DULUTH – Although the Peachtree TV commercials with the catchphrase “the Braves play here” is referring to the Atlanta Braves, citizens of Gwinnett County will soon be able to chant that about their own team, with a first pitch set for April 9, 2009. The Richmond Braves AAA club is relocating from Virginia to the county, and members of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce got their first taste of the action with a luncheon presentation Aug. 5.
Although the move of this team has been known since last winter, it wasn’t until this past Tuesday that locals could learn a lot more about the newest team to call Gwinnett home. On hand were two officials from the Braves to give all the details as well as to answer any questions from the audience: Bruce Baldwin, the general manager and director of minor league business operations, and Toby Wyman, the assistant to the general manager.
“We can’t tell you how much we appreciate the opportunity and how well we’ve been received by the community,” said Baldwin, who garnered a lot of laughs during his presentation by cracking jokes left and right. “Hopefully we will live up to your expectations and beyond.”
Baldwin used his time to not only unveil the new jerseys and ball caps, but to give the audience a general overview of the International League, where the team will continue playing after the move. At 125 years old this season, it is the second oldest continually-operating sports league in the country, second only to the National League.
“This league represents an international cornucopia of cities,” he said. “Right now there isn’t an international team, but the league is looking to expand into Canada to give it an international presence once again.”
The Braves are a unique organization in that they own all but one of their minor league franchises, with the majority of teams in the International League being owned by individuals or corporations, with the exception of the Syracuse Chiefs and Columbus Clippers who are owned by their communities.
“We are an anomaly in this league,” Baldwin said.
Travel for the team will be done through commercial jets, with the exception of when the team heads up I-85 to play the Charlotte Knights.
“Then we’re just stuck with 15 Yugos to carry our damn players,” Baldwin quipped.
The Richmond Braves have carried a rich tradition over the last 42 years, becoming the beginning base for nearly all of the big league affiliate’s stars over the years including John Smoltz, Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones and Phil Niekro.
A video was shown depicting some of the past, present and future Braves who made it through Richmond, but as Wyman pointed out afterwards, most of the future stars in the video, like catcher Clint Sammons and pitcher Charlie Morton, are already in Atlanta due to injuries of other players.
Because it was a meeting with Chamber members, Wyman used his time to talk about sponsorship opportunities at the new Ballpark, on Ga. 20 near I-85.
“More than 40 million people went to see minor league baseball last year, with about one-third in AAA,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount of stability in the league. We want to focus on clean value for our partners and the fan experience.”
Citing Turner Field, Wyman said that the new stadium will have a lot of advertising signage, but that it wouldn’t feel that way. He said there will also be opportunities to sponsor giveaways, contests and certain sections of the stadium.
There are plans for 22 suites which can each accommodate 16-20 people. Borrowing a concept from the park in Richmond, there will be one super suite that can be used for larger corporate functions. Per the agreement with Gwinnett County (the owners of the land where the park is), the stadium will have 10 dates a year where it plays host to other activities like high school baseball tournaments.
“Baseball is just around the corner,” said Chamber CEO Jim Maran. “Don’t miss this opportunity.”