ATLANTA -- The giant billboard just off the northbound Connector, a six-lane mega highway that courses through downtown Atlanta, speaks volumes about the state of this city with just one sentence and one symbol.
The sentence: "Atlanta Will Never Be A Baseball Town." And the symbol: a huge tomahawk perched directly in the middle of the sentence, making it out to be a lie.
For yes, this genteel Southern city resting in the midst of the Confederacy has gone slightly daft over its Braves, who bring their improbable road show home for the middle three games of the National League Championship Series, beginning tomorrow afternoon.
The Braves, who, at this time last season, had a record worse than the Orioles, became the first National League team to go from the cellar to the penthouse in successive seasons, and they have taken this championship-starved town on a delirious ride.
The three network television affiliates dispatched huge news crews to Pittsburgh to watch the teams split the first two games of the series, and all are doing battle to see which one can root longest and loudest.
In fact, most of the newscasts are occupied by all manner of Braves news, no matter how obscure, making one wonder if there isn't any crime occurring during this run.
Fortunately, the police say that even the criminals have taken time out to watch.
About 3,000 people waited in line outside Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for 36 hours the last two days for a chance at a few remaining tickets for this weekend's games.
A large bulk of them were disappointed when about 500 fans made a run at the stadium box office yesterday morning, just hours before the tickets were to be sold.
Now, surely, this kind of mania has swept a city on the throes of victory before. Didn't Baltimore go slightly gaga when the Orioles took any one of their three World Series over the last 25 years?
Yes, but there are clear differences between Baltimore and Atlanta. The Orioles, and, in distant years, the Colts and Bullets, have given the city a tradition of success to build upon.
The Braves, Hawks and Falcons, on the other hand, have mostly stumbled, bumbled and fumbled their way along, with sporadic flashes of brilliance amongst the incompetence.
No, the Braves, and their stirring second-half charge to the National League West title over the heavily favored Los Angeles Dodgers, have made this moment an extra special one for Atlanta.
That and the tomahawk.
There is no escaping this hatchet-like device that adorns the Braves uniforms and has become the symbol of their rise.
There are tomahawk earrings and tomahawk nail polishes. A giant inflated tomahawk rides atop one of the city's tallest buildings, and a taxi company has put tomahawks on all of their cabs.
And, of course, there's the tomahawk chop, a gesture that looks like a football referee signaling a first down and directly stolen from the Florida State Seminoles, but, for now, the entree to Atlanta society.
In the middle of last night's sparsely attended Hawks-Dallas Mavericks exhibition game, the crowd spontaneously erupted into the chop, and as the game wore down, a fan yelled at the officials, "Would you please stop calling fouls so we can get home and watch the Braves?"
And so they did.