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.

Braves Part Ways With On-Field Reporter, Kelsey Wingert

After four full seasons as a Braves reporter, Kelsey Wingert will not return for the 2020 season.

The 27-year-old Sugar Land, Texas native has been on the field bringing Braves fans like myself the latest injury news and much more.

Wingert attended Stephen F. Austin University and Louisiana State University for college.

Thursday, the reporter posted a statement regarding her departure on her Twitter account.

Wingert started reporting for the Braves in 2016.

Kelsey, thank you for the memories, your constant updates, your love for the game and so much more.

You will be terribly missed in the dugout. I believe I speak for all of us when I say, we love you from the bottom of our hearts.

Thank you for your willingness to work with Atlanta for the past four seasons. Braves Country won’t be the same without you.

In closing I say, you will always be welcomed to Atlanta with open arms.

Best of luck in your future endeavors.

Chop On forever.

Kelsey Wingert’s statement regarding her departure which was posted to Twitter Thursday afternoon. Source: Twitter.
Source: The Athletic.

Happy 86th Birthday to the Real Home Run King

Hank Aaron the former Milwaukee Brave and Atlanta Brave, was born on February 5, 1934, in Mobile, Alabama.

Henry Louis ‘Hank’ Aaron, later known as ‘Hammerin’ Hank’ wasn’t born into wealth. In fact, in a podcast that I listened to recently, Aaron stated, “My parents couldn’t afford to buy a bat, they couldn’t afford to buy a ball. And so, actually, we did everything we could in order to pretend like we were playing baseball.”

Aaron stated that he and his brothers would go out into the yard with rags that were rolled up tight and throw them to each other while using a broomstick as a bat.

They would do the same with coke bottle caps.

Mobile, Alabama wasn’t the safest of places in the 1940s when Hank was growing up. In fact, according to Aaron, there were no roads, nothing but little farm roads’ he explained.

Mobile wasn’t nearly as big as it is today back when little Henry Aaron was growing up just outside of Mobile.

Even though, he grew up just a few miles outside of Mobile, he still claims Mobile, Alabama as his hometown.

Hank Aaron stated in the podcast that “Actually, I heard about it, from sleeping in the bed at night, because the Mobile Bears were farm club of the Brooklyn Dodgers, in Mobile.”

Aaron continued “I could hear the game on the radio next door, because a friend of mine would have his radio tuned to the Mobile Bears. You know I didn’t have enough money to go to game so I just listened to it.”

Little did he know at the time, that he would one day be considered one of the greatest home run hitters of all-time.

As Hank’s career was beginning, his hero, Jackie Robinson’s career was winding down.

But luckily for Hank, he was able to play against Jackie Robinson on multiple occasions.

Aaron, once a little kid from a poor family in 1940s Mobile, Alabama, became Major League Baseball’s all-time home run record holder on April 8, 1974 at the age of 40-years-old.

That day, Hank passed George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth’s record of 714, when he sent career home run 715 over the left-center field wall.

Aaron would end his career with 755 home runs. He would hold onto the home run crown until 2007, when Barry Bonds passed him by hitting his 756th home run.

That, of course, was with the help of PEDs, so in my mind, Hank Aaron is still the greatest home run hitter of all-time.

Today, Hammerin’ Hank Aaron still serves with the Atlanta Braves as the team’s Senior Vice President. Happy 86th Birthday, Hank, we love you.

Picture: (baseballhall.org)

What’s at Stake in Washington, DC?

We all know that the Braves have had some struggles this year, very few of them, but they’ve still had them. Particularly with the Washington Nationals, who Atlanta will visit for three games beginning Monday night at 6:05pm CT. You might ask ‘What are we going to do with the absence of Dansby Swanson and Nick Markakis?” I might have your answer. Granted it was a small sample-size during the weekend series in Philadelphia, Ender Inciarte and Adam Duvall could play huge roles in the absence of these two stars. Your next question might be ‘How in the world did we avoid Scherzer for two series?’ Mad Max, as he is known is dealing with a mid-back strain and wasn’t healthy enough for his Tuesday start as of Sunday. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be back until then. His status for Tuesday is a toss-up. A lot of you have been asking me this: “What would a series sweep over Washington mean for the Braves?” It’s simple. Granted the Braves split their most recent series with Washington in Atlanta, the Nationals didn’t game any ground in the standings. Which is a good thing in the case of the Braves. Sweeping Washington would mean seven straight games against the Nationals gaining any ground in the standings, which would be both a big boost for the Braves and a big blow for Washington.

Braves fall 9-4 to Philadelphia, Take Series 2-1, Head to Washington

Coming into this weekend series against the Phillies, Atlanta was fresh off a two-game sweep courtesy of the Kansas City Royals. However, the Braves looked to be in mid-season form during the weekend in Philadelphia or what some may call “pre All-Star break” form. Friday night, Atlanta picked up a much-needed 9-2 win and on Saturday, the bats came to life and the Phillies never really had a chance from the start. Winning Saturday’s contest 15-7. A big part of that was an Ozzie Albies 3rd inning grand slam. The slam was Ozzie’s 15th homer of the year. Even though the Braves couldn’t win on Sunday, I think you have to feel really confident taking two of 3 from Philadelphia and head to Washington D.C. with a series win. Atlanta is now (62-44) on the year and 5.5 games ahead of Washington. One big impact was Ronald Acuña exiting the Sunday game with neck tightness and gave way to Charlie Culberson. Brian Snitker said Ronald Acuña “checked out good, we’ll just wait until tomorrow to see how he feels.” Snitker also said he thinks there is a chance that the All-Star center fielder could play on Monday night in Washington. On to Washington, my friends! Monday’s game will feature Dallas Keuchel taking the mound for Atlanta and Patrick Corbin getting the nod for the Nationals. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05pm CT from Nationals Park in Washington D.C.

Picture: The Sports Herald-Morganton.