World Series: How an Ice Cream Machine Changed Atlanta’s Season

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ATLANTA – The Atlanta Braves are making their first World Series appearance since 1999 due to multi-role star players, underrated pitching staff, and astute midsummer moves by the front office.

Inside the clubhouse, however, players also point the finger at a secret weapon. He doesn’t play, throw or hit, but he’s delivered time and time again. Atlanta’s game changer in 2021? A soft ice cream machine.

“When they brought this to the clubhouse, it was like magic,” infielder Johan Camargo said. Star reliever Tyler Matzek added: “It’s just something that we’ve kind of rallied around.”

The story of how a frozen treat invigorated a team that was treading water at the start of the season begins in Boston in late May. Atlanta was visiting Fenway Park when, in a 9-5 loss to the Red Sox, the team suffered a rain delay that lasted nearly three hours.

“We didn’t resume the game until midnight,” said Matzek. “There was no one in the stands. It was absolutely raining. We were like, ‘Oh, well, there’s nothing to do, so let’s have some ice cream.’ “

The pantry at the Fenway Visitor’s Lodge features a soft serve ice cream maker. For reliever Josh Tomlin, it brought back memories of trips to Dairy Queen with his father while growing up in Texas.

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

The 162-game baseball season, not counting the playoffs, is extremely long. Players often seek out little pleasures to break up the monotony: drinks on the team’s plane, a silly song to rally, or even a rare home-cooked meal. And who doesn’t like ice cream?

So soon after returning to Atlanta, Matzek said that he and his teammates started teasing Calvin Minasian, who oversees the Truist Park clubhouse, that his Boston counterpart was better at his job. Why had Minasian not, they needled, bought them a soft serve ice cream maker?

Minasian knew he couldn’t control such a device without permission. Tomlin, 37, said the players discussed and tasked star first baseman Freddie Freeman, 32, longtime team leader and reigning National League MVP of 2020, to wear their case before the general manager Alex Anthopoulos.

Anthopoulos said his first reaction was a reluctance, jokingly accompanying him. “We’re going to have all these guys crushing ice cream and, oh man, they’re all going to be 400 pounds,” he said to himself. But when Anthopoulos saw that the players weren’t kidding, he approved his first purchase of an ice cream machine in his 10 years as general manager.

“I see this relationship as a partnership,” Anthopoulos said. “We are no one’s parents. So I can joke about stuff like that, but these guys are grown men. They are responsible. Freddie, in particular, takes great care of himself. But it’s something they really wanted. And it’s a two-way street, right? We ask these guys all the time as a club, “Can you help us with that?” Or “Can you help us with that?” “”

Requests can range from attending charity and marketing events to help checking out potential additions to the list. A week before Atlanta traded for Cleveland outfielder Eddie Rosario, for example, Anthopoulos called out infielder Ehire Adrianza, a former Rosario teammate in Minnesota, for his point of view. Rosario has since become an October star.

“If they’re convinced of something, within reason of course, then of course,” Anthopoulos said, although he joked that “if they said,” Hey, we want five ice cream machines, a cotton candy machine and we want this and that, “of course not.”

The players said they understood the limitations.

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

The machine arrived in the second week of June, when the team was five games away from a season low under 0.500. When Anthopoulos finally saw him, he took a picture and texted it to Freeman, who replied: “2-0 !!!” The team, Freeman said, had won back-to-back games since the machine was turned on.

The joke between the CEO and the star quickly turned into a running joke. “We’ll be a softball team soon enough,” Anthopoulos said at one point. “Everything to win the East !!!” Freeman responded, referring to the division of the team.

Days later, Freeman texted Anthopoulos to tell him they were now 3-1 with ice cream. He also sent a photo of himself drinking from a cup. Anthopoulos then joked with Freeman that he would have a machine installed in Freeman’s house if the team won their division.

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

On September 30, Atlanta won its fourth straight divisional title, overcoming injuries from star players such as outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. and covering a 56-37 stretch fueled, at least in part, by hard-hit balls and knockouts. gentle pull-ups. Freeman also started the season slow but finished with an average of .300 and 31 home runs after a summer tear that also coincided with the arrival of some dessert.

(Freeman has so far refused to collect Anthopoulos ‘offer of a personal machine for two reasons: “I watch how the clubhouse bosses clean it up and I’m like,’ I’m fine, man. And “I don’t I don’t need my son to shoot just for ice cream.”)

Now essential in a clubhouse, the machine has been at the heart of a season full of good memories. Freeman’s eldest son Charlie, 5, and Tomlin have a tradition that began soon after he arrived: After every home win, Tomlin gives Charlie a small cup of ice cream with nuggets, which Charlie only takes a mouthful. The children of several other players also enter the clubhouse after home wins to enjoy the same treat.

Before every home game, Camargo, 27, said he used a little “to get a taste”. Another playoff star Matzek loves to make root beer floats. Everyone enjoyed the ice cream, even Anthopoulos and his son, and, of course, Freeman.

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

Although the Braves’ machine has only one flavor (vanilla), Tomlin praised Minasian for building a sundae bar: chocolate and caramel sauces, nuggets and small plastic bowls in the shape of a helmets.

“It’s just a cool little something to take your mind off,” he said. “Just go over there and grab your ice cream cone and you’re a kid again.”

The legend of the machine grows as the team changes seasons. The Braves didn’t look like a playoff contender when the sweet serve arrived and now they’re in the World Series. Matzek said: “I just know we have an ice cream machine and we started to play better.”

“You obviously need good players,” Anthopoulos said, “but I think you should have an environment where people are happy to come to work every day, whether you’re a baseball player or an executive in an office. . “

With three more wins over Houston, Atlanta would be celebrating its first title since 1995. If that happens, the champagne, beer and, yes, soft serve will flow.

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