Valdosta Daily Times

February 3, 2013

Braves come to Valdosta

Hundreds of devoted fans turn out to meet players

Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — On Saturday, the Atlanta Braves wrapped up the Braves Country Caravan, stopping at Academy Sports in Valdosta for an autograph session.

With spring training only a couple of weeks away, Braves fans flooded Academy Sports, with a line out the door throughout the session made up of fans eager to meet Eddie Perez, Greg Walker, Phil Niekro, Ryan Klesko, David Bale and Joe Simpson. Along with the autographs, Braves mascot Homer was in attendance, and kids could try their hitting skills in a hitting booth.

The Caravan ran from Jan. 22 through Saturday, Feb. 2 and saw Braves players, managers, and alumni tour across Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. Covering more than 5,000 miles with almost 40 stops, the Caravan held autograph sessions at participating Academy Sports locations.

Along with the Academy Sports stops, the Caravan also made “whistlestops,” where they would drop into a store or restaurant unannounced, and community stops, where they would stop at elementary and middle schools, as well as local children's hospitals and military bases.

“It's pretty cool to see a kid get to play Wii Baseball with the Braves players,” said Mackenzie Anderson with the Braves public-relations department.

While most people come to the autograph sessions with baseballs, gloves, bats and jerseys, Anderson has seen a few exceptional items.

“We've had people bring spatulas, hammers, guitars. ... One man showed us a Braves quilt that his grandmother had made decades ago. Braves country is obviously passionate,” said Anderson.

It's a wealth of work and logistics to run the caravan, but Gus Eurton, vice president of marketing, doesn't mind.

“We used to do it at the stadium for one day a year, where the community could come to us, but a few years ago, we decided it made more sense to take it to the community,” said Eurton. “It's good for the players and for the fans. And for the kids who are fans, these players are their heroes. We want them to meet their heroes.”

“We came all the way from Moultrie,” said Martha Hobbes, who was waiting in line with her husband, Tim. “I've been a Braves fanatic for decades. My mother loved the Braves and she passed it right down to me.”