Just two weeks ago, we said our earthly goodbyes to Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron, the Mobile, Alabama, native, who broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record of 714 on April 8, 1974, in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, which now serves as a parking lot to the adjacent Georgia State Panthers Football Field, the former Turner Field, which was home of the Braves from 1997 to 2016.
All that’s left of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium is a little section of the wall. You might ask ‘Well, why just a portion of the wall?’ You see, that portion of the left-center field wall serves as a reminder of all that was Mr. Hank Aaron and the all that he stood for.
Today, we remember Hank for the humbleness, integrity, honor, and dignity, with which he carried himself for so many years both on and off of the baseball field. Normally, we would be wishing him a happy and safe birthday on this day, but we don’t have to do that today, because we know that he is in a better place, far better than this land.
Hank is at the Feet of God in Heaven at this moment, I can only imagine how he is celebrating his first birthday in Heaven today, but I know that it’s far greater than any birthday he ever celebrated here on Earth during his time with us.
Today as not only Braves fans but baseball fans in general, we should offer words of comfort, compassion, inspiration, and motivation for his loved ones. To Hank’s wife Billye Suber Aaron, his children, Gary, Lary, Dorinda, Gaile, Hank Jr., and Ceci, I’m here to say that you aren’t the only ones mourning today, for we are with you.
Even though Hank may no longer be here physically, he will always be with us spiritually. Today, do as Hank would want you to do and “Just keep swingin,’” he is no longer in pain nor is he suffering and we will all meet in the Kingdom of Heaven when our names are called.
We’ve all got a best friend, or a lifelong friend who has been or was with us through it all. For me, Jody Sanford was that friend.
For 16 years, we were and still are thick as thieves, constantly getting on our siblings last nerve. In fact, we knew just when to ease up on them.
I like to think of our relationship with each other as sort of a modern day Bonnie and Clyde-type relationship, no we never killed anybody, nor did we ever run from the law, but we always had each other’s backs no matter the circumstances.
We never hurt anybody, but you knew where we stood. If you saw one of us, more than likely you saw both of us, because the other wasn’t far behind.
I’ve had my share of ups and downs over the past seven years, happy moments when I seemed to escape everything and then I’ve had moments where I’ve cried myself to sleep.
To know Jody was to love her, I can’t think of a single person who didn’t love Jody. When she loved she loved hard, but Lord help you if you got on her bad side.
She was never one to sugarcoat anything just to make somebody feel better about themselves. She would tell anybody exactly how she felt about them and it could be anywhere.
I know I got on her nerves more than once and I’m not going to lie, she got on mine too. But we never let that create a void in our friendship.
I clearly remember the day God called her home, I was sitting in the back of the house on the computer, mom was in the kitchen cooking green beans, and my brother was in his room.
It was about 4:30 at this point, and mom came running to the back and said “Jody, Jody!” I was wondering ‘What trouble has she gotten into now?’ Because the two of us were notorious for constantly being in trouble and never getting out of it.
I didn’t think much more of it, because I had just seen her the day before at Bazemore Field, I figured she had just gone off on somebody and everything was going like it normally did.
But then, before I knew it, my brother came into the room and took my phone, which made me mad because nobody really told me what was going on.
At about 6:30 p.m., the house phone rang, I picked it up, it was mom I couldn’t even get the word ‘hello’ out of my mouth good before she said “Jody’s gone,” my world felt like it was closing in on me.
Mom said “I can’t talk right now, I’ll call you back in five minutes.” At 6:35 p.m., the phone rang again, and that’s when she explained what happened and then I fell apart because I had just lost not only my best friend, but my very first friend.
The friend that went off on me constantly, who took me home from school on multiple occasions, the one who literally made me do my school work by saying “Don’t make me tell Mrs. Ellen.” I knew she would do it in a heartbeat, so I just rolled my eyes and did my work.
The one who I played with when we were both in diapers, I spent many nights at her house during the summers, had multiple inside jokes with her, etc. I could go on and on for hours about what she meant to me.
A few days passed by, and I was at lunch and they called me to the counselor’s office, I was confused why was I being called to the counselor’s office? I didn’t need a counselor.
When I entered the office, I headed to the back into a meeting room where several more of my friends, including my brother were sitting.
It wasn’t long until her brother walked in and asked us to be pallbearers at her funeral. I wasn’t sure I was mentally capable of doing it, but I knew it’s what she would’ve wanted. So, I hugged her brother and fell apart, he said “Don’t cry, she’s in a better place, she’s with God at His right hand waiting on you.”
The night of the visitation, I entered the church, which is just about a mile from my house and was met by her entire immediate family.
There, her dad, with a frame that stands well above six feet, hugged me tightly as he fought back tears and said “That girl was crazy over you buddy.” He and her mom escorted me into the sanctuary, where Jody’s body was, I broke down when I reached the casket.
I couldn’t believe this was actually happening, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. We had talked about going to college together but that wasn’t going to happen.
The next day at her funeral, I was sitting in the front left pew with all of the pallbearers, when it was time to carry the casket to the hearse, I stood up, took a deep breath and grabbed the handle of the casket with my right hand.
I walked down the steps of the church toward the hearse and loaded the casket into the hearse, I was wearing sunglasses and I lifted them up as soon as I loaded her in the back of the hearse and patted the casket.
I was met with multiple hugs and then headed to the cemetery, when we arrived at the cemetery behind the hearse, I felt my throat get a lump in it. I approached the hearse and loaded the casket onto the lowering table. Then was met with more hugs.
Jody, thank you for always being here for me. Thank you for the memories, thank you for the arguments, the random times we rode around town together, the ice cream dates, and so much more.
A little less than a week ago, Danny White, the former University of Central Florida athletic director, was hired as the University of Tennessee’s athletic director to replace former AD Phillip Fulmer, just a few days removed from that announcement, Tennessee has found its 27th head coach.
Josh Heupel, the former University of Oklahoma quarterback who led the Sooners to the national title, and was as an assistant coach and head coach captured conference crowns at Oklahoma and UCF, has been named the Tennessee Volunteers next head coach.
He will replace Jeremy Pruitt, the former Volunteer head man who was fired on earlier this month and was accompanied by the retiring Fulmer. Heupel brings a pedigree of fast-paced and exciting teams. He was named the 2018 First Year Coach of the Year by the Football Writers’ Association of America, and was a finalist for the Associated Press National Coach of the Year Award, the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award, and the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award that same season.
Heupel stated, “I am thrilled to be coming to Tennessee,” “I understand that Volunteer fans are hungry for a return to the top that they so richly deserve, and it is my goal and commitment to bring a championship back to Rocky Top.”
During his time in Orlando, Florida at UCF, Heupel posted a 28-8 record and a stellar 20-5 mark in conference play. He will be formally introduced as the head coach during a press conference which will be live-streamed today at 12:05 p.m. ET on UtSports.com and SEC Network.
Welcome home, Coach Josh Heupel, we can’t wait to see what the future holds on Rocky Top.
Henry Louis “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron was born February 5, 1934, in Mobile, Alabama. While it may appear to the general public that Hank Aaron had everything handed to him a silver platter, that is far from the truth. Growing up in Alabama in the 1930s and 40s was very difficult, especially for a person of color.
In the 1940s, his hometown of Mobile, Alabama was not a safe place for a colored kid to pursue equality with segregation and all that came with it. In an interview a few years ago when asked about his awareness of segregation and how he felt about it, Aaron stated “I don’t know that I was aware of it, but I was conscious of who I was.”
During his childhood, young Hank passed through the sandlots of that south Alabama town with brief stops in the Negro Leagues and the minor leagues before he settled in with the Braves. He was just 13 years old when Jackie Robinson broke baseball color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, so his greatest idol was none other than Robinson.
Hank Aaron grew up to be quite the baseball player himself. He was a consistent producer both at the plate and in the field, reaching the .300 mark in batting 14 times, 30 home runs 15 times, 90 RBI 16 times, and captured three Gold Glove Awards en-route to 25 All-Star Game selections.
1975 was arguably Aaron’s best season. He hit .322 that year with 44 home runs and 132 RBI, captured the National League MVP Award and led the Braves to their first World Series Championship since 1914. His most memorable feat game on the night of April 8, 1974, when he took Los Angeles Dodgers hurler Al Downing deep for the 715th home run of his career, passing Babe Ruth’s previous mark of 714. He would finish his career with 755 long balls.
He remains baseball’s all-time leader in RBI (2,297) and total bases (6,856). If each of his 755 home runs were to be removed, he would still have 3,016 hits. Hank Aaron was a model of humility, dignity, and quiet competence. He did not seek the adoration that he received, but he earned it, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982. He passed away at age 86 on Friday.
For as long as I can remember, Don Sutton has been a member of the Atlanta Braves broadcast team. I can clearly recall standing in front of TV as a little kid and listening to Don, along with Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren, and later, Skip’s son Chip, call the action.
The trio of Skip, Pete, and Don have now been reunited in Heaven and I’m sure that they will be calling the Braves’ games from the vantage point of Heaven, the greatest vantage point of them all. Not only was Don Sutton a great broadcaster, he was also a Hall of Fame caliber pitcher.
A 1998 inductee into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, National Baseball Hall of Fame Chairman, Jane Forbes Clark said “Don Sutton’s brilliance on the field, and his last commitment to the game that he so loved, carried through to his time as a Member of the Hall of Fame, I know how much he treasured his moments in Cooperstown, just as we treasured our special moments with him. We share our deepest condolences with his wife, Mary and his family.”
Sutton, a Clio, Alabama native, began his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers with whom he played from 1966-1980, and again in 1988. From 1981-82 Sutton was traded from the Dodgers to the Houston Astros, from Houston he left and went to Milwaukee to join the Brewers club from 1982-84, from Milwaukee he went out to California to join the Oakland Athletics where he stayed for less than a year in 1985. Later in 1985 he moved across California and joined the Los Angeles/California Angels with whom he stayed until the end of the 1987 season. In 1988, Don returned to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
During his career, he won 324 games as a pitcher and earned a spot in the hallowed halls of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Following his playing days, he joined the Atlanta Braves broadcast team where he served for all but two years from 1989-2018. He spent the 2008-09 seasons with the Washington Nationals’ broadcast team.
Tuesday afternoon, Don’s son Daron released the following statement on social media, “Saddened to share that my dad passed away in his sleep last night (Monday night). He worked as hard as anyone I’ve ever known and he treated those he encountered with great respect…and he took me to work a lot. For all these things, I am very grateful, Rest in Peace.”
The Braves subsequently released a statement that read, “We are deeply saddened by the passing of our dear friend, Don Sutton. A generation of Braves fans came to know his voice…But despite all (his) success, Don never lost his generous character or humble personality.”
I would have to agree, every time I ever heard the voice of Don Sutton over the TV or radio, I always learned something new about the game. His knowledge for the game of baseball is what I credit for my obsession with the sport.
While sharing his unmatched wisdom, he would often find just enough room to squeeze in one of his corny jokes about either the game the night before or a personal experience with his family in which he found great humor. I could go on and on for hours about the memories that I have and will carry with me for the rest of my time here on Earth that include Don Sutton, but I don’t want to keep you here all day.
Even when he was on the mound, Don wanted to be a broadcaster, specifically with the Braves. In 1976, when the Dodgers were in town playing the Braves at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Sutton, in his usual casual-but-humorous style told Pete Van Wieren: “Someday Pete, we’re going to work together.” Little did he know he had just predicted the future.
It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t wrap this up with Don’s signature sign-off call, “That’ll do it here in Atlanta, for my broadcast partners, Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren, so long and Go Braves.”
Dolly Rebecca Parton was born January 19, 1946, in a one-room cabin on the banks of the Little Pigeon River in the small unincorporated town of Locust Ridge, Tennessee in Sevier County, Tennessee. She was the fourth of twelve children born to Avie Lee Owens Parton and Robert Lee Parton, Sr.
Two of the twelve siblings have since passed on to a better place; Larry died shortly after birth in 1955, and Floyd died in 2018. Parton’s middle name comes from her maternal great-great-grandmother Rebecca Dunn Whitted. Parton’s father, known as “Lee”, worked in the mountains of East Tennessee, first as a sharecropper and later tending to his own small tobacco farm and acreage. In addition to those jobs, he also worked construction jobs to supplement the farm’s small income. Today, the legendary country music singer still considers her father “one of the smartest people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, and it just so happens that I call him Daddy.”
Her mother, Avie Lee, cared for their large family. Her eleven pregnancies in 20 years made her a mother of 12, with the tenth, being twins, by the age of 35. Often in poor health, she still managed to keep house and entertain her children with Smoky Mountain folklore and ancient ballads. The songs she sang were often sung by immigrants moving from the British Isles to southern Appalachia over a century earlier.
Dolly’s maternal grandfather, Jake Owens was a Pentecostal preacher, and Parton and all her siblings attended church regularly, which resulted in Parton confessing her faith in Christ at an early age. Dolly has always been an entertainer, she began performing as a child, singing on local radio and television programs in the East Tennessee area.
By the time she was ten, she was appearing on The Cas Walker Show on both WIVK Radio and WBIR-TV in Knoxville, Tennessee. At 13, she was recording on a small Louisiana label, Goldband Records, and appeared at the Grand Ole Opry, where she first met Johnny Cash, who encouraged her to follow her instincts regarding her career.
After graduating from Sevier County High School in 1964, Parton moved to Nashville the following day to pursue a career in the music industry, just as Cash had suggested. Her initial success came as a songwriter, having signed with Combine Publishing shortly after her arrival.
Alongside her frequent songwriting partner, her uncle Bill Owens, she wrote several charting singles during this time, including two top-ten hits: Bill Phillip’s “Put it off Until Tomorrow” (1966) and Skeeter Davis’s “Fuel to the Flame” (1967). Her songs were recorded by many other artists during this period, including Kitty Wells and Hank Williams Jr.
In 1967, musician and country music entertainer Porter Wagoner invited Parton to join his organization, offering her a regular spot on his weekly syndicated television program The Porter Wagoner Show, and in his road show.
Dolly Parton made her presence felt in the 1960s and 1970s, along with fellow pioneers Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. When that trio revolutionized the world of country music for women performers. During a career that spans 65 years and counting, she has performed alongside many legends in the Nashville scene, such as Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Vince Gill, Kenny Rogers, Kris Kristofferson, Reba McEntire, Martina McBride, and current country music sensation, Carrie Underwood.
To say that Dolly Parton, once a little girl who dreamed of being a country musician, has had nothing short of a legendary career is an understatement. She was inducted into Nashville, Tennessee’s Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999.
They don’t call her the Queen of Country for nothing.
It’s hard to believe that in just over a month, I will begin my eighth season as a baseball broadcaster. Honestly, it seems like just the other day, I was standing against the of the home dugout at Bazemore Field when I got the opportunity to broadcast my first game, but we’ll dig back into the vault and pull that out later.
In these eight seasons, I’ve been on hand for 315 games, had you asked me eight years ago if I would be fortunate enough to still be living out my dream 315 games later, I would’ve probably told you, “This is probably just a one time deal.”
But here I am, eight years later and I haven’t been kicked out of the press box yet. And I couldn’t think of a better school to serve as a broadcaster for. I’ve been a member of this program in some capacity, for nine years.
With every passing season, every passing game, every passing minute and second, this program becomes more and more etched into my heart.
When I look back on the previous 315 games of my career, I realize just how blessed I am to live out my dream as a broadcaster. But not just any broadcaster, but the “Voice” of Wetumpka High School Baseball. Over the course of my time as a broadcaster, I’ve seen highs and I’ve seen lows, but I’ll always be thankful for everything that has come my way.
No matter where this industry takes me, I’ll always be proud to say that it all started at Bazemore Field in the small town of Wetumpka, Alabama.
Here’s to the next 315 games of my career. 315 more games worth of memories. I’ll be back home in a little over a month.
Known for his unhittable floating knuckleball that seemed to approach the plate like a balloon, Philip Henry “Phil” Niekro was a trailblazer, an icon, a legend, a Hall of Famer and so much more.
But most of all, he was a genuinely good soul. While most people will remember him for his daunting knuckleball and his ability to strikeout some of the best hitters the game of baseball has ever seen, I will remember him for his kind, generous heart. They just don’t make them like Phil anymore.
Niekro was born in Blaine, Ohio, and grew up in Lansing, Ohio. He attended Bridgeport High School In Bridgeport, Ohio, and was a boyhood friend of basketball Hall of Famer John Havlicek.
The baseball field on which he played at Bridgeport High School’s at Perkins Field athletic complex was renamed “The Niekro Diamond” in 2008 after both Phil and his brother Joe Niekro, whom was also a Major League pitcher.
Their father was a coal miner who pitched semipro baseball and had learned how to throw a knuckleball from another coal miner. He later taught his sons how to pitch in the backyard when they were kids.
During his 24 big league seasons, Phil Niekro rode his knuckleball to 5,404 innings pitched – the most of any pitcher who started his career in live ball era. Unlike most pitchers, Phil was more than simply durable.
His 318 wins and 3,342 strikeouts are a testament to a pitcher who was often untouchable. By the time he turned 40, Niekro had already won 121 games, the most wins by anyone that age in baseball history.
During his career Niekro, who became known as “Knucksie” due to the dancing movements of his famous pitch, appeared in 864 games, gave up 5,044 hits, 2,337 runs, in 5,404 innings pitched. Totaled 318 wins and 274 losses, starting 716 games, had an ERA of 3.35, pitched 245 complete games, 45 shutouts, earned 29 saves, surrendered 2,012 earned runs, 1,819 walks, and 3,342 strikeouts.
He spent time with the Milwaukee Braves (1964-65), Atlanta Braves (1966-83, 87), New York Yankees (1984-85), Cleveland Indians (1986-87), and Toronto Blue Jays (1987).
He was also a five-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove Award winner, the 1980 Roberto Clemente Award winner, led the National League in wins twice, pitched a no-hitter on August 5, 1973, had his number 35 retired by the Braves, is a member of the Braves Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York in 1997, alongside Nellie Fox, Tommy LaSorda, and Willie Wells.
He died of cancer at age 81.
Rest well Knucksie, I’ll see you again on the other side. Thank you for not only your contributions to the Atlanta Braves organization, but also for your contributions to Major League Baseball, your name will live on forever in the book of baseball lore.
It’s a year of firsts in 2020. That means Tennessee (3-7) can go bowling.
On Sunday night, it was announced that the Volunteers and Jeremy Pruitt would travel to Memphis, Tennessee to tangle with Neal Brown’s West Virginia Mountaineers (5-4) in the 62nd AutoZone Liberty Bowl at Liberty Bowl Stadium.
It was a regular season filled with struggle and strife for the Tennessee Volunteers, who won two games in a row to begin the shortened slate, but then followed it up by losing six straight games before throttling a winless Vanderbilt team on December 12th, 42-17, then dropping a 34-13 decision to 5th-ranked Texas A&M on Saturday.
For the Mountaineers of West Virginia, they began their season on September 12 defeating Eastern Kentucky 56-10, followed by a loss to then-15th-ranked 27-13, the Mountaineers then defeated Baylor 27-21, and Kansas 37-10, before falling to Texas Tech 34-27, on the road.
They then defeated then-16th-ranked Kansas State, 37-10 on homecoming before dropping a 17-13 decision to then-22nd-ranked Texas on the road, they followed that up by running past the Horned Frogs of TCU 246, and ended the regular season by being thrashed by then-9th-ranked Iowa State 42-6.
The 62nd AutoZone Liberty Bowl is scheduled for Thursday, December 31, 2020 at 3pm CT on ESPN.
Can the Volunteers end 2020 on a high note or will Neal Brown and the West Virginia Mountaineers have different things in mind?
There have been many great voices that have echoed over the airwaves of radios and through the televisions to the living rooms of sports fans over the years.
Many great calls, sighs of relief, and painstakingly heartbreaking sounds of defeat.
Even though many of those great voices have since passed on to their eternal lives, sports fans everywhere still hear the voices of those legendary broadcasters and forever identify those voices with certain teams or schools.
For me, those remarkably renowned voices belong to none other than Skip and Chip Caray. This father-son duo will always stand the test of time when it comes to Atlanta Braves baseball.
Sadly, Skip Caray’s voice is no longer present with us here on Earth, but make no mistake, he is definitely giving God a play-by-play of Braves game, whether home or away.
But Chip is still with us, and he calls all Braves games. While his voice is great, it can’t compare to that of the late Skip Caray.
There’s just something about Skip’s voice that conjures up memories of years gone by inside my mind. So many of the most famous calls were described vividly by the word wizard that was Skip Caray.
One of my favorite Skip Caray calls came when the Braves won the 1995 World Series Championship at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, when Skip so elegantly described the final out.
“The wind, and the pitch here it is, swung, fly ball deep left-center, Grissom on the run…..YES! YES! YES! The Atlanta Braves have given you a championship! Listen to this crowd!!! A mob scene on the field!!!!”
What a great call. It echoes through my mind even though I wasn’t alive in 1995. I can just imagine what it must’ve been like to hear his voice describe the last out of the 1995 World Series.
What great men, what great personalities, what great voices, what great memories. Thank you, Skip and Chip Caray for so many great calls together.