I Witnessed My First Championship Last Night

I Witnessed My First Championship Last Night

Last night's Atlanta United game will always live in my memory. Here's what I witnessed

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It was cold, rainy, and also COLD (if I didn't emphasize that enough already) in downtown Atlanta last night. Just from that short description, you could guess it was a pretty horrible night, but it could've been 30 degrees below freezing during a monsoon and it still would've been the greatest night of my entire lifetime. I got to experience the first championship won by my hometown of Atlanta in my lifetime.

For years now, the Atlanta sports teams have had a tendency to choke the biggest games of the season. The Super Bowl, National Championship, SEC Championship, World Series, the list goes on and on of the games Atlanta teams have lost in. I've watched most of those games and they were just gut-wrenching losses, most of them bringing tears to my eyes. A certain feeling of doubt of whether any Atlanta team could break the "Atlanta Sports Curse"crept into my mind leading up to Saturday's game with Atlanta United going up against Portland Timbers in the MLS Cup (The League Championship).

I wasn't even planning on going to the game. The least I would've done was go to Atlanta, go watch the game at a bar and join in the celebration if United pulled out the win. Then the morning of the game, I saw that ticket prices dropped, and since I had just gotten my paycheck, I figured "why not" and decided to splurge on tickets for a historic event. I was definitely paying for the experience if anything.

I made the drive to Mercedes Benz Stadium after I got off work and joined the crowd of Atlanta United fans in the line for the gate. I arrived before the gates were open, and that may have been the worst decision of my entire life as I stood in the cold wet rain for more than half an hour. It was the only unenjoyable part of this whole experience. Once I got inside the stadium and warmed up with some food and drink, excitement took over my body as kickoff fast approached.

I had bought standing room only tickets and all the standing room spaces were taken up with 30 minutes before kickoff. It was crazy packed inside the stadium as I searched for where I was about to stand for the game. After searching for what seemed like an eternity, I finally found a perfect spot to stand behind the supporters section. I did not move from this spot again in fear of losing my spot.

The pre-game festivities were incredible. They brought out huge cutouts of the MLS Cup trophy, along with a red carpet for the players to walk out on, and the actual trophy was placed in between the teams as they walked out onto the field. There was a lot of smoke and fireworks as the teams were introduced, followed by the seven-year-old kid actress Malea Emma killing her performance of the National Anthem (if you haven't seen it, go search it on YouTube, it's incredible). The crowd was now fired up and it was reaching a deafening pitch inside The Benz. Then nerves began to come back into my mind and surely many fans as the game kicked off.

The stadium was still loud and intense throughout the early parts of the game, with the supporters section singing their classic songs and screaming "ATLANTA" while the rest of the stadium followed with "UNITED". The crowd was on edge as chance-after-chance for United seemed to either be stopped by the Portland keeper or end up going wide of the goal. Finally, in the 39th minute, league MVP and goal-scoring phenomenon Josef Martinez put Atlanta up 1-0, and the crowd went absolutely bezerk. Streams of beer from many fans cups began to fly high into the air along with confetti and streamers as anticipation in many fans minds turned into pure excitement. It was quite honestly unexplainable how crazy this crowd got, especially for the next few minutes after the goal. An incredible save from United keeper Brad Guzan kept United's lead and the excitement in the crowd as the halftime whistle blew.

In my mind, I was ecstatic that United held the lead at the half, but the last few championships my teams have been a part of, I had seen them take a lead only to lose it in the second half. I kept thinking the same thing was going to happen in this game. As the second half began, I think many fans shared the same feeling I had as the crowd lost a bit of explosiveness that was seen in the first half. It didn't help that Portland began to move the ball well and found a couple of shots in the early stages of the half, but all attempts were saved by Guzan.

Atlanta United waited for their opportunity to score again, and it came in the 54th minute as United converted a free kick into a goal from Franco Escobar. If the first goal made the crowd go absolutely nuts, the second goal was that times a million. The crowd went insane after Escobar found the back of the net. You would've thought you were at a plane hangar with the noise that was in that building following that goal. The train whistle that typically follows a United goal continued to blare through The Benz as Portland kick the ball off again, and all doubt I had before was now gone, we were winning this game.

The next 35 minutes felt like an eternity as we waited for the final whistle but had some really cool moments. The PA announcer told the crowd that we had set the attendance record with 71,019 in attendance, followed by a huge roar from the crowd. A few minutes later, we all pulled out our phones and sang "We Ready" with our flashlights on (another thing that you must see if you haven't). The intensity in the fans had not gone away since the second goal and honestly didn't stop until the fans exited the stadium.

Then the moment came, the final whistle blew and I displayed every emotion possible. I was jumping up and down one minute, and the next I was leaning over the spot I was standing at, crying like a baby. It was so overwhelming and exciting at the same time, it was all fantastic. Many people wonder why people cry over sporting events as I did. I really hadn't known why this was the case until this moment. For once, I didn't care about what was going on in a seemingly messed up world, or what finals were going to kill my GPA this week. This championship made all the hardships of life feel a lot less terrible and brought joy to my life in a time when things always seem to go wrong, whether it be in school or in my personal/professional life. That made it overwhelming and why it brought the tears to my eyes to finally witness this indescribable sense of achievement.

I ended up killing my bank account with the tickets, food, and championship memorabilia I bought, which was pretty much all the items they were selling, but at the end of the day, it was all so worth it. If I had to replay this day and do it all over again, I would stand in that cold wet rain, become broke, and lose all of my voice for what I experienced last night. It was truly unforgettable and will live in my mind until the day I die. Now we need the Dawgs to do the same thing and I will truly feel pure bliss. That day is coming and I can't wait to go through the while excitement again.

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11 Things Fastpitch Softball Players Know To Be True

You'll never remember your Facebook password, but you'll remember softball cheers for the rest of your life.
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There comes a time in every little girl's life when she must come to terms with the fact that she will never play Major League Baseball. So, she turns to softball. From tee-ball to coach-pitch to travel ball, to playing on your school team, softball has played a crucial role in your life. It taught you the value of teamwork, the importance of sunscreen, and introduced you to your best friends. For former and current fastpitch players alike, these truths are universal.

1. The rays of a thousand suns couldn't even out your tan lines.

Tan arms and a V-neck tan line is the unofficial uniform of the softball player. Years after you stop playing softball, at 2 p.m. on the second Monday of every month when the sun is shining through your bathroom window at a 90-degree angle, you'll swear you can still see the slightest hint of a racerback tan line between your shoulders. Good luck finding a flattering sundress!

2. Pitchers are a different breed of human.

It's a tale as old as time: You saw that the pitchers got to skip all of the intense drills at practice so they can go off to the side with the catcher to chat and have a catch for an hour and you said, "I gotta get in on that." So, your dad paid for your pitching lessons, you mimicked Jennie Finch as best as you could, and three years later, you're contemplating changing your name just to forget about that time you spent as a pitcher. Successful pitchers must have no other interests, future career goals, or a family who loves them because pitching just destroys everything you believe in. If you do survive being a pitcher, congratulations, because you are now fully equipped with nerves of steel that will allow you to conquer the worst that life has to throw at you.

3. An 8 a.m. game on Sunday means you had a really bad Saturday.

Where is the most tranquil and somber place that people often go to on Sunday mornings to reflect on their wrongdoings? No, not church. It's the softball field. When you have to be at the field before the sun, you start thinking irrationally, like "Maybe if I used the Demarini instead of the Stealth in the third inning of the second game yesterday we would've only lost by six runs instead of seven which would have put us in the winner's bracket!" Have fun running a lap for every error you made the day before.

4. If the other team is wearing shorts, you know you're going to win.

There's just so much leg! Shorts and softball go together like ketchup and strawberry jelly, as in, that's what your knees are going to look like if you even attempt to slide wearing a pair of shorts. Don't even get me started on the tan line from mid thigh to mid shin. You know the one. This is the big leagues, ladies, put on some pants.

5. If you aren't dirty after a game, you didn't play hard enough.

If you don't come home from a tournament, look in the mirror, and go, "Wow I got a good tan today!" only to take a shower and find out that it was all just dirt, then you probably missed that slide sign from the third base coach when you were rounding second.

6. Cheers are a necessary evil.

Cheering in softball is like having a dead-end job that you hate; it's unfulfilling, robs you of your dignity, and tires you out, but you have to do it anyway. You'll never remember your Facebook password, your parents' anniversary, or that you left your laundry in the washer, but you'll remember softball cheers for the rest of your life. Unless, of course, you fall into the water and bump your little head like that damn froggy.

7. Pre-wrap is a hot commodity in the dugout.

"I'll trade you a bag of Ranch sunflower seeds for your light blue pre wrap."

"No way, I had to get my mom to drive me to three different Sports Authority's last night just to find this color!"

8. You may get along with other teams between games, but they are not your friends on the field.

It's perfectly normal to meet another player in line for the bathroom at a tournament, compliment her on her cheetah print hair ribbon, and then trash talk her on the field half an hour later. You can make it up to her by giving her a high five and a poignant smile in the handshake line after the game.

9. If you get hit by a pitch and there aren't lace marks in your skin, it's really just a waste of time.

You love being able to showcase your bruises at school on Monday when all of your non-softball friends ask, "Does it hurt to get hit with a fastball?" and you can coolly and calmly answer, "Nah." Bruises up your street cred, and lace marks are just bonus points. So, when you don't have any stitching embedded in your skin, you wish you could just have the chance to bat. Take your base.

10. When the bat meets the ball juuuuuust right, it is the most powerful feeling in the world.

Your dad was right when he told you to keep your head down when you swing. You always thought that the "sweet spot" of the bat was just a myth until you hit your first home run. The rush of adrenaline will make you feel so powerful that you'll try to see if you can pick up a car in the parking lot with your bare hands after the game, but you still can't.

11. You will always consider your team to be your best friends.

After spending every weekend together, you and your team create a bond so close that it borders on uncomfortable. You may take out your frustrations on each other from time to time like when someone steps on the freshly chalked line before the game, or when you all fight over the ball with the best, most prominent laces for your warm up toss. But at the end of the day, your team will always be the biggest bunch of weirdos you know, and that is irreplaceable.

Cover Image Credit: Art Mad

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Andy Ruiz Jr. May Not Look Like The Typical Boxer, But It Doesn't Make His Victory Any Less Deserved

Andy Ruiz Jr. just proved that dreams can come true.

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On June 1, boxing fans witnessed something special as Andy 'Destroyer' Ruiz Jr. defeated Anthony Joshua via TKO after going seven rounds in the ring at Madison Square Garden in New York City to become the first ever Mexican-American heavyweight champion of the world. Ruiz Jr. (33-1) was a heavy underdog (+1100) heading into the match-up with Joshua (22-1) but ultimately flipped the script to hand the British fighter his first professional loss ever. Surely the fight will go down as one of the greatest moments in sports history.

Some members of the media and fans have been quick to label the fight as a 'fluke' and 'rigged' which in the end is no surprise to me. That always happens in the sports world. Many did not believe we would get this result yet failed to remember the one rule of sports -- expect the unexpected. Over the past week, I've been coming to the defense of Ruiz Jr. in the wake of others choosing to call him a joke.

I was shocked and surprised to hear two of my favorite sports analysts, Stephen A. Smith and Shannon Sharpe, make fun of Ruiz Jr. and frame him as just a guy that looked like 'Butterbean.' When I viewed their tweets on social media it honestly made me upset. Sure, Ruiz Jr. may not have fit the mold of what a professional boxer should look like, but they simply should not have just judged a book by its cover.

Personally, I thought it was disrespectful for Smith and Sharpe to throw shade at Ruiz Jr. in the way they did. I felt like they should have done a better job of acknowledging the winner considering the result of the match. Yet choosing to bash someone because of their physical composition appeared like a low blow. The very foundation of sports allows people of all shapes, sizes, genders, races, and backgrounds to compete -- that's why most people follow them in the first place.

Smith was open behind his reasoning for his tweets in which I'd like to shed some light on. Smith was upset about how boxing time after time contains elements of corruption with fans having to wait years until promoters schedule big fights. He along with other followers of the sport were looking forward to the highly anticipated yet potential future match-up between Joshua and fellow heavyweight Deontay Wilder. Smith believes that by Ruiz Jr. beating Joshua it essentially diminished the chances of that fight ever happening with the same amount of buildup, but that still doesn't provide any excuse for mocking the new heavyweight champ.

Ruiz Jr. was there for a reason and ultimately seized the opportunity that was right in front of him -- that's not his fault for getting the job done. Just because someone doesn't look like the part doesn't mean they don't possess the same qualities and characteristics as their counterparts. The following pair of videos display the amount of talent Ruiz Jr. does have in the ring. Even fellow boxer Canelo Alvarez and former UFC lightweight/featherweight champion Conor McGregor acknowledge that and have come out to say something on their behalf.

Unfortunately, I don't expect much to change because most will stand their ground and continue to behave the same way. All I'm saying is I did not enjoy some of the top figures within sports media stereotyping Ruiz Jr. based on his looks. I would think that we would be better than that and recognize that anyone can accomplish something great in this world. It all just starts with a simple dream.

I understand and respect other people's takes on this subject, maybe I'm looking into things deeper than what they are, but it struck a chord with me and I felt the need to say something about it.

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