Funny how fate plays a part in life, especially with baseball.
In 1994, the Dodgers were destined to host the Braves for a series over Labor Day Weekend, but on August 12 that year, the season was canceled and that weekend series never took place, putting my first Braves game on hold - one that would have happened on my birthday.
The next summer, on a family vacation through Northern California, we stopped in San Francisco for the night. My mother, a baseball fan herself, asked me to see if the Giants were in town and who they were playing. To my surprise, they were in town, and hosting Greg Maddux and the Atlanta Braves.
I can vividly recall that game. Sitting in the upper reserve seats well above the third-base line, wearing my Braves sweatshirt, the only Braves gear I had at that time, and chopping as loud as I could as the Braves won 5-1.
I've seen the Braves as often as possible over the years, catching them in Los Angeles nearly every year since 2002, as well as their two ventures down the I-5 from Dodger Stadium to Angel Stadium, and even further down at Petco Park.
Last summer, I planned a trip to Chicago, wrapping the trip around a cousin's wedding in Wisconsin. Luckily, both teams were in town, as the White Sox hosted the Rangers, but where fate really played in was when I looked at the Cubs schedule - they were hosting the Braves the day my brother and I got back to Chicago.
How could that have worked out any better? Seeing the Braves at one of America's most iconic ballparks, Wrigley Field.
This season, I've made sure I have caught the Braves as often as possible.
In April, the Braves visiting the Dodgers, and Chipper Jones celebrated his 40th birthday in prime fashion, hitting a home run and playing a key part in each of the Braves two wins that series.
With the club visiting Fenway Park in June, I knew I could not pass up another iconic ballpark, especially in a city the Braves franchise began.
In August, with my birthday nearing and the Braves visiting both San Francisco and San Diego in the span of a week, I made arrangements to see the club at least once in each city, with the Braves winning both games I attended.
It has been a memorable summer for me. Not only have I seen the Braves seven times in four different cities, I've also stepped foot into Cooperstown and gotten to kiss the Stanley Cup after the Los Angeles Kings victory.
But this upcoming weekend, while it may bring tears to my eyes as I type, is one I will long remember for years to come.
As we all know, Chipper is set to retire at the end of the season, whenever that may come. Earlier this summer, I pushed away the thought I would be able to afford this weekend, knowing after taking 10 days off to volunteer at the Little League Western Region Tournament and an 8 day drip in June, it would be very difficult.
But with the help of a few people, most notably my father and one Braves season ticket holder, they have helped make my second journey to Atlanta possible.
Leading up to this weekend, I couldn't help but realize how lucky I've been as a Braves fan. That first game in 1995 was the year the Braves won the World Series.
This year, seeing Chipper Jones play on his 40th birthday, in Los Angeles, as well as at Fenway Park, have been more than memorable.
But when this weekend is over, I will have seen 10 Braves games in #10's final season, a fateful number for a fan like myself who does not look into things too often.
Yet fate has played a role again.
There have been many people who have been along on the journey I've taken this summer, including family, friends and those I've met along the way with whom I've created a connection with, whether it be in Boston, New York or San Francisco.
And now, my journey leads me to Atlanta, my baseball mecca. My Graceland.
Many nights I've watch the Braves play under the lights of Turner Field, and dreamed of sitting in the seats, chopping along with the Braves faithful and cheering the Braves to victory.
Tonight, Friday night, I get that chance. I get the chance to start a "Let's Go Braves" chant. I get a chance to join in one of the loudest chops I will ever be a part of, with tears flowing, as the Braves honor Chipper Jones.
It has been a memorable ride for Chipper and the Braves this year, and I've down my part to be there every step of the way I could afford.
Baseball has been more than just a game for me, it is a sport fully integrated in my life. Growing up, I heard stories of the greats like Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggion, Mickey Mantle and the Babe himself.
My eyes and ears have been on baseball since I could remember, enjoying greats such as Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.
Now, with my own two eyes, I get to witness Chipper Jones play at Turner Field.
In 2010, when I visited Atlanta for Bobby Cox's final series, Chipper had been sidelined with a torn ligament in his knee, and i was left to wait for another chance to see him play under the lights at home.
The memories I've created this summer will last me more than a lifetime. It is a summer I will never forget. To this point, I've seen 24 games in 7 different cities, including Los Angeles and Anaheim, Boston, New York (Yankees), Philadelphia, San Francisco and San Diego.
Don't forget that when volunteering at the Little League Western Region tournament, the last step before the young men head to Williamsport, I took in 30 of the 32 games, watching those young men play with a passion for the game I could not help but embrace.
And now, Atlanta for three.
I look forward to forging friendships and creating more memories that will not soon be forgotten.
I thank the ones who have helped me along my journey and those I've met along the way.
I'll never forget those who have helped my passion for baseball along the way.
--Thank you, and Go Braves!