Oh, the stories I could tell about the place that I often refer to as “my home”. Though it’s not really my home, it is a place where I can go and feel like I have escaped reality. I’ve been there off and on for the past six years. It’s the place where I embarked on this ongoing journey that is my dream of broadcasting. I’ve called a countless amount of names out from the microphone and speakers of what I consider a sacred place because it’s where I took my first step as a broadcaster. I’ve seen tons of games won and tons of games lost from that press box. So it’s only fitting that I call it home. There’s just something special about this place that gives me a feeling that I don’t experience anywhere else. It’s a safe haven to me. I feel like I’m on top of the world when I climb the press box stairs and enter the press box. It’s where I’ve met a countless amount of people and most of those people have remained in touch to this day. If you were to ask me what my favorite call has been during my time at Bazemore Field so far, I’d have to say it’s when we swept arch-rival Stanhope Elmore to win the Class 6A Area 5 Championship earlier this year. After all, it was the first area championship in baseball in 24 years. My call was: “Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, for the first time in 24 years, your Wetumpka Indians are Class 6A Area 5 Champions!” While playing Queen’s “We Are The Champions” over the speakers. It was so electrifying in the ballpark that day. Granted we weren’t 6A in 1995, the last time we won the area championship, I feel like that was my signature call from this year and I can’t wait to make more memories at “home” next year. While I am anxiously awaiting new memories next year, nothing can replace the memories that were made on that diamond in 2019. Until next year, take it easy Bazemore Field, I’ll be home before you know it.
It was 2013 and I had no clue, at the time, that the place I had always loved visiting for baseball, and even just passing by on the road would close to baseball operations just three years later, in 2016. This game and season was a little bit on the weird side for me, as my favorite player, Chipper Jones, had just retired in 2012. I wasn’t sure what I would do with myself since Chipper had gone into retirement. I realized one day that the Braves would be hosting the San Diego Padres on August 13, so I told my dad that I wanted to go since it was summertime and I didn’t have school. He agreed and ordered the tickets immediately. When August 13th got here, I woke up quickly and reminded dad that it was game day. He rolled over and nodded his head, half asleep. I went back to my room and quickly got dressed. When we arrived in Atlanta, we went to the stadium in time to catch batting practice for both teams. We were walking towards our seats and an usher walks up behind us and says “Do y’all need any help finding your seats?” Dad and I looked at each other and agreed that we needed assistance in finding our seats. The usher led us to our seats just above the Braves first base dugout and we thanked him. I recognized all of the stickers that were on the nice usher’s name tag but didn’t ask what they were for. In fact, I didn’t have to ask, as he quickly explained the stickers to us before introducing himself. “I’m Walter Banks, I’ve been with the Braves since they moved here, to Atlanta in 1966.” Walter said. “Ask me a number.” He said. So instinctively, I went with 10 because of Chipper Jones. Walter said “I attended my very first Braves at age 10 when they were the Milwaukee Braves.” I was at a loss for words. “I’ve never watched TV,” Banks said. “I’ve only read books.” While the Braves were taking batting practice, he said “I’ll be right back, stay here.” So I sat in my seat watching Walter head down to the Braves dugout just rows away. He came back with a baseball and said “This one’s for you.” I immediately thanked him and asked if I could have my picture taken with him, delightfully, he agreed and then said he has to get on his way. So I thanked him again and settled into my seat still in awe of what had just taken place. If you ever get the chance to go to a Braves game, ask for Walter Banks, you won’t regret it.
The year was 2014 and I had recently been on visits with the Jacksonville State Gamecocks and the Auburn Tigers. I was sitting at home when my mom got a Facebook message from a mutual friend whose son I went to high school with asking if I would be interested in visiting with the Biscuits. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Montgomery Biscuits, they are the Double-A affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays. I couldn’t believe what I had just been told, I was 16 at the time and I knew might only get the opportunity once, so I took the offer up. I would be in the press box at Riverwalk Stadium, the same stadium which at one time saw the likes of Evan Longoria, BJ Upton and David Price grace its diamond. I would attend the game on June 3rd, 2014 vs. the Huntsville Stars and I could hardly wait. The Huntsville Stars were the Double-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. I had been to Riverwalk Stadium before but I had never been in the press box there. When the day finally got here, I was thrilled and headed to the stadium as soon as I could. When I got to the press box I was greeted by Aaron Vargas, who was The Voice of the Biscuits at the time. The Biscuits went on to win the game that night. If you have an opportunity at chasing your dream at a higher level, take it you never know if you’ll get that opportunity again but also remain grateful and humble.
Next piece: A Visit with the Auburn-Montgomery Warhawks.
Days after my visit to Jacksonville State for the Murray State game, I received a message saying that Auburn University Baseball wanted me there for a game…little did I know that this would be my first of two visits with the Tigers. While I was there I got to tour the Auburn football facilities and baseball facilities including the locker room and team laundry room. I even got to go down on the field before the April 22, 2014 game vs. South Alabama. I also got to meet The Voice of the Auburn Tigers, Rod Bramblett, former MLB star Gabe Gross, get my picture taken with Cam Newton’s Heisman Trophy, have my picture taken beside Bo Jackson on the outfield wall (no, not the real person, although I wish it would’ve been). etc. Auburn ended up defeating the Jaguars 8-0 that night. My second trip to the Plains came on April 4, 2015 for the Auburn-Arkansas game. Auburn ended up losing that game 5-4 in extra innings. I will always be grateful for the opportunities that Jacksonville State, Auburn and numerous other colleges and universities have given me. Thank you for believing in me and seeing the passion that I have not only for announcing but also for the game of baseball. I’ve heard it said many times that “If you don’t love what you’re doing, why are you doing it?” Always be grateful for opportunities presented to you, it will pay off in the end.
Next entry: A Visit with the Montgomery Biscuits.
Around this time in 2014, I received a Facebook message from Randy Belyeu, the Wetumpka High School Softball coach at time. I knew it must’ve been important because he never messaged me out of the blue. The message read: “Hey Braxton, it’s Coach Belyeu give me a call when you get the chance.” Immediately I picked up my phone and dialed his number. He picked up and we talked for a while and then he said “I’ve been in touch with Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama, and they would love to have you up there for a baseball game, just pull up their schedule and pick the home game you want to attend.” I knew this was the start of something special. I glanced at the schedule and chose the April 13, 2014 home game vs. Murray State Racers. Once I had the game picked out I immediately started practicing. Before I knew it, the weekend was here. We left Wetumpka on a Saturday in time for the Sunday game. We spent the night at University Inn just miles from Rudy Abbott Field. Sunday morning, I woke up quickly and rushed out of the hotel room as I had to meet former Jacksonville State Baseball coach Rudy Abbott that morning and I refused to be late. After I met Coach Abbott, we headed over to the baseball field. I was only expecting to announce half the game at the most, but I ended up announcing the entire game. Never give up on your dream, even when times get rough God might have something great right around the corner.
Next entry: A Visit With Rod Bramblett and Auburn Baseball.
The year was 2008, and I had often heard that fandom wasn’t real until you named your pets after your favorite player.
On June 4, 2008, I looked outside to see this cute little Sheltie-Chow mix happily wandering up by the road under pecan trees. He seemed lost, we tried for days to find the owner of this quite literal fur ball (You’ll see what I mean at the bottom of this piece). But we were unable to find his owner after a few days and I begged my mom to let us keep him. She agreed with little hesitation but insisted he must be an “outside dog” meaning we had to keep him outside. We agreed and we sat down in the sunroom that night thinking of a name for the dog. At first, I asked mom “Can we name him Langerhans?” In reference to a Braves player. Her response “No, we are not going to call him Langerhans, it will sound ridiculous when we go outside to call him.” I sat there a few minutes and began thinking of a new name for the four-legged animal that reminded me of the Energizer Bunny…the one that runs around beating a drum constantly. “What about Sheffield?” I asked in reference to a past Braves player. Her response “That’s better but no.” Then it hit me “What about Chipper?” I asked confidently thinking “Surely she’ll let me name him after Chipper Jones.” And it stuck. I didn’t know until after the fact that “chipper” also meant “happy.” He was nothing short of happy and also very energetic. I can remember watching him jump from the top of the yard into the front pond with all four of his legs stretched out perfectly straight. Just last year, Chipper Jones was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame for his illustrious 19-year baseball career, all of which was spent in an Atlanta uniform. I even took off work to watch the ceremony that day (with parental consent). So, I guess that means my dog is a Hall of Fame dog. Congratulations buddy, you made it to the place where all dogs strive to be. Chipper, (my dog), was killed somewhere around 2014 after being hit by a car. I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into at the time in which he showed up at the house, but one thing is for sure. He NEVER ran out of energy. I think the Energizer Bunny was his spirit animal and he showed me why on a daily basis.
Next entry: My First College Broadcasting Trip.
Ahh Turner Field, the place where I first saw Chipper Jones in person and where I spent more summer days in the sweltering Georgia heat. In the early 2000’s I had gone to visit relatives that live in Georgia with my parents. While in Georgia, we decided to catch a Braves game which I had only seen on TV at the time. Back in those days Vinny Castilla was the third baseman, Chipper Jones, who later moved in to play third, Rafael Furcal was the shortstop with insanely athletic movements. Andruw Jones was in center field, Javy Lopez, the catcher, Bobby Cox, the manager etc. as I mentioned before I had only seen them play on TV but I had spent many years studying the players and the game. So I was anxious to finally catch a game in person. The morning of the game, I jumped from the bed in excitement as I knew today was the day that I had waited on my entire lifetime. Atlanta was playing their arch-rival the New York Mets and as a Braves fan, it’s only right to hate “the team from Queens.” I still don’t like them to this day. When we pulled up and I saw the Turner Field marquee in the distance, chills were sent down my spine. Then we pulled our car into the parking lot and immediately I blurted out the ESPN SportsCenter theme. You know, the highlight song. In fact, that day Chipper Jones, my favorite player, hit a home run over the center field wall that measured 400 feet from home plate that gave the Braves a lead that they would not relinquish. In 2016 however, Turner Field stopped operating as the home of the Atlanta Braves, it serves the Georgia State University Panthers football program as their home field. That place is where I met so many people and had so many memories that I will cherish for a lifetime. Like that one time in 2013, when I met legendary Braves usher Walter Banks who has served as an usher for the Braves since they moved to Atlanta from Milwaukee in 1966. In fact, he can tell you anything you want to know about the Braves just by being asked about a number. The Braves have since moved to Cobb County, Georgia and SunTrust Park, which I intend to visit in the near future. They say every good thing must come to an end. But to me, Turner Field will always be the Home of the Braves. So long, old friend thanks for the many, many memories.
Next entry: The Time I Named My Dog after Chipper Jones.