I was a big New York Yankees fan growing up. I know, I know but they were the team of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and I had read both their biographies - remember how Lou Gehrig's family ate pickled eels all the time? - and watched the "Pride of the Yankees" about a dozen times. And then there was that terribly inaccurate Babe Ruth movie starring William Bendix.

And when I first discovered baseball the Yankees were on television every Saturday and Sunday - no weeknight games in the '50s, understand - and Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford were my heroes. I used to paint pinstripes on my T-shirts, and I cried like a baby when Bill Mazeroski hit that solo shot in the bottom of the ninth to doom my Bronx Bombers to defeat in the seventh game of the 1960 World Series.

The Milwaukee Braves' move to Atlanta coincided with a brief decline in the Yankee dynasty and slowly my allegiance shifted to the new home team. I was in the stands at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for that first exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers. Big Ed Hertwig took his son, Craig, and me and let us wait outside the Braves clubhouse for nearly an hour after the game to get autographs from Eddie Matthews, Frank Boling and Wade Blasingame - and "The Beeg Boy," Rico Carty.

Hank Aaron slipped out the back door, I guess, because we never saw the man who would be home-run king, but his brother, Tommy, did come out and sign our scorecard. I was also in the stands for the last game played in the old ballpark. This was a World Series game, of course. Ironically, the opponents were the New York Yankees - the heroes of my youth.

In between that first game and the last, I saw a lot of baseball and for many, many years it was mostly bad baseball. Didn't matter to me. Going to a baseball game was always a treat. I was in the house the night Rick Camp hit his only big-league home run, and I was there the night Mike Lum became the only Hawaiian major leaguer to hit three homers in one game.

I remember Orlando Cepeda, Hoyt Wilhelm and Gaylord Perry, as well as Bob Horner, Dale Murphy and "Young Bob" Didier and the big mitt. I also saw the Great Karl Wallenda walk across the stadium on a high wire and remember when the club had to offer free spaghetti dinners and Beach Boys concerts to get people to come out to the ballpark on Sunday afternoons. And I remember walking up to the ticket window and buying a seat right behind the dugout on game day.

Though there were occasional flashes of brilliance (I sprained my ankle jumping onto the field to celebrate the 1969 division pennant), but being a Braves fan mostly brought heartache and disappointment because, as I said, they played a lot of bad to mediocre baseball.

Every now and then the Braves would string a few wins together and I would allow myself to become encouraged about the team's chances. This happened quite frequently during the early '80s, when I was coaching at Clarkston High School with a great guy named Mike Chonko. We lost Mike last winter.

Chonko was skeptical - at least where the Braves were concerned - and whenever I would show the least bit of optimism about the way the Braves were playing at a particular time, he would shake his head and dismiss their chances with the terse comment, "Same old Braves!"

More often than not, Chonko was right.

Then in 1991 a great transformation occurred and the Bravos went from worst to first - and have stayed there! Think about it. Thousands of teenagers across the South can't remember the last time the Braves didn't win their division.

And lately we have become quite jaded about the team's incredible success. Their string of 13 straight division titles is unprecedented in all of sport's history, and every year naysayers predict a return to mediocrity for the team. And the only person I know who has more critics than manager Bobby Cox is George W. Bush - or maybe me.

2005? No way the Braves would win this year. Too many people gone. Too many injuries. Not enough hitting. Too many young players. This would definitely be a rebuilding year. And they did fall behind in the early going - just like last year.

But Tuesday, the surprising Washington Nationals came to town. The Braves, of course, had been chasing the Nats all summer. Three games and three one-run Braves wins later, look who was sitting on top of the division with a three game lead.

Same old Braves, y'all. Same old Braves.

I just wish Chonko were still around to hear me say it.

Darrell Huckaby is a Newton County native and the author of six books. He lives in Rockdale County where he teaches high school history. E-mail him at DHuck08@bellsouth.net .