Smoltz is hurt; Skip is dead; and the Atlanta Braves are essentially out of contention early. Trading Mark Teixeira was the baseball equivalent to raising the white flag of surrender.

A team that looked promising coming out of spring training has had more doctor appointments than a typical retirement community. It has been a disappointing season — with multiple one-run losses and few bright spots.

A sharp rookie pitcher, a sweet-swinging catcher and a hobbling third-baseman with a chance at a batting title are about it.

So what am I doing on a Saturday night when an NFL exhibition game and the Summer Olympics are being televised? Yep, watching the Braves play the Arizona Diamondbacks.
(OK, I checked out the Falcons’ rookie quarterback and beach volleyball during commercials.)

Why? (Not why do I watch women’s beach volleyball, but why do I still watch the Braves when the season is in the tank?)

Loyalty. That’s also why I’ll be at Turner Field next Thursday night.

As columnist George Will wrote in his book Bunt: “If you can’t enjoy the game unless you’re pretty sure your team is going to win, baseball is not the game for you. Remember, the best team in baseball is going to be beaten about 70 times (a season).”

Sure, the great years of pennant races and perennial post seasons were more fun. But now the cheering is left to the real fans — those who showed up before the magic of ’91 and will be there in Sept. 2008.

Like George Will also noted: “…Baseball is a pretty sight and a nice experience, win or lose, particularly if it is watched in a nice park.”

Braves, you can count on me to the bitter end. Go Chipper!

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