World Series: How an ice machine turned the season in Atlanta

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ATLANTA – The Atlanta Braves have made their first World Series appearance since 1999 due to star players in multiple positions, an underrated pitching team, and clever midsummer moves at the front office.

In the clubhouse, however, the players also point out a secret weapon. It doesn’t play, throw or hit, but it has delivered over and over again. Atlanta’s game changer in 2021? A soft ice cream machine.

“When they brought this to the clubhouse, it was like magic,” said infielder Johan Camargo. The star relief Tyler Matzek added, “It’s just something that we have gathered around.”

The story of how a frozen treat enlivened a team that stood idle early in the season begins in Boston in late May. Atlanta visited Fenway Park when the team suffered a rain delay of nearly three hours during a 9-5 loss to the Red Sox.

“We didn’t restart the game until midnight,” said Matzek. “There was nobody in the stands. It totally poured down. We said, ‘Oh, well, there’s nothing to do, so let’s have some ice cream.’ “

The pantry at the Fenway Visitors Clubhouse has a soft ice cream maker. For emergency helper Josh Tomlin, memories of trips to Dairy Queen with his father came back to growing up in Texas.

“It was perfect,” he said. “It had a little chocolate side and a vanilla side and a swirl in the middle.”

The baseball season with 162 games, excluding the playoffs, is painfully long. Players often look for little joys to break the monotony: drinks on the team plane, a silly song to collect, even a rare homemade meal. And who doesn’t like ice cream?

So soon after returning to Atlanta, Matzek said he and his teammates had started teasing Calvin Minasian, who oversees the Truist Park clubhouse, that his Boston counterpart was better at his job. Why hadn’t Minasian got them a soft ice cream machine?

Minasian knew that he could not order such a device without permission. Tomlin, 37, said the players had things discussed and hired star-first baseman Freddie Freeman, 32, the team’s longtime leader and reigning 2020 National League Most Valuable Player, to take their case to general manager Alex Anthopoulos .

Anthopoulos said his first reaction was a joking reluctance to participate. “We’re going to have all of these guys chop up ice cream and, oh man, they’re all going to weigh 400 pounds,” he told himself. But when Anthopoulos saw the players weren’t kidding, he approved his first ice cream machine purchase in his 10 years as GM

“I see this relationship as a partnership,” said Anthopoulos. “We’re not anyone’s parents. So I can joke about that sort of thing, but these guys are grown men. You are responsible. Freddie, in particular, takes very good care of himself. But it’s something they really wanted. And it’s a one-way street, isn’t it? We keep asking these guys as a club about things, ‘Can you help us with this?’ or ‘Can you help us with that?’ “

Inquiries can range from attending charity and marketing events to assisting potential veterinarian roster additions. For example, a week before Atlanta was swapped for Cleveland outfielder Eddie Rosario, Anthopoulos called infielder Ehire Adrianza, a former teammate of Rosario in Minnesota, for his perspective. Rosario has since blossomed into an October star.

“If something is very important to them, within reasonable limits of course, then certainly,” said Anthopoulos, although he joked, “when they said, ‘Hey, we want five ice cream machines, one cotton candy machine and we want this and that.’ of course not.”

The players said they understood the limits.

“Everyone thinks we eat chicken breasts and vegetables every single second of the day,” said Matzek. “I mean we do. We have to take care of our bodies. But everyone loves ice cream. “

The machine arrived in the second week of June when the team hit a season low of five games below 0.500. When Anthopoulos finally saw it, he took a picture and sent it to Freeman, who replied, “2-0 !!!” The team, Freeman said, had won games in a row since the machine was switched on.

The banter between the GM and the star soon turned into a running joke. “We’ll soon be a softball team,” wrote Anthopoulos at one point. “Everything to win the East !!!” Freeman replied, referring to the division of the team.

A few days later, Freeman texted Anthopoulos to let him know that they were now 3-1 with the ice. He also sent a photo of himself enjoying a cup of it. Anthopoulos later joked with Freeman that he would have a machine installed in Freeman’s house if the team won his division.

“If you told me that I had to spend my own money to buy an ice machine to win NL Ost, I would,” said Anthopoulos.

On September 30, Atlanta clinched its fourth straight league title, overcame injuries to star players like outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., and finished a 56-37 stretch fueled at least in part by hard balls and soft serves. Freeman also started the season slowly but ended with an average of .300 and 31 home runs after a summer crack that also coincided with the arrival of a specific dessert.

(Freeman has so far declined to accept Anthopoulos’ offer of a personal machine for two reasons: “I watch the cooks in the clubhouse clean it and I think, ‘I’m fine man'” and “I don, I need not that my son just shuts down for ice cream. “)

Today the machine is a popular clubhouse device and the heart of a season full of fond memories. Freeman’s eldest son Charlie, 5, and Tomlin have a tradition that began shortly after they arrived: after every home win, Tomlin gives Charlie a small cup of ice cream with sprinkles that Charlie only takes one bite of. The children of some other players also come to the clubhouse after home wins to enjoy the same delicacy.

Camargo, 27, said before every home game that he used a little “to get a foretaste”. Another standout this postseason, Matzek loves making root beer floats. Everyone enjoyed the ice cream, even Anthopoulos and his son and of course Freeman.

“You see Freddie over there, cross-legged at his locker before a game, nibbling on an ice cream cone, and it’s funny,” said Tomlin. “This guy’s one of the best baseball players in the world and he’s having an ice cream cone there.”

Although the Braves machine only has one flavor (vanilla), Tomlin praised Minasian for making an ice cream sundae: chocolate and caramel sauces, sprinkles and small plastic bowls in the shape of a helmet.

“It’s just a cool little thing to distract yourself from something else,” he said. “Just go in there and get your ice cream and you’re a kid again.”

The legend of the machine grew as the team turned its season around. The Braves didn’t look like a playoff contender when the soft serve came and now they’re in the World Series. Matzek said, “All I know is that we have an ice machine and have started to play better.”

“You need good players, of course,” said Anthopoulos, “but I think you should have an environment where people enjoy coming to work every day, whether you’re a baseball player or an office manager.”

With three more wins against Houston, Atlanta would celebrate its first title since 1995. When that happens, champagne, beer and, yes, the soft serve will flow.

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