By Mike RuffinAs I write these words about a week before you’re reading them, the Atlanta Braves are seven and a half games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies in the battle for the National League Eastern Division pennant. The Braves’ magic number (the combination of Braves’ wins and Phillies’ losses that would give the Braves the championship) is 10. The last time the Braves won their division was 2013. They’ve been in rebuilding mode since then. The conventional wisdom going into this season was that the team was at least another year away from being serious contenders. My expert opinion was that if everything went just right, the Braves might win close to half their games. The conventional wisdom was wrong. So was I.Veteran players like Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis have had outstanding seasons. Youngsters like Ronald AcuÃ±a, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Johan Camargo have contributed greatly. By the way, if AcuÃ±a doesn’t win the National League’s Rookie of the Year award, they should do away with it. While I’m on the subject of awards, I’d say the same thing about the Manager of the Year award if Brian Snitker doesn’t win it. It’s been a long time since the Braves played meaningful games in September. Whether they make the playoffs or not (oh how I hope they do), this has been the most fun of any season since that of the worst-to-first team of 1991. I’m grateful, as all Braves fans should be. I’ve been a Braves fan since the franchise moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta in 1966. That season, my parents took me to Atlanta Stadium, which held 10 times the population of Barnesville, to see a game. The Braves won, and I was hooked. I’ve followed them closely ever since.We who have followed the Atlanta Braves from the beginning know what it’s like to go through cycles of winning and losing. They were about a .500 team during their first three seasons (1966-68). Then in 1969, which was the first year of divisional play, they won the Western Division pennant but lost to the New York Mets three games to none in the playoffs. From 1970-81, they never finished within shouting distance of first place. They came out of nowhere to win the West in 1982, but lost the playoff series to the St. Louis Cardinals three games to none. After a decent season in 1983, they went into a tailspin that saw them finish in last place in four out of seven seasons, including 1990.But in 1991, the Braves won the Western Division championship and defeated the Eastern Division champion Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League championship series. They went on to lose the World Series in a classic seven-game matchup with the Minnesota Twins. This kicked off an amazing string of fourteen consecutive division titles (they’ve been in the Eastern Division since the 1994 realignment), four National League championships, and, in 1995, the Atlanta Braves’ only World Series Championship. It’s been a mixed bag since the division championship streak ended in 2005. They won their division in 2013 and made the playoffs as a wild card team in 2010 and 2012. The three seasons leading up to the present one were bad, with records of 67-95 (2015), 68-93 (2016), and 72-90 (2017).That brings us to the current season, which has been surprisingly successful. A winning season following several losing ones always feels like it comes out of nowhere. In fact, the team’s management has been laying the groundwork for such success by developing and following a long-term plan. If all goes well, this Braves season will be the first of a series of successful ones. We who have been watching and participating in American politics know that the country also goes through cycles of winning and losing. We’ve endured a couple of years of serious losing. I’m optimistic that the groundwork has been laid for a turn in 2018 and 2020 toward better leadership. So go Braves! And go 2018 and 2020 candidates who will offer effective, principled, civil, compassionate, and decent leadership!Mike Ruffin lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville. He is the Connections Curriculum Editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon. His latest book, Fifty-Seven: A Memoir of Death and Life, is available through online booksellers.