Often times, specifically this time of year, between mid-to-late February and mid-to-late April with a possibility of early May, depending on how the playoffs shake out, I’m the busiest I’ll be all year.
I’m away from home more times than not this time of year, whether it’s at my day-job or my night-job as a broadcaster, this time of year is always more hectic than any other time of year, but honestly, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
I’d rather be busy anyway, it keeps my mind and hands busy, as a mentor of mine once told me, “Idle hands are the devil’s playground.” There’s a lot of truth in that statement.
It’s so hard to believe that I’m a little over half way to my ninth year as a broadcaster, honestly it seems like just yesterday I was broadcasting my first game.
I guess the old saying ‘Time flies when you’re having fun,” is true. Except for me, I’m not just having fun, I’m living my dream and embracing the chaos one pitch at a time.
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.”
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.
On Wednesday night, it was announced that Auburn University officials had finalized a deal which would bring Bryan Harsin, a Boise State University alum to the Plains.
This comes just nine days after former Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was relieved of his duties on December 13. 2020, following a regular-season ending win over Mike Leach’s air-raid offense at Mississippi State.
He is 1999 graduate of Boise State University, where he was a three-year letterman with the Broncos from 1995-99.
Coach Harsin got his start as a football coach at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, Oregon, where he coach running backs and quarterbacks during the 2000 season.
In 2001, he returned to Boise, Idaho as a graduate assistant under first-year coach Dan Hawkins. He was hired as the Broncos tight ends coach in 2002 and remained in that position until 2005. During this period, the Broncos led the nation in scoring twice and remained in the top ten scoring offense all four years.
In 2005, four Broncos tight ends combined to catch 27 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns. When Hawkins left for Colorado, offensive coordinator Chris Peterson was promoted to head coach for the 2006 season.
Harrison was moved up to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and guided the Broncos offense to an undefeated season. Running back Ian Johnson rushed for 1,713 yards and led the nation in rushing touchdowns.
From 2011 to 2012, Harsin served in Austin, Texas as the Texas Longhorns co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. In 2013, he moved to Jonesboro, Arkansas to take over the Arkansas State Red Wolves football program and from 2014 to December 22, 2020, he served as the Boise State Broncos head coach.
During those six seasons as the head man in Boise, Idaho, Bryan Harsin owned a record of (69-19). Overall his head coaching record is (76-24) and his teams are (3-2) in bowl game appearances.
During his career, he has won one Sun Belt Conference Title (2013), three Mountain West Conference Titles (2014, 2017, 2019) and five Mountain Division crowns (2014, 2016-2019). He was also a 2009 Broyles Award finalist.
Well, here we are nearly a week removed from the firing of Gus Malzahn at Auburn. We’re also 24 hours removed from the early National Signing Day, and yet the Tigers are still weighing their options to replace the Arkansas native Malzahn.
It was said Thursday morning that if the Oregon Ducks didn’t make any moves with head coach Mario Cristobal, we could’ve very well been welcoming the former Saban assistant to the Plains.
But late Thursday, the Ducks signed Cristobal to a six-year extension worth $27 million. So there goes that candidate.
That leaves the Tigers with a more limited list of candidates. The list includes: Hugh Freeze, who is currently the Liberty Flames head coach, current Auburn defensive coordinator and interim head coach, Kevin Steele, Clemson defensive coordinator, Brent Venables, current Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Billy Napier, Alabama offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian, current UAB Blazer head coach, Bill Clark, and current Ole Miss head coach, Lane Kiffin.
Sure, the names on that list have some experience and carry some weight, but do they have what it takes to get Auburn back to the competitive level of football that the fans are used to?
Over the last few days, I’ve been asked several times who I think the next head man on the Plains will be and now is when I will answer that.
I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Hugh Freeze will return to Power Five Football and the Southeastern Conference in 2021.
If a coach can win at Liberty, surely they can win at Auburn right?
After eight years, 103 games, two SEC West crowns, a trip to Pasadena only to lose to Florida State 34-28, Gus Malzahn’s time as the head man on the Plains has come to an end.
It is quite evident that Auburn fans everywhere have been waiting on this day for years, probably for the last four to five years.
It was announced Sunday morning that Auburn Athletic Director, Allen Green had made the decision to pull the rug out from beneath Malzahn’s feet.
In eight years, Gus had gone a mediocre-at-best 68-35, including 39-27 in the Southeastern Conference. Sure, Malzahn is a good person, but he’s not a college football head coach.
Especially when you’re in the same conference as Nick Saban, Kirby Smart, Dan Mullen, Jimbo Fisher, and Mike Leach. A conference that is littered with head coaching experience.
Tiger fans have already taken to social media to express their relief. One post even said ‘Are we even surprised?!?’ The answer to that question is no, absolutely not. As a matter of fact, it should’ve happened about four years before it did.
Sorry Gus, no more Waffle House victory meals, no more Toomer’s Corner, no more settling for 6-4 seasons, no more fist-pumping on the sidelines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. Your time there is up, the Bus is burnt, my friend.
In the meantime, Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will serve as interim head coach, while you enjoy your $21.45 million buyout.
On the afternoon of December 12, 1997, at 1:50 p.m. I saw this world for the very first time, and some thought I wouldn’t live to see life outside of the four cold walls of that dark hospital.
The first few months and years of my life were spent with trips to and from hospitals. I spent most of my early childhood traveling anywhere from Montgomery, Alabama, to Birmingham, Alabama, all the way to Greenville, South Carolina.
At six weeks old, I was diagnosed with mild cerebral palsy. Not long afterwards, my small intestines ruptured, I was diagnosed with gangrene, and had suffered a stroke.
Seeing everything that I had been through having just been born, the medical staff basically said I wouldn’t live much longer.
I knew that if I wanted to see the light of day outside of the four walls of that Birmingham, Alabama hospital, I had to put up a fight.
I knew that my life was at stake. I knew I had to prove the medical staff wrong. I just knew I had to fight. Nobody in that hospital had given me even the slightest chance to make it, so it was all up to me.
Thankfully, God had greater plans for my life and saw me through those early horrors. Throughout the nearly 23 years of my life, I’ve survived multiple surgeries.
Through the years, I’ve seen my fair share of tragedy and triumph. At age 16, I lost four of my friends in the same year. With one of them being my lifelong best friend.
Even though I have faced many trials and tribulations in my short time, the one thing that has remained constant is the great and power mercy of God.
He has seen me on my best and worst days and has always remained at my side. Even though I will face much more adversity in the coming years of my life, I have no doubt that God, along with my guardian angels will see that I make it through the hard times safely.
I share my testimony not as a pity on me, but in hopes that my story will touch the hearts and lives of its readers. May it serve as a source of hope and inspiration.
In mid-March, Major League Baseball halted their Spring Training workouts to the outbreak of COVID-19, and fans were not allowed into the stadiums for the entire regular season.
In fact, a week into the season in late-July and early August, Major League Baseball was sitting on its proverbial heels due to multiple outbreaks of COVID-19 in Miami, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati.
With the bulk of the positive tests coming out of Miami and St. Louis, league officials were contemplating the thought of shutting the season down even though it had literally just gotten started.
When the league reached an agreement with its clubs to play a 60-game regular-season schedule as opposed to the normal 162-game schedule in a non-pandemic year, we knew every game would matter that much more.
Winning streaks would seem longer than they were and would mean five times more than they would in a regular 162-game season. Losing streaks would seem to drag on longer than usual and every pitch mattered.
Even though the Atlanta Braves may have lost in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, there’s still a lot to be proud of when you look at the bigger picture.
This team won its first postseason series since 2001, advanced to the National League Championship Series, spent the final month and a half without ace Mike Soroka, missed outfield phenom Ronald Acuña Jr for two weeks twice due to a left wrist injury, lost four of five-man starting rotation, with Max Fried being the only projected starting pitcher left standing, and still won their division and won not just one but two postseason series.
This team isn’t done, they’re just getting started. For every minor setback there’s a major comeback. And with the young, raw talent of guys like Ronald Acuña Jr., Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, Ian Anderson, Max Fried, Cristian Pache, and a healthy Mike Soroka, you can’t help but imagine just how good this team will be in the next few seasons with some of the best young talent in the game.
Hold your heads up Braves fans, the best is yet to come.