By IAN WILSON
It seemed an unlikely end to the season for both Mike Soroka and the Atlanta Braves.
It felt on some days like the player and the team were stuck in Mudville.
When the Calgary pitcher underwent season-ending surgery back in June – after re-injuring his repaired Achilles tendon – and star slugger Ronald Acuna was felled by injury in July, the postseason prospects of the Braves looked dismal. There was no joy in Atlanta.
But that’s the thing about comeback stories … the situation has to look bleak before any steps are taken on the road to redemption. The team’s recovery began with internal validation and continued with some savvy moves by Canadian Alex Anthopoulos, Atlanta’s president of baseball operations.
The end result was an unexpected (or at least an outcome unforeseen by those outside of the clubhouse at Truist Park) World Series victory for the Braves over the Houston Astros.
It was a win that made baseball fans in Alberta thrilled for two of their own – assistant athletic trainer Mike Frostad, of Medicine Hat, and Soroka, who learned the ropes from Jim Lawson and former Braves reliever Chris Reitsma through the Calgary Redbirds program.
“This team just pulled together and somehow even with only 88 wins in the regular season, we just gelled at the right time and we were underdogs for the entire postseason … I think that helped us out a lot. Just not having to live up to those expectations because we were not supposed to do this,” Frostad told Medicine Hat News reporter James Tubb.
“There’s a lot of Blue Jays fans in Medicine Hat but we’re hoping to turn them into Braves fans.”
FRONT ROW SEATS
Soroka, meanwhile, was excited to be along for the ride with his teammates. He was unable to travel with the Braves during their 2020 postseason run because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I got left out of the bubble last year, that was pretty tough watching from home. It’s not easy, you know, you want to be with the guys, you want to be out there and competing … to be here and be a part of it is pretty awesome and I’m very thankful for that,” Soroka said on the MLB Network’s Intentional Talk ahead of Game 5 on Halloween.
The righthander also discussed his injury with show hosts Stephen Nelson and Kevin Millar.
“It’s never easy. We all go through things in our careers and you all expect for things to happen. As a pitcher in today’s day and age, you’re almost prepared to handle Tommy John (surgery) … it’s almost bound to happen now at some point,” said the 28th overall pick of the Braves from the 2015 MLB Draft.
“For it to happen twice, you don’t prepare to deal with the failure that comes with that. That was tough for a minute, but you know, you get through it. You find that you still love to do it, you still love to compete and I feel like this rehab actually meshes pretty well with my personality. It’s kind of a meathead workout every day, I get to do calf raises all day … it’s just putting one foot in front of the other literally every day and seeing where we go. It’s exciting to see this and understand that Ronald’s kind of in a similar situation, too, so I get to share that with him and hopefully we’re both back here this time next year.”
Always a student of the game, Soroka took the opportunity to learn from his surroundings, which included an unfamiliar stop during the World Series.
“They sent me out to the bullpen and it’s been awesome to see because I’ve never been in there in my life, really. I’ve never had to do that and got to hang out with those guys during the game and see how they operate and how they’re literally handing it off, one guy after another. It’s been special and it really carried this team through the playoffs,” he told Nelson and Millar.
After the Braves clinched the championship with a 7-0 triumph in Game 6, the Bishop Carroll High School graduate could not keep the smile off his face.
“It’s not an opportunity you get very often,” Soroka said to Bally Sports reporter Kelly Crull.
“It’s something that, you know, I don’t think really hit me until the sixth inning and you start counting the outs. You start looking at the smiles around the bullpen. You’re thankful that you’re here because you know really the only other championship story that I have is with the Rome Braves (Single-A affiliate that won the South Atlantic League title in 2016). To be able to do it with the real Braves, I mean, it’s something else.”
Not surprisingly, Soroka was already looking ahead to the 2022 season and the prospect of back-to-back titles.
“Next year is going to be amazing. I can’t wait to be back on the mound,” he said.
“We’ve got to do it again. It’s the same thing I got told after one good season: ‘Anybody can do it once.’ We want to be right back here next year and I know for a lot of these guys they’re going to enjoy it tonight but a couple of us have been thinking about next year since June, so I can’t wait and Braves country should be very, very excited. I hope Braves country parties real hard tonight … I hope they enjoy it, they deserve it.”
PLAN THE PARADE
The hard partying was just getting started.
“We had a pretty good celebration following the win back at the hotel and then jumped on the plane the next day to come back here (Atlanta) and had a great reception at the airport from some Delta employees … it’s been non-stop,” Frostad told the Medicine Hat News.
The entourage kept moving on Friday, Nov. 5th as they boarded double-decker buses that took them past Atlanta’s Hank Aaron statue and along Peachtree Street, with a final destination of Truist Park. As many as 400,000 fans crowded the streets to see baseball’s best team celebrate.
For his part, Soroka perched on the top deck of one of the buses, Commissioner’s Trophy in hand, as the bus cruised along at 55 miles-per-hour on Georgia’s Interstate 75 highway.
Bally Sports analyst Nick Green caught up with a beaming Soroka during the festivities to ask him about his impressions of the World Series win, the parade and the reaction of the crowd along the way.
“That was incredible … see everybody out there, see all the kids out there, they got the day off school, a lot of them. I mean it was incredible to see that support because even though at a baseball game you get 45,000 people out there it’s not the same,” said the Calgarian.
“It’s something that you’ve got to cherish … you can go a whole career with maybe never experiencing that. Even though it’s not exactly how you envision it, obviously I wanted to be out there (playing) … it was just something that I’m going to remember forever.”
Added Soroka about his teammates: “It was pretty incredible to watch it come together, especially from a distance. I didn’t get to travel with them most of the year and we get to see, at parts in June and July it was kind of slow. We all saw it, we all felt it, we all didn’t know exactly what was wrong per se and then eventually something clicked and I’m just so proud to be able to be a part of it. I think it’s really exciting because I think this could be a good thing for a long time.”
It was nice to see the two Mikes from Alberta enjoying the moments that emerged from the World Series. Bravo to this Braves team – we cannot wait for the encore!