Article byPosted Featured AuthorSeptember 2014
“Just because the initial stages of a deal are done confidentially, it does not mean the process is unethical.”1
This may be true, but when you’re talking about spending upwards of $400 million in taxpayers’ money, it doesn’t seem too much to ask that the process follow the regular channels.
Besides, laws respecting official and public participation in such decision-making are based on the notion that insiders might not have an exclusive pipeline to just what is — and what is not — in the public interest.
No one denies that Major League Baseball teams are entitled to a reasonable opportunity to turn a profit. But there can be little doubt that Major League Baseball teams exist under at least a moral burden to promote the public interest. And maybe more than that when they are asking for access to upwards of $400 million in taxpayers’ money and credit. And to stop short of the point where pursuit of profits turns to profiteering.
Then there are the financial and other tangible public benefits the MLB franchise has already received from its host city, and in this particular instance, the paid patronage of its people dating back to 1966.
Of course, Cobb County, Georgia, one of the wealthiest counties in America, can spend its taxpayers’ money and extend the county’s credit any lawful way it wishes. The disgruntled taxpayer’s remedy is at the ballot box.
Hold these thoughts. And think as well of the parable of the blind man and the elephant. Or, maybe, of the young boy at the age of first understanding why baseball is America’s national pastime, and not just because it’s the only major sport where big games are decided by performance on the field, and not by some coach’s skill in clock management.
“The Braves’ connection and commitment to our neighbors reaches far beyond the walls of Turner Field. It extends to the hearts and homes of the many people who support our team. The Braves are committed to working rigorously to improve the quality of life and to share our love of baseball with our community.”
That’s what management/media relations says at the top of the first page of the Atlanta Braves 2014 Media Guide.
The next page touts Braves Baseball Academy as “an eight-acre, signature youth sports complex just minutes from Turner Field … , [a] first-class facility [that] provides a safe and nurturing environment for youth to participate in sports and education programs.”
This and much more in a like vein are what Braves’ management was telling the public circa April 1, 2014.
According to the Cobb County Board of Commissioners, “[t]he Atlanta Braves … knocked on our door in July 2013, and we gladly welcomed the meeting.”2 The Braves were handily winning the National League East in 2013 as management began back room meetings with selected Cobb County officials about business matters.
Make no mistake about it. The issue is not Turner Field. The dead giveaway is crocodile tears that attend every effort by Braves’ management to explain the team’s move to Cobb County on any grounds other than pie-in-the-sky corporate profits.
Remember, since 2007, Fortune 500 company Liberty Media Corporation of Englewood, Douglas County, Colorado, has proclaimed Atlanta National League Baseball Club, Inc. as one of its marquee properties. See www.libertymedia.com.
Most Baby Boomers who grew up in the South thought the Cardinals were their team. It wasn’t just that St. Louis was sort of a Southern city, a view helped along by Mark Twain and The River.
Cardinal players we loved came from the South. It started as far back as Dizzy Dean and his brother Paul, born in Lucas, Arkansas. Enos Slaughter was from Roxboro, North Carolina. Marty Marion came from Richburg, South Carolina, and went to high school in Atlanta. Tim McCarver grew up in Memphis.
Vinegar Bend Mizell was born and bred in Leakesville, Mississippi. Don Blasingame was from Corinth, Mississippi.
Pepper Martin grew up in Oklahoma, but that was close enough. And the same for Lindy and Von McDaniel. There were Southern boys who would fight if you tried to argue that Stan Musial really was a Yankee from Pennsylvania.
There was more to it than that. “For every Southern boy fourteen years old”3 grew up on KMOX clear channel radio out of St. Louis, 1120 on your AM dial, for that’s all there was, where a young Harry Caray made the Cardinals come alive every summer night.
In 1966, the Braves moved to Atlanta. They didn’t catch on at first. The Braves were losers. Besides, most Southerners will tell you they are all for progress, but change? Not so fast.
Ted Turner started change, however, by force-feeding the South and the country with talk of “America’s Team.” Who’s he kidding, was the reaction of many Southerners. But in time a new generation of Southern boys fourteen years old knew of the miracle of 1991, the hanging curve to Kirby Puckett, and the ‘92 home plate slide by Sid Bream.
Whether the chicken came before the egg, Braves management began cultivating and nurturing a regional fan base. Today minor league farm teams are found from Lynchburg and Danville in Virginia to the Greater Jackson area in central Mississippi. Atlanta’s Braves have moved past the St. Louis Cardinals as Southerners’ favorite baseball team.
(No, those Florida and Texas teams aren’t real Southern baseball teams.)
For all of their many near fatal flaws, Southerners believe in trust and loyalty. These character traits impose duties that are reciprocal. Down here where everybody still knows most everybody else, and their business, doing things in secret means only one thing. You have something to hide. You’re up to something you know you shouldn’t be doing.
And so there was a giant elephant in Turner Field on the afternoon of September 3, 2014, when the embattled Braves — six games behind the Washington Nationals in the NL East and facing Atlanta freeway style traffic to get into the Wild Card playoff — took the field to host the Philadelphia Phillies. A lot more Southern folk felt an unease about that elephant than just the Georgians outside the affluent Cobb County area.
Turner Field is a fine venue for baseball. It’s “the best Major League Baseball experience in America!” was one of the seemingly proud and friendly greetings, repeated over and over and with clarity on the P. A. system for The Road Lawyer [TRL] and others approaching in the hour leading up to the 12:10 p.m. “Play Ball” call.
A week later, TRL is still trying to figure out just what is supposed to be wrong with Turner Field. Lots of Major League ballparks have fallen by the wayside in the modern era. Dodger Stadium dates to 1962 and is now the third oldest of such baseball venues. But none — as in not a single one — has been abandoned after only 20 years.
Unless you count the Braves, who in the Spring of 1953, arrived in brand-spanking new Milwaukee County Stadium and skipped town after the 1965 season, having been forced to play in Milwaukee that last year by a court order.
The Atlanta National League Baseball Club, Inc. cites a number of so-called reasons for its newest plan of abandonment, but only one resonates.
“We’re unable to control development of the areas surrounding our current venue.” Corporate speak for, “we not able to secure a revenue stream up to management’s expectations from enterprises in the areas adjoining and surrounding the ballpark.”
This is supposed to justify the Braves in telling the City of Atlanta, “Up yours!” when the current lease on Turner Field expires after the 2016 season? Even though naiveté attends any thought that bureaucrats in Atlanta city government are blameless in the present contretemps.
It’s hard for TRL not to chuckle at the thought of what even a fresh caught lawyer could do with all of this before a jury. Imagine cross-examining Braves CEO Terence McGuirk about supposed greater accessibility and parking at the Cobb County site as compared to Turner Field.
“Now, Mr. McGuirk, tell me about the last time you drove up I-285 or I-75 through rush hour traffic towards the Cumberland area of southern Cobb County? And what time is it that the Braves’ night home games will begin?”
After, of course, getting McGuirk staked out on projected optimal attendance at home games and how many cars that means headed to the ballpark at about the same time on game day. That he expects bigger crowds in Cobb than the about 30,000 per game the Braves have been averaging each year in Atlanta.
“What’s that? You say attendance has been falling off at Turner Field in recent years?” “But doesn’t that correspond with the end of the Bobby Cox era?” “You do admit, do you not, that attendance shot back up in 2013 when the Braves were atop the NL East most of the season?”
“Or does the declining attendance you talk about date from when Liberty Media bought the Braves franchise?”
“And how far is your new Cobb County site from the closest MARTA stop?” followed with, “now Mr. McGuirk, that is a bit further, is it not, than the 3/4 of a mile between the nearest MARTA stop and Turner Field?”
“And, Mr. McGuirk, you do know, do you not, that Cobb County has banned MARTA? Right?”
“And you also know, do you not, that most every new ballpark opened in recent years — Baltimore, Philadelphia, two in New York, Navy Yard in D. C., Safeco in Seattle, AT&T Park in SFCA — was deliberately built within a couple of blocks of an already established major public transportation stop, right? What’s so different about Atlanta? Assuming, that is, that the Braves really do need a new place to play.”
“And so the transportation and access issues you talk about are all about moving cars in and around the Cumberland area, not about moving people into Cobb County by rail or other public transportation?”
And after that, call Braves president John Schuerholz as an adverse witness, viz., “Mr. Schuerholz, you continue to say you would have had to spend $200 million ‘to upgrade the fan experience’ if the Braves stayed at Turner Field, but then every day still you tell fans entering the Turner Field complex that right now they are about to have ‘the best Major League Baseball experience in America!’ Which time are you lying?”
“And Mr. Shuerholz, when questioned about the months long secret negotiations you had with Cobb County, you are reported as saying that ‘if it had leaked out, this deal would not have gotten done’? You still believe that, do you not? And why is it that ‘this deal would not have gotten done’ if the public had known what you were up to?”
“And, again, how much taxpayer public money do you expect to be put into this project?”
Cross-examining Mike Plant, the Braves’ executive VP for business operations, could be even more fun. “Mr. Plant, I want to ask you about the 16-point demand letter you sent to the City of Atlanta for staying at Turner Field, and particularly about your needs for ‘a mixed use development outside the stadium that would guarantee [the Braves] at least $10 million a year in new revenue.’”4
Start, perhaps, with, “Mr. Plant, would you list for the jury the names of all other Major League Baseball franchises that have a mixed use development outside the ballpark that produces for the team at least $10 million a year in new revenue?”
“So, what did you mean when you told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial board that you had ‘just a feeling that I lost confidence that we’d be able to address the development?’”
“And, now, one more time for the jury, what does that have to do with operating a Major League Baseball franchise?”
You wouldn’t even have to ask leading questions.
The piece de resistance would be the motion for a jury view of Turner Field. “Now Mr. McGuirk, Mr. Schuerholz or Mr. Plant, will any one or even all of you walk the jury through Turner Field and point out the different components of the $150 million in renovations, upgrades and improvements you say would have been so essential were the Braves to have seriously considered staying in Atlanta.”
The only uncertainty is at what point the jury would begin to notice the elongating proboscis on each of the witnesses McGuirk, Schuerholz and Plant.
There are quite sensible reasons why a baseball fan would want to enjoy “the best Major League Baseball experience in America” before Terence McGuirk and his ilk ring down the curtains. First, the basics.
Turner Field, the former Olympic Stadium, is in southern Atlanta, surrounded by Pollard Blvd. to the west, Bill Lucas Drive on the south, Hank Aaron Drive on the east, and Ralph David Abernathy Blvd. a/k/a Georgia Ave. on the north.
Country Inn & Suites seems a fine moderately priced venue, if you are in Atlanta primarily for “the best Major League Baseball experience in America!” It’s “fifty feet across the street” to the southwest.
TRL was a little surprised that the only dining venue in the immediate area surrounding Turner Field is Bullpen Rib House, across Pollard Blvd. to the west, proclaiming that it’s “open 8 days a week.” The reason why became apparent, once inside the Turner Field complex itself. Every kind of dining opportunity a fan’s palate could possibly desire.
You can even order ballpark food and have a vendor bring it to your seat during the game. Premium Service Menus include all of the ballpark basics — dogs, burgers, brats, chicken (tenders and wraps), nachos, pizza, popcorn, peanuts and cracker jacks. Super premium, premium and domestic beers, several cheap wines, Daily’s Pouch Margarita, and softer drinks for the more delicate fans.
The Chophouse Restaurant sits above center field and is for those who want more than just baseball. For fans who want to do a little culinary homework before arriving, check out “What to eat at Tuner Field”.
TRL tried the Smoke House to the northeast just inside the gate. (A giant video screen just outside assures that you won’t miss a pitch.) Pulled pork bar-be-que was pretty good, but not in a class with Interstate, Rendezvous, Payne’s and other venues so cherished by those of us who grew up in the state of North Mississippi, the capital of which is Memphis.
For those who just want to browse, the concourses are wide and the food and drink offerings plentiful and varied. The over 50 set surely notice the modest Coors Light draft stand, and wonder if any of the patrons waiting for a beer remember (or ever knew of) “Smokey and the Bandit.” How the mighty have fallen!
Understand that TRL has once-in-a-lifetime memories of this site. We were there for three evenings of track and field events at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Michael Johnson’s double gold medal achievement in the Men’s 200m and 400m is never to be forgotten. We saw only the 400m. Nor Algerian Noureddine Morceli’s heroic finish in the 1500m “metric mile.”
A gold medal in the long jump was the last Olympic hurrah for the great Carl Lewis. Dan O’Brien’s decathlon gold medal was a gutsy comeback after his pole vault disaster in 1992.
The 1996 Olympics were an awesome achievement, a heroic lifting-of-the-spirit and restoring-the-soul moment for Atlanta as positive as Sherman’s burning the city in 1864 was tragic.
We all left Atlanta in 1996 feeling good that the plan was to reconfigure the majestic Olympic venue for baseball. Remember, the Braves had won the World Series in 1995 and many more consecutive National League pennants and NL East titles would follow through 2005.
TRL and friends were among the 19,000 plus who made their way to and into Turner Field on Wednesday, September 3, 2014. Loads of kids were being chaperoned/ushered in. Hasn’t school started? TRL heard an adult patron remark, “Must be a weather day.” His companion replied, “Yeah, hot weather!” And it was hot that mid-day in early September, as TRL’s sunburned arms would attest the next day.
There was angst in the air, more immediate than what was being planned for opening day of 2017. The Braves had not scored a run in 24 innings, including two shutouts (one a no hitter by committee) at the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies.
A final home game against the Phils, then a day off, and a long road trip beginning Friday in Miami, including three games in D. C. against the NL East leading Washington Nationals.
Five former Mississippi Braves were in the starting lineup that hot Wednesday afternoon, and three more would appear before the Braves finalized a 7–4 victory, including colorful closer, Craig Kimbrel, who recorded his 42nd save of 2014 in 46 opportunities. More on the Mississippi Braves below.
TRL’s host for the game was a family friend and retired Atlanta commercial real estate developer. With the open mind of a lawyer who doesn’t yet have all the facts, TRL had been listening as his friend was explaining the business problematics of the Braves move to Cobb County.
In the bottom of the third inning, score tied 1–1, thirty year old B. J. Upton, once a rising star with the Tampa Bay Rays, came to the plate, batting eighth.
“Now, here’s another bad business deal the Braves have made. Signed this guy a year ago to a $75 million contract through 2017. He was so weak last year he was sent down to AAA for a while. TRL looked at the scoreboard; B. J. was hitting an anemic .205.
With a 0–2 count and a runner on base, and comments of the Braves’ business acumen continuing apace, Upton smacked the ball several rows deep into the left center field bleachers. Brass War Chant theme! Fans providing a choral response! Tomahawk Chop! All was joy for the home team, for the moment.
“Okay, so now he’s hitting .208.” Including his 10th home run of the season. B. J. Upton would finish the day one for two, with two free passes. Baby brother Justin, normally a starter, did not play (tender triceps a/k/a bruised arm?).
The Braves’ fifth was the key to the game. Former MBrave Freddie Freemen led off the inning. TRL’s business sage friend and host had reported that Freeman was having a lackluster year, his first under his new eight year contract through 2021, worth gazillions in the aggregate.
Freeman shot a line drive to right center and legged it into a bang bang play at second. The replay official ruled Freeman safe. War Chant! Tomahawk Chop!
Christian Bethancourt singled to score Freeman. Braves up 5–4. War Chant! Tomahawk Chop! It was Bethancourt’s second RBI in a 3 for 4 day, the rookie catcher having just been recalled from AAA Gwinett.
Former L. A. Angels ace, Ervin Santana’s slider was ineffective (according to the Braves’ radio announcer, not TRL’s eyesight), but held on for six innings to push his season’s record to 14–7, best on the team.
Three relievers finished it out, with Kimbel giving up only a two out walk before nailing down career save number 181 on his already all time franchise high.
Fans entering the Turner Field complex from the north are greeted by bronze Braves history. Most prominent, of course, is Henry [Hank] Aaron, though he played only nine of his 23 MLB years in Atlanta.
Southpaw Warren Spahn’s famous right leg kick is artistically depicted (he never pitched in Atlanta at all). The sculptor’s attention to detail is on display in the form of Phil Niekro’s finger tips a/k/a knuckles on the ball in a still familiar (to the over 50 set) pitching pose. Ty Cobb was a Detroit Tiger almost to the end, but he is shown safely stealing second base. Never a Brave, the Georgia Peach is the only native Georgian among the sculptures.
The Braves began in Boston and is/are the oldest continuously operating professional baseball team in America. The Cincinnati Red Stockings dissolved after the summer of 1869. The Chicago Cubs did not play for two years after the Fire of 1871.
It’s a shame fathers no longer teach their sons about the Miracle Braves of a century ago this year. The classic proof of Yogi Berra’s life lesson, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” The Boston Braves were in last place in the National League on July 4, 1914, but surged to win the pennant. No other team has done that, before or since. For good measure, the Braves swept Connie Mack’s powerful Philadelphia A’s in the World Series. All in all, a much more credible and lifelike and team oriented parable than David and Goliath.
Inspired by the feat of its players in 1914, management promptly built a new 40,000 seat stadium known as Braves Field. “The park was novel for its time; public transportation brought fans right into the park.”5 Hmmm? That’s better than AT&T Park in San Francisco, where public transportation lets you out just across the street and just past the corner of Second and King, adjacent to the ticket booths.
May 24, 1935 is and remains a storied (if isolated) day in Braves history. The aging Babe Ruth had come back to Boston to help the Braves put fans in the stands. That day he deposited into the bleacher seats career home runs numbers 712, 713 and 714. The last he ever hit. He retired June 1, 1935.
The Ted Williams-led Red Sox had one of their heart-breaking near misses in 1948. A more poetic portrait was being painted in nearby Braves Field. Former LSU quarterback Alvin Dark6 and Eddie Stanky were a nifty double play combo.
Stanky began his pro baseball career with the Greenville Bucks over by The River, a teammate of future Cardinals pitcher Harry Brecheen. He was the long time successful coach of the University of South Alabama baseball team in Mobile, near his home town of Fairhope. Tommy Holmes was the best of some pretty good hitters on the 1948 Boston Braves. But Bean Town’s step child team won the NL pennant on the mound.
“Spahn and Sain and pray for rain,” was the shortened version. Sunday double headers were popular in those days, leading to more days off, so that it was really:
First we’ll use Spahn
then we’ll use Sain
Then an off day
followed by rain
Back will come Spahn
followed by Sain
by two days of rain 7
Everyone knows of Hall of Famer Warren Spahn’s 363 career wins8 rank him 5th in the history of Major League Baseball, and tops all-time for a southpaw. Johnny Sain was 24–15 in 1948. Left out of the poetry and lost in the shuffle was rookie Vernon Bickford who contributed an 11–5 record to the Braves’ NL pennant express.
Alas, Lou Boudreau’s Cleveland Indians broke Boston hearts a second time in two weeks, winning the first Braves-Indians World Series four games to two, having immediately prior thereto defeated the Red Sox in a one game AL playoff.
The Braves faded after 1948 and after the 1952 season moved to Milwaukee, home of their top minor league farm team. In time, Braves Field was acquired by Boston University for its sports complex.
“Banned in Boston, S.R.O. in Milwaukee” was the story line as the Braves played two historic World Series with the Yankees in 1957 and 1958. Warren Spahn was still doing his thing, but newcomer Lew Burdette stopped the hated Yankees in Game 7 in 1957. Young Braves Henry Aaron and Eddie Matthews became household names with their bats.
The Milwaukee Braves were unable to maintain their lofty heights of ‘57 and ‘58. The flush of new romance dissipated. The Braves never had a season in Milwaukee with less than 83 wins (out of 154 in those days), but it wasn’t enough. After the 1964 season, management dreamed of warmer weather for those early spring games, and sought new romance in another farm team town, the home base of the Double A Atlanta Crackers.
Seeking a divorce after only twelve years in Milwaukee, the Braves faced a fight. Allan H. (Bud) Selig, a local used car salesman, and minority Braves shareholder, sued. Selig argued that owning a professional baseball team was like a public trust. Management had a duty to its community to show more loyalty and staying power.
After all, big league baseball was and remains the only professional sport that enjoys an antitrust exemption, judicially created by none other than Boston born and bred, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.9 A preliminary injunction kept the Braves in Milwaukee one more year.
In time, Selig settled. In 1992, Selig became acting and in 1998 official Commissioner of Baseball, retiring only this year.
The weather may have been warmer in Atlanta, but the team was colder. For a while, Hank Aaron, Dale Murphy and Phil Niekro were the only players who could have survived spring roster cuts anywhere else.
April 8, 1974 was a moment for all time. Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s career record many thought would last forever. The purists grumbled that Aaron took 11,295 at bats to break the record Ruth set with only 8,399 trips into the batter’s box.
The real American baseball fans admired the character and courage of a quiet, straight laced young African American who endured what no player had faced since Jackie Robinson in 1947, and prevailed. And in a Deep South city even in 1974 not fully reconstructed.
1982 was the next year of note in Atlanta. The Braves won their division, but the Cardinals swept them 3–0 in the playoffs. Milwaukee fans enjoyed the “one up” moment as their replacement franchise, the expansion team Brewers, faced the Cardinals in the World Series, albeit losing in the 7th game.
It was another nine years before Bobby Cox, Greg Maddox, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz came to town, and, for three special years, Steve Avery. You know the story from there, tarnished by the fact that only in October of 1995 did the Braves win the World Series, defeating the Cleveland Indians, four games to two.
An Atlanta Braves victory would not be complete without the proud and exuberant fans doing the War Chant and the accompanying Tomahawk Chop. Of course, these have no authentic Native American background. Best information is that they started at night football games at Florida State University, when well lubricated frat boys came up with a cheer intended to support the Seminoles and intimidate the visiting team into submission.10
The cheer has become a part of an Atlanta Braves home game experience. The irrepressible “Prime Time” Deion Sanders had been a two sport star at Florida State. He is said to have brought the chant and the chop to Atlanta in his four years with the Braves, 1991–1994. The details of the story vary with who tells it. The chant and the chop have stuck, and with official Braves sanction.
Deion had moved on the Cincinnati by 1995, when the Braves faced and beat the Cleveland Indians for the first franchise World Series championship since Rabbit Maranville and the Miracle Braves of 1914.
Somehow about that time the idea got started that such team nicknames and cheers are racist. Over the next decade, the issue became a hot one in the college context, where political correctness often prevails over common sense.
In 2005 the NCAA spoke out. “Mascots, nicknames or images deemed hostile or abusive of race, ethnicity or national origin” are discouraged. Colleges “displaying or promoting hostile or abusive references” are “prohibited from wearing the material at NCAA championships, effective August 1, 2008.”
Of course, sensible and appropriately sensitive persons see nothing “hostile or abusive” in nicknames like “Braves” and “Indians.” To the contrary, such nicknames suggest fierce noble warriors, precisely the sort of positive images that are in the best tradition of competitive team sports and honoring the cultural diversity of the American people.
Criticizing the Braves (or Indians, Seminoles, Choctaws, or Fighting Illini) for being racist makes about as much sense as condemning the still unfinished Crazy Horse mountain side memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota, because the non-Native American sculptor hasn’t avoid features that might suggest Crazy Horse was a great and noble Lakota Sioux warrior.
In CABA’s part of the world, Alcorn State proudly calls its sports teams “Braves”; Mississippi College’s athletic warriors are “Choctaws.”
Is not imitation still the sincerest form of flattery?
Stickball may be the oldest team sport in North America. While its origins are not recorded, one may safely say Native Americans were playing stickball long before Europeans “discovered” and settled in the New World.11
Today stickball is quite popular with southeastern tribes and people, but nowhere more so than in Neshoba County, Mississippi. Each year, the Mississippi Band of Choctaws stages the Stickball World Series, as a part of the Annual Choctaw Indian Fair. See www.choctawindianfair.com.
Stickball — Choctaw style — is played barefooted. “It’s vigorous play – a free-for-all of sorts,” TRL was told.
“Choctaws use hand carved sticks and a small hand-wrapped leather ball. Players cannot catch the ball with their hands. They must ‘catch’ and ‘throw’ the ball with sticks, an art in and of itself. The goal is to hit the pole with the ball. The melee on the field looks a little like a rugby scrum. Other tribes play their own style of the game, such as one eastern tribe which plays stickball more like lacrosse.”
This year’s announcement read “World Series of Stickball games will be played at Warrior Stadium with the WSS Championship Game capping off the last night of the fair, Saturday, July 12 at 10 p.m.”12
Players from the Mississippi Braves, Double A Minor League franchise farm team for the “Big” Braves, were invited over to sign autographs, an outreach venture by the Tribe.
MBraves players brought tents and free souvenirs. They wore their numbered jerseys with MBravescaps and jeans. Eight or ten came on the mornings of July 11 and 12; they had to be back in Pearl and Trustmark Park for a game each night.
MBrave players had their pictures taken with tribal members. Many proudly posed with newly crowned 2014–2015 Choctaw Indian Princess, MeShay Jimmie, on the morning of July 11. Others are shown getting lessons on how to hold the stickball sticks, and how to catch the ball with the sticks.
In the process, the MBraves players became interested in stickball and Choctaw culture. Tentative discussions are being had regarding a possible stickball exhibition in Pearl in the not too distant future.
The Mississippi Braves are one of five Atlanta Braves-owned minor league farm teams. The Gwinnett (Georgia) Braves are in the AAA International League. The Lynchburg (Virginia) Hillcats are in the High-A Carolina League. The Rome (Georgia) Braves are in the Low-A South Atlantic League, and the Danville (Virginia) Braves are in the rookie Appalachian League.
The “Big” Braves keep a thumb on their minor league clubs. John Schuerholz — yes, that John Schuerholz — is president of all except the Lynchburg Hillcats.
Player development is the name of the game with the Mississippi Braves and all other farm teams. Playing in Atlanta is the goal of every player, and the goal of Braves management for each player.
For example, the home ballpark for each farm team is designed so that the right fielder is the last person to lose sight of the sun on a summer evening. Foul pole distances and outfield fences and configurations are almost exactly the same at Trustmark Park, as at Turner Field and as at Coolray Field where the AAA Gwinett Braves play, and as at State Mutual Stadium where the Rome Braves play, as at Legions Field in Danville. Only at Calvin Falwell Field in Lynchburg are the fences 325 ft., 390 ft., and 325 ft., about ten feet closer to home plate than in the other ballparks.
On April 7, 2005, the Mississippi Braves opened for business at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The CABA area franchise proudly proclaims that 89 players who have donned MBraves uniforms have made it to Major League Baseball (though not all with the Atlanta Braves). Sixteen have been called up directly from AA to the “Big” Braves.
Most remember the stars from those early years, Jeff Francour, Jarrod Saltalamachia, Brian McCann, among others, now with other organizations.
TRL was surprised that so many former MBraves were in the starting lineup or later took to Turner Field on September 3, 2014.
Jason Heyward led off. (How many 6’5”, 245 lb. lead off hitters can you name?) While Heyward’s on-base-percentage is respectably above .350, he’s made more of a name for himself with outstanding defense in right field. Heyward was with the MBraves in 2009.
Slick fielding, Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons hails from Curacao in the Caribbean. His pirouette in short left field and shotgun throw to first against the Mets back on August 27 in New York saved a run and a Braves win. Dubbed Play of the Week, the play is so unbelievable that its video is readily available, and frequently viewed. Simmons was with the MBraves in 2012.
First baseman Freddie Freeman bats third. Mentioned above, he was a teammate
of Jason Heyward with the MBraves in 2009.
Tommy La Stella was with the MBraves in 2013. He started at second base, batting fifth, and singled to drive in an insurance run in the sixth inning. In the eighth, La Stella was lifted for pinch hitter Phil Gosselin, who was with the MBraves in 2012 and 2013.
Catcher Christian Bethancourt of Panama was the player of the game. He played with the MBraves in 2012 and 2013.
Evan Gattis has started 100 games at catcher, though he was replaced by Bethancourt on that hot Wednesday afternoon. Gattis caught for the MBraves in 2012. He pinch-hit for relief pitcher David Carpenter in the 8th inning.
Starting pitchers Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Alex Wood pitched with the MBraves in 2010, 2010 and 2012, respectively.
Closer Craig Kimbrel was with the MBraves in 2009. He was National League rookie of the year in 2011.
Cobb County dates back to 1832 and the action of the Georgia General Assembly. The lands were “confiscated” (“stolen” might be more factually accurate) from the Cherokee Nation, courtesy of Andy Jackson’s infamous Indian Removal Act.
A touch of irony attends Cobb County’s welcoming hand warmly extended to the Braves’ relocation representatives.
Cobb County was named for Thomas Willis Cobb, former U. S. Senator and Congressman from Georgia. No, there is no apparent connection
with The Cobb from Georgia, Tyrus Raymond Cobb, the “Georgia Peach,” who grew up in Royston, to the northeast, up near the South
Carolina state line. Ty Cobb was the first player elected to the Baseball Hall
of Fame. Many regard him as the best ever.
Located adjacent to Fulton County to its east/southeast boundary, and bounded by Cherokee County to the north, Cobb County was home to 688,078 according to the 2010 Census. The U. S. Census Bureau ranks Cobb County as the most educated county in Georgia, and twelfth among all counties in the country. It ranks among the 100 wealthiest counties in the United States.
Marietta, Georgia, is the county seat. Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems is the largest of many high-end employers in Marietta and Cobb County.
A Superior Court order has validated Cobb County’s “plan to issue up to $397 million in bonds to fund the public portion of the stadium construction.”13
The Braves want to put more than a new $622 million baseball park at its new Cobb County site. There is also a “$400 million mixed-use complex” project in the works. Developers say they will bring “shops, restaurants, bars, offices, residences and hotels to the area off I-285 and near Cumberland Mall,”14 just outside the Perimeter where I-75 crosses into Cobb County.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a two part comprehensive analysis in mid-August, though in familiar media form, it was more hung up on open meetings and records issues than the far more important merits vel non of the Braves’ great escape plan.15 The Journal-Constitution maintains a website where you can keep track of activity. MyAJC.com/bravesmove.
The 2014 Media Guide presents the Braves’ 40-Man Roster going into the season. Thirty-seven year old Freddy Garcia gets a full five pages, more than any other player (Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward got only four pages each), though fine print says he was only a non-roster invitee to Spring Training.
Acquired by the Braves in late August, 2013, Garcia had a 1.65 ERA in six games down the stretch run to the NL East pennant. He started against the Dodgers in game four of the 2013 NL playoffs and was in line for the win when he left the game after six innings, the Braves up 3–2. It wasn’t Freddy’s fault the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead, and that the Dodgers eliminated the Braves 4–3.
CABA area fans remember Freddy Garcia as a flame-thrower with the now defunct Jackson Generals, back in 1998, at the old Smith-Wills Stadium. He was certain to make it to “the show.”
Garcia led the American League in innings pitched in 2001. He was 14–8 in 2005 with the World Champion Chicago White Sox. Garcia pitched seven scoreless innings, and was the winning pitcher in Game 4, as the Sox swept the Houston Astros in four straight.
Freddy Garcia has more MLB wins than any other Venezuelan born pitcher.
The Media Guide tells the whole story of this once stalwart workhorse pitcher and leads a reasonable reader to think him a big part of the Braves’ plans for 2014, and that the team was proud to have Garcia spend his sunset years in Atlanta.
The presentation of Freddy Garcia in the 2014 Media Guide shows with clarity the disingenuity of soul of what the Atlanta Braves have become. On March 24, the Braves released Garcia, two months after he had signed a minor league contract, but with the promise for the season ahead, based on his late season mound performance in 2013.
Freddy Garcia is now playing professional baseball in Taiwan, his MLB days apparently over.
Professional baseball is no longer played in Jackson proper. Smith-Wills Stadium is largely dark on summer evenings.
The MBraves play in a fine minor league baseball facility in Rankin County, not Hinds. The MBraves’ track record in producing MLB players ought to keep fans coming for years to come. The only downer to MBraves home games is the large number of nights when the temperature is still above 90° degrees at game time, but somehow it seemed there were fewer such games in 2014 than in years past.
The 2014 MBraves were 83 – 56 for the full season, best in the ten team Southern League. They missed the playoffs only because of the crazy split season format the league uses. It’s fun to watch such a culturally diverse group of youngsters working their buns off, and to argue about which ones will make it to “the show.”
Still, you wonder how long it will be before Liberty Media Corporation sends down the word that the profits aren’t high enough. Or even decides that the Big Braves aren’t enough of a profit center, once fans see that access and parking in Cobb County are even worse than at Turner Field, and the bloom is off the rose of the vaunted “$400 million mixed-use complex” that isn’t producing nearly the income stream the Liberty Media corporate moguls in Colorado feel they have to have.
Greater Atlanta has already forgotten its one brief shining moment in the Summer of 1996 when heroes came to town. Turner Field is destined to become dark in the summer months until few remember Maddox and Glavine and Smoltz and Chipper Jones and Bobby Cox and the joyous exuberance of the War Chant and the Tomahawk Chop night after night, or even the heartbreak of so many near misses in the post-season.
And will it be ten years or twenty before the inexorable realities of multi-ethnic demography combine with America’s most culturally diverse professional sport to the point where the successors of Terence McQuirk and John Schuerholz invoke the precedents of Milwaukee and Atlanta and seek another venue to pursue profits?
Or perhaps, just perhaps, some larger than life figure will appear, with the financial staying power of Ted Turner, and maybe even Bart Giamatti’s vision for baseball, and say, enough is enough! At least for a while.