Hank Aaron: A Man Character, Integrity, Tenacity, and Fortitude

There are no words to adequately describe the man that was Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron. I don’t say that lightly. You see, it was nearly a year ago, that we lost a great man, a noble man, a man of the highest character, integrity, tenacity, and fortitude.

When Hank Aaron, a black man from Mobile, Alabama, passed away on January 22, 2021, we lost a man whom, so bravely stood face-to-face with social injustice in the Deep South in the 1950s and 60s.

We lost a legend, but Hank Aaron didn’t care about his statistics, his fame, or what people thought of his career, he was more concerned with seeing that people were treated with the same amount of respect. He was an advocate, a servant, a legend, and an icon in every sense of his being.

He was and is highly revered in the baseball world, just as he deserves to be. Now, I never had the distinct honor of talking to Mr. Aaron during his 86 years of life here on Earth, but from what I’ve read in articles and books, he never wanted to discuss his historic 23-year Major League Baseball career that saw him break Babe Ruth’s long-standing record of 714 home runs by sending a ball into the left-center field bullpen at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium at 9:07 p.m., eastern time on April 8, 1974.

He was more concerned with discussing how you were, discussing your needs, and wants. He never was self-centered at all. Hall of Fame third baseman, Chipper Jones once said “When Mr. Aaron walked into a room, the crowd got quiet, when he spoke, you listened. But when he made himself available for conversation, you approached him, shook his massive hand, and heeded any advice he offered.”

The baseball world definitely hasn’t been the same since Henry Louis “Hank” Aaron passed away just shy of a year ago because we’ve all felt the void that the absence of such a noble human has left in our hearts. I never got the chance to speak with Mr. Aaron here on Earth, but when my name is called one day to head to that big baseball stadium made of gold in Heaven, you can rest assured that I will approach Mr. Aaron and tell him just how much he means to not only me but to the baseball world in general.

Afterwards, if Mr. Aaron has any advice on how to hit 755 home runs, I will sit back and enjoy his company. Rest In Peace, Hammer. I l love you, brother.

Source (USA Today)

Worth the Wait: The Night I’ve Waited My Entire Life to See

I think it’s safe to say that November 2, 2021, is a date that I will never forget. Perhaps you’re not a sports fan and you’re thinking “Why November 2?” The answer to this question is simple yet complex.

It’s the night that the Atlanta Braves, my favorite baseball team, won the Major League Baseball World Series. I can recall sitting in the back of the house when I was little with my baby-sitter, an older lady, watching the games for hours on end.

I can remember the days of Turner Broadcasting System, more commonly known as TBS, listening to the voices of Skip and Chip Caray, Pete Van Weiren and occasionally, Ernie Johnson, describing the action.

I can remember going to Turner Field as a little kid, possibly three or four, and reciting the SportsCenter theme song as we pulled into the stadium parking lot. I’ve seen thousands of iconic moments in franchise history and I’ve definitely seen my fair share of some not-so-iconic moments.

I saw them in the middle of their unprecedented 14-straight division title run while under the direction of the legendary Bobby Cox. I’ve seen my favorite player retire and be immortalized in baseball history. I’ve seen the good, bad and ugly, but I never gave up on them. I’ve gone to sleep many a night feeling broken-hearted because of a one-run loss, and I’ve pulled adrenaline-filled all-nighters celebrating icon wins.

But the one thing that I hadn’t seen until November 2, 2021, was a World Series trophy head home to Atlanta. I’ve endured many years of postseason heartbreak, sleepless nights, and so much more and all of it paid off 24 hours ago.

It was a long wait, but it was worth the wait. It was the night that I had waited my entire life to see.

An Open Letter to Charlie Morton

As many of you are aware, the Atlanta Braves are in the World Series for the first time since 1999. To put that into perspective, most of this generation’s Braves fans weren’t even alive. As for me, I was alive, but barely.

I say that to say this, in my 23 and a half years of life, I’ve seen tons of baseball. I’ve seen many unprecedented moments in the sports.

Last night during Game one of the World Series was absolutely no exception. Jorge Soler became the first player in Major League Baseball history to homer in the first at-bat of Game one of the World Series and so much more.

But the thing that stood out to me the most was the guts and grit of Braves starting pitcher Charlie Morton. In the second inning, he took a 103 mile-per-hour batted ball off the right leg.

He went on to finish the inning, in which he throw ten pitches and came out for the third inning and threw six pitches before exiting the game with a fractured right fibula. Meaning, he threw 16 pitches while pushing off on a broken leg. Tears filled his eyes as he was helped off the field out of the dugout.

You could tell that he wanted to be there for his teammates.

Dear Charlie Morton, you came through in the clutch for us all year long, especially in times when we needed it most. You gave us all something to be proud of. You gave us your all every time you stepped on the mound, no matter the situation and there’s nothing more that we as fans could ask of you.

We appreciate your toughness, resiliency, and drive to be the best version of yourself every day. Don’t worry about us, we’ll be fine. Take the time you need to heal up and come back stronger in 2022.

Thank you again, brother, We love you. We’ll take it from here man. We’ll make sure we pick up where you left off.

Thank you for everything this year, Charlie. See you in 2022 brother.

Champagne Rain: Braves Clinch Fourth-Consecutive National League East Crown

Early on in the season, if you’d have told me that the Braves were going to comeback at the end of the season and win a fourth-consecutive National League East title, even as a life-long diehard fan of the Braves, I probably would’ve called you crazy.

I was born in the middle of the Atlanta Braves glory days, when they won an unprecedented 14-consecutive division crowns. Plus I have relatives from the Atlanta-area and so it was easy for me to delve into the red and blue of the Atlanta Braves. I’ve also seen the Braves at some of their worst times in franchise history such as that 2016 season when we won less than 68 games.

Yet, I’ve stood solidly behind them through the storms of the times. I’ve seen them at their peak and at rock bottom and right now, I’ve got to believe the glory days are returning. We won the East without Ronald Acuña Jr for half of the season, Marcell Ozuna, who was arrested in May missed 80% of the season and pitcher Mike Soroka missed the entire season with a torn Achilles.

The 2021 division title stands as our 21st division title in franchise, the most in Major League Baseball history, two more than the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers

Here’s to October baseball returning to Atlanta in 2021 and our 21st division title! Break out the champagne Braves fans!

(Braves Facebook)
(Braves Twitter)
(Braves Twitter)

Long Time Coming: My First Trip to Truist Park

I went to my very first Braves game at Turner Field in either 2000 or 2001, back when the Braves had that daunting starting rotation that included three then-future Hall of Famers in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, who was often used in a closing role back then. Perhaps you’ve heard of them.

Those were the days of Rafael Furcal at shortstop, Matt Franco at first, Julio Franco at second, Vinny Castilla at third or catching, Chipper Jones at third or in left, Eddie Perez catching, Andruw Jones in center, Marcus Giles at second, and Wilson Bettimit in right, Javy Lopez catching, and of course the skipper, Bobby Cox.

I don’t remember if we won or lost that day due to my young age at the time, but I do know that Tom Glavine was the starting pitcher that day.

Fast forward 20 or so years and I’ve finally made it to my first game at Truist Park, the new home of the Braves that opened back in 2017.

Usually, we get there early enough to watch the Braves take batting practice, but we had trouble with the mobile ticketing deal going on nowadays due to COVID, so we had missed them by the time we entered the stadium, which I was kinda upset by, but it was okay, I was more concerned about the game anyway.

Before the game, I went to the Braves Clubhouse Store to get another hat (shocking, I know, but I just have to get a new hat at every game).

Afterwards, we walked over to Monument Garden near section 125, where I had my picture taken with Hank Aaron’s 1969 jersey, Tom Glavine’s 1995 jersey, Dale Murphy’s 1982 jersey, the Hank Aaron Award, a champagne bottle that was used after the Braves won the 1995 World Series Championship, in front of a picture of Chipper Jones and Bobby Cox, in front of all of the hats Hank Aaron hit a home run with, the 1995 World Series trophy and even a time capsule that will be opened in April 2042.

The Braves shutout Tampa Bay 9-0, to improve to 44-10 in games I attend. 43-10 at home and 1-0 on the road. If you haven’t been to Truist Park, you need to go. Trust me when I tell you, there’s something there for literally everyone.

See you in 2022, Truist Park! It was nice meeting you!

(All 755 of Hank’s home run bats)
Hank’s 1974 jersey he was wearing when he passed Babe Ruth)
(Hank Aaron Statue, beside which his casket sat during memorial services for him at Truist Park in January)
(World Series Trophy)
(Time Capsule)
(Hank’s 1969 jersey)
(Tom Glavine’s 1995 jersey)
(Dale Murphy’s 1982 jersey)
(Champagne bottle used to spray champagne in celebration of the 1995 championship)
(Half of the retired numbers. Murphy, Cox, Chipper, Spahn, Smoltz, Maddux)

Remembering the Life of one of Baseball’s Greatest Pitchers: Phil Niekro

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.

(Picture: Atlanta Braves Twitter)

An Homage to My Broadcasting Idols

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.

Source: Reddit.com

Heads Up Braves Fans: The Future is Bright in Atlanta

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.

What Affect Will the Current State of America Have on the 2020 MLB Draft Which is Scheduled to Start Tonight

The 2020 MLB Draft is scheduled to begin tonight and end tomorrow, but it won’t be a normal draft by any means. So what do we need to expect?

For starters, potential draftees will be at a disadvantage, having been unable to show their ultimate potential before high school and college seasons were halted in the heart of the season.

Secondly, teams will be at a disadvantage having not been able to scout the draft prospects at full potential.

Lastly, this year’s draft will only have five rounds, as apposed to the normal 40 rounds. This means instead of the 30 clubs being able to draft 30 prospects, the 30 teams will only be able to draft 5 prospects due to restrictions.

The 2020 MLB Draft will begin tonight at 6pm CT on ESPN and the MLB Network.

Chipper Jones Assuming Position of Analyst for ESPN Wednesday Night Baseball, Replacing David Ross

As a huge life-long Braves fan, when I first read the news of former Atlanta standout Chipper Jones stepping in to fill David Ross’ role on Wednesday Night Baseball for ESPN, which was made public Saturday night by “Talking Chop”, I can’t help but think about how much color he will bring to the booth.

Most all of us know Chipper for his serious approach to the game of baseball, but I know Chipper for being a jokester as well as for his serious approach toward the game that he loves dearly.

Many people know that his walk-up song was Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” for the most-part if not all of his 19-year career in Atlanta.

Sure, you’ve seen him blow bubbles with bubblegum in left field and at third base for years, but do you know his hand-signal?

If not, he sticks his middle two fingers down, leaving his pointer, thumb, and pinkie up. I watched him make this motion for many years.

Growing up, I idolized Chipper as a baseball player. But now, I idolize him as both a Hall of Fame baseball player and broadcaster. I never thought I would see the day where my role model and I would be in the same industry.

Chipper, thank you for the memories as a baseball player and I look forward to working with you one day in the booths of baseball parks across this nation.

You will never know how much of an impact you have made on my life for many years, and one day I will work alongside you, my role model, my childhood hero.

Don’t let those wires and headsets injure you buddy.

I won’t stop working toward my dream until I’m sitting next to you in a broadcast booth at a Major League Baseball stadium one day.

Take care buddy, welcome to the family. I’ll see you at the top of the mountain.

Photo: Atlanta-Journal Constitution.