Pep rally shows Braves' energy
Atlanta's Rally Monday party a hit with fans, ex-players
ATLANTA -- All season long, Atlanta Braves veterans talked about the energy and enthusiasm of the team's rookies and how it affected the team's psyche inside the clubhouse.
Rally Monday '05 showed that the kids' influence has spread outside the clubhouse and has had an energizing affect on Braves fans throughout the region.
Unlike last season, when the workmanlike Braves celebrated their 13th consecutive division championship with a Rally Monday at CNN Center that more closely resembled a political convention, for 2005, the cul-de-sac behind Perimeter Summit rocked like Music Midtown, Atlanta's annual three-day outdoor music festival.
There was free food, catered by Fratelli Di Napoli, which served a complimentary lunch of hot Italian bread, Caesar salad and a choice of Rigatoni with their famous Vodka sauce or Penne in Marinara with mini-meatballs. There were free drinks, given away by Pepsi. There were kiosks sponsored by businesses ranging from Delta Airlines to Brinks Security, and smaller stands allowing fans to buy Braves playoff tickets. One stand offered free massage and blood-pressure screenings, the perfect pre-playoff preparation for die-hard fans heading into the postseason.
"I've been selling," said a smiling Betty Irbe, who took a brief respite from the steady line of last-minute ticket buyers, who had the opportunity to purchase two tickets for Game 1, and receive two free tickets for Game 2. "Upper level and outfield is all that's left, The line's been steady with four sellers."
In the middle of the square was a large picnic area with scores of tables and, at the very front, a large stage with banners celebrating the Braves and Rally Monday and the amplifiers and drum kit for the band Sister Hazel, which would fittingly conclude the rally's activities with a concert, presented by the Braves' first-year sponsor and FM affiliate, 96 Rock.
After the Braves Tomahawk Team got the crowd fired up, longtime Braves announcer Pete Van Wieren and current WGST pregame and postgame host Stu Klitenic took center stage, introducing alumni from the 1991 team, including Mark Lemke, Lonnie Smith, Pete Smith, and Charlie Leibrandt, along with popular alumni Dale Murphy, Steve Bedrosian and Jay Howell.
"This team is very similar to '91," said Lemke, who teams with Klitenic on the Braves' radio coverage. "You can really feel the energy. A lot of the young guys have energized the fans."
"There's a lot more excitement this year," added Lonnie Smith. "We were a lot more of a veteran group than this team."
Van Wieren kept the atmosphere light relating an anecdote about Murphy, a two-time MVP outfielder who'd started his career as a catcher.
"There was one day in Spring Training when Dale's throws weren't exacty on the mark," said Van Wieren. "Dale's dad walked up to him, put his arm around him and said, 'If they were trying to steal center field, you would have had them every time.'"
A brief question-and-answer session followed with fans from as far away as Idaho asking questions of the Braves alumni.
"This is your heritage," said Van Wieren to the appreciative crowd as they left the stage.
Among the crowd was Newnan, Ga., resident Jason Jones, who brought along his two young daughters, Mary Charles and Maggie, each adorned in a balloon hat.
"I've been a Braves ticket holder for three years," said Jones, who moved to Atlanta from Seattle three years ago and calls this team one of his favorites. "This team has overcome so much with the injuries and the young kids, the excitement. They play for the love of the game."
The rally on this day will probably go on long after Jones has put his next generation of Braves fans to bed and the rock 'n' roll won't end with Sister Hazel.
In fact, the Rally Monday celebration was to reconvene a few hours later at the ESPN Zone in Buckhead, with present Braves Andruw Jones, Brian McCann and Ryan Langerhans and executive vice president and general manager John Schuerholz expected to show up. Jeff Francoeur was expected to call in. Murphy, Lemke, and Phil Niekro were among the alumni expected to attend.
Jon Cooper is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.