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.
For many people, they think that Turner Field was the original home of the Atlanta Braves, but it was actually Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, which served as the Home of the Braves from 1966 to 1996. In fact, it saw four World Series appearances (’91, ’92, ’95, ’96) and one World Series title (’95). It also hosted the 1972 MLB All-Star Game, this is the place where the person whom many still consider the home run king, Hank Aaron, hit his 500th, 600th, 700th and 715th home runs. The hallowed grounds of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium saw three Cy Young Award winners during its tenure as the Home of the Braves, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine in the late 1990s. The stadium closed on October 24, 1996, the year before the Braves moved across the street to the famed Turner Field. Although it was no longer being used as a baseball stadium, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was turned into a parking lot for Turner Field. Even after being turned into a parking lot, the concrete still contained the outline of the original infield outline and the original wall as well as marker commemorating Aaron’s historic record-breaking 715th home run. The parking lot is still being used today and serves guests of Georgia State Stadium (formerly Turner Field), which currently serves the Georgia State University Panthers football program.
Recently, the Braves have been on a three-game season-opening road trip to Philadelphia where they squared off against the Philadelphia Phillies. In the offseason, much of the talk around baseball was the Phillies signing of National League sensation, Bryce Harper, to a 13-year $330 million contract. Some might ask why I am talking about Bryce Harper since I am a Braves fan so I’m going to cut to the chase. Philadelphia didn’t treat the Braves as nicely as I hoped but in the back of my mind I knew that it would be this way. Harper is 2-for-12 in a Philadelphia uniform. That doesn’t sound good, I know but his two hits are home runs one of which traveled 465-feet on Saturday against Atlanta in game two of the series. Not to mention that Phillies have multiple former all-stars on their roster, two of those being Bryce Harper, who was acquired from Washington in the offseason and the other? Andrew McCutchen, who was acquired from San Francisco, also during the offseason. The Braves (0-3) left “The City of Brotherly Love” without a win. But, tonight they open the gates of SunTrust Park for the first time in 2019 at 6:10p.m. Central Time against Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and the 2016 World Champion, Chicago Cubs. Excitement has been brewing in the air of Atlanta as we have patiently awaited this day. Earlier today, I read that the Cubs bullpen was struggling as has been the Braves so hopefully we can turn things around at home and give these fans what they’ve waited all offseason for. Here’s to SunTrust Park and hoping the Cubs treat the Braves to their first win of 2019.
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.
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.