AMID ALL THE NOISE, AVERY BEARS BURDEN

ATLANTA — 1. Chase girls.

2. Sleep through class.

3. Watch “The Three Stooges.”

I don’t know about you, but that’s about all I did when I was 21 years old. I certainly wasn’t trying to save the world. I know I wasn’t trying to save the World Series. And I definitely never worried that, if I screwed up, about four million people would blame me by name when they called in sick the next morning. That’s a little heavy for a 21-year-old. But that’s the burden laid on the young shoulders of Steve (Can I See Some ID, Son?) Avery, the wunderkind pitcher who, in the frantic hours here leading up to Tuesday night, became about five Rhett Butlers and six Robert E. Lees rolled into one.

“A-VER-Y! A-VER-Y!” the fans screamed — that is, when they weren’t busy beating on drums or throwing up on each other. The pitcher’s mound can be a lonely place, but on the night of the first World Series game in the history of Atlanta, a city that has gone over the edge, I assure you, the pitcher’s mound was the safest place to be.

And I speak from experience. Three hours before the game, I was nearly crushed when I got between a group of protesting American Indians and some local rednecks, who were actually swinging tomahawks when they told the Indians to “Go back to India!”

You gotta love the South. Outside: Chant versus chant

Of course, the protest was over the tomahawks and the face-painting and even the name of the team, the Braves, all of which some Native Americans take as a slap to their culture and heritage. As one of the Indian leaders, a heavyset, pony- tailed fellow named Wabun-Inina told the crowd, “How would you like it if the team were called the Atlanta Negroes, or the Atlanta Jews?”

This didn’t go over too well with the local folk, some of whom were pot-bellied, holding a beer, and wearing T-shirts that read “Party ‘Till You Puke.”

“We are asking you to respect our culture!” Wabun said over the microphone.

“SCREW CULTURE!” the fans yelled.

Pretty soon, the Braves fans began that annoying war chant, and then the Indians started their own chant, an authentic one, and then the local radio stations began broadcasting only 50 feet away, so we had a real symphony going here:

“AHHHH-AH-AH-AH-AH-AH,” sang Braves fans.

“AHH-AHH-AH-OO-AH-OHH” sang the real Indians.

“WE PLAY THE HITS!” said the radio guy.

Later, after a near-riot broke out, Mr. Wabun-Inina shook his head and mumbled to me, “We must remember that some of these people are not far removed from the morons who came over from Europe two centuries ago and stole our land. Most of them were in penal colonies over there, you know.”

I figured it was time to get inside.

Inside: Whoops and hollers

Not that inside was any better. The Atlanta fans — who after years of ignoring this team have suddenly gotten so involved they actually give up BMW shopping night to attend the games — were lit up like a sparkler for their first World Series night. They roared when their team was introduced. And they booed lustily at the Minnesota Twins, and sang “CHEATER! CHEATER!” when Kent Hrbek stepped to the plate. CBS was showing a feature it filmed at Steve Avery’s house the day before (Steve eats lunch, Steve smiles at family) while trying to locate Ted Turner and Jane Fonda in the stands.

If all this sounds like a circus, that’s because the World Series is exactly that. I realize some baseball writers — like our own John (Let’s Play Two) Lowe, who is the nicest guy I know not in the clergy — get to the ballpark four hours before the grounds crew so they can soak in “atmosphere” and tell us how the game is a “pastoral chess board of Americana.”

I never bought it. For all the fuss, baseball is still one guy trying to smoke a pitch past another guy’s groin, while the other guy tries to make him pay.

Which brings us back to Avery, who wound up throwing another hell of a ball game. Eight innings, only two runs allowed. I still can’t believe a 21-year-old can carry that kind of pressure on his shoulders, although we must remember that Avery, after the Braves won the pennant, carried teammate Deion Sanders on his shoulders out to the field, and Deion weighs a lot, what with all the jewelry.

Anyhow, Avery left to a standing ovation and a salute from relief pitcher Alejandro Pena. Unfortunately, the next batter, Chili Davis, smacked Pena’s pitch halfway to Savannah, and the game was tied, 4-4. And though they were still playing when I filed this column, there was a chance that Atlanta’s big party would fizzle before it ever started. I’ll tell you this much: There were a few Indians outside who didn’t care a bit.

TOMORROW: GAME 4, OR THE END?

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