even seemed self-inflicted: When the front office traded for four outfielders, fans were left scratching their heads over why the Braves would add players like Eddie Rosario, who was injured, and Jorge Soler, who was experiencing a decidedly underwhelming season. Yet Rosario became the National League Championship Series MVP and Soler was the World Series MVP. It wasn’t just the addition of these players that made the Braves champions, it was determination.

When asked what kept him going and kept him believing that the team should and could pursue the title, Snitker answered

“Guys that are in baseball, it’s what we do. We fight through adversities, we grind…It’s what you do, it’s not who you are…. Probably you can’t envisualize [sic] doing anything else so you just keep fighting the fight and grinding through cause you never know. Like I said, all them [sic] people in the minor leagues, you never know what could happen. I mean, it happened to me, I got an opportunity… I was blessed enough to get an opportunity.”

That attitude seems to have spilled over to his players. Players like Freddie Freeman, the 2020 National League MVP, who made his major league debut with the Braves in 2010 and weathered the trying times of rebuilding years and heartbreaking losses to get to this point. Or players like relief pitcher Tyler Matzek, who was a first-round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies before getting the “yips,” struggling with anxiety, and then dropping out of the majors for five years before making a comeback with the Braves in 2020. Matzek completed his redemption arc by being a postseason hero for the Braves.

It isn’t just perseverance with the Braves, however. For many, it’s a trust in God’s plan that helped them keep seeing hope through the hard times.

Take, for example, Braves’ shortstop Dansby Swanson, who was drafted as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 MLB draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks yet found himself being traded to the Braves only months later. In an insightful interview after Game 4 of the World Series, Swanson said, “I’m just so thankful to be here. I really can’t say it enough. Getting traded over here, at the time I didn’t understand it. But God’s always got a plan and if I’ve learned one thing, it’s having faith in that plan will never fail you. It’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.”

After dealing with anxiety, Swanson turned to God, starting a Bible study with Braves chaplain Terry Evans. 

Upon winning the World Series, Swanson said, “The Good Lord, He’s blessed me so much, I wouldn’t be here without Him, just the peace that He gives me, is just…it’s remarkable. Especially in moments like this you can never go wrong trusting in that.”

That trust seems to be shared by Acuña as well. After tearing his ACL in July, ending his season, the phenom was forced to watch the World Series from the dugout. Rather than sulk, he was one of the team’s greatest cheerleaders. He said, “I feel like totally upset because I’m part of this team and I would love to be out there playing and giving my best and my 100 percent. But God’s time is perfect, and it’s my turn to be on the bench supporting my teammates.”

This team would not be denied, overcoming the collective feeling of doom that Atlanta sports teams and fans have come to expect in high-pressure situations as the “curse” crept up year after year to bite Georgia-based teams. After blowing a 3-1 lead in the National League Championship Series (NLCS) to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2020, the Braves went up 3-1 in the 2021 NLCS, then lost game 5, bringing up thoughts of, “Here we go again.” Yet they slammed that door shut. In the World Series the Braves took a 3-1 lead again before blowing a 4-0 lead in Game 5 against the Astros to set up Game 6. After a rocky start to Game 6, the team dominated Houston with a 7-0 victory. Finally, after all the heartbreak, all the mockery, the Braves firmly cemented their legacy as champions.

Their victory has led me to spend a lot of time over the last week reflecting on how God has always had a plan for my life. Sure, there have been times when circumstances were not pleasant, and everything looked bleak. Yet God has always been there for me and my family. Whether it was my dad’s battle with leukemia, losing a job, moving to a strange and new town, losing loved ones, God has always had a plan for me.

It was not long ago that I was working a job that I found very depressing, and I pleaded with God to make me a writer. Now, that is exactly what I get to do each day. 

Sometimes to get to where God wants to take you, you must go through trying times or lose out on what you thought you wanted. But as Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

That may be a World Series championship, a dream job, a spouse, or something else wonderful. It could be something much tougher, such as a lifelong illness, the loss of a loved one, or persecution. Whatever happens, however, we know that God is in control, He has a plan for our lives, and He is always taking us to wherever we are meant to go.