Check out a new article from Buffalo over at Swampland.com:
Last week, The Greenville Drive minor league baseball club welcomed one of their own home, in a way. Of course, back in the early ‘90’s, our Greenville, SC ball team were The Greenville Braves. In 2005, the Braves moved to Rome, Georgia.
John Smoltz of the Boston Red Sox, a twenty year veteran of The Atlanta Braves, pitched in Greenville, making a rehab start for the South Atlantic League’s Greenville Drive.
Fluor Field was packed, sold out. Of course, that’s nothing new for the Drive. Their first four seasons and new ball park in the West End have been pulling in fans since the gates opened.
Back in 1991, I was editor of Greenville’s first ever weekly entertainment newspaper, Edge Magazine. One of the first things my partner, the late James Irwin, did was to trade advertising with the Greenville Braves for season tickets. Our row of seven box seats was right behind home plate. Boy howdy, did we ever have some fun times there Now, mind you, this was at the time when our minor league team featured cats like Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones and Javy López.
Of course, my love fore baseball goes back much, much further than that. I can remember very clearly being a little kid, over at my Grandparents’ house watching the game on the old black and white TV with Papa Sorrells. Man, those games were so good. Back before players wore shoulder length hair. Back before steroids.
I collected baseball card, like every other red, white and blue boy during the sixties. I went to many a game out at Duncan Park in my home town of Spartanburg, SC, and even had a life changing experience there one night with my buddies from church, but that is a story unto itself. One I shall save for later. More about stupidity that the fine game of baseball.
There were several occasions during the seventies when we would see the guys from The Marshall Tucker Band out there taking in a game. Two of my favorite worlds, colliding before my very eyes.
I was a fan of the Atlanta Braves. I remember when Hank Aaron started with Atlanta in the mid-sixties, and was watching when hit his 600th career homer in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium off the Giants' Gaylord Perry in 1971. Man, Aaron was my first real African American Hero. The man could do no wrong, baby.
I’ll never forget joining the millions who cheered Hank on as he tied Babe Ruth, connecting on April 4, off Cincinnati's Jack Billingham. Four days later he broke the record with No. 715 against Dodgers' lefty Al Downing. Jeepers, that was some fine baseball.
Standing by my Braves scored big in 1991 when they made history by becoming the first team ever to reach the World Series just one season after having baseball's worst record. Go Braves.
Today, I am happy to present a guest blog from my buddy Brad “The Animal” Lesley, former Cincinnati Reds pitcher, and die hard Marshall Tucker Band fan. Brad is a staple at the annual Angelus Benefits in Tampa, and has been known to sing his big ol’ heart out onstage with the MTB and Charlie Daniels.
Brad is one hell of a guy. One I am happy to count among my friends. I want to thank him for sharing his thoughts with our readers. Hope y’all enjoy reading his blog as much as I did. Read it here.
Keep it Real. Keep it Southern. Pass the peanuts.
I met Toy Caldwell for the first time at the Walnut Grove Opry House in Spartanburg, SC in the late 70's. Did my first shot/sip of moonshine that night as well - what a shock. I was playing with the Greensboro Hornets in the Western Carolina League and the Phillies had a team in Spartanburg that played at Duncan Park. Nice old ballfield, but the lockerooms were tiny. I loved the pitchers mound there as it was big one, like Dodger Stadium and guys like me ( 6' 6") could really get on top of breaking pitches and had that good downward angle at the hitter.
The first two hitters in the Spartanburg Phillies line up were Ryne Sandburg and Scotty Fletcher. Fletcher went on to play 10-plus seasons in the big leagues with the White Sox. Sandburg was likewise traded to the Cubs and is now in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Neither played a day for the Phillies big club. I am sure someone lost there job over that !
Thru the years, since my return from Japan I have gone to many a game with the boys in The Marshall Tucker Band. Some of the boys are diehard fans, others just like the atmosphere of the ballpark. Stuart Swanlund lives and dies with his Cubbies. I would have to say that the majority of the boys in the band are diehard Braves fans and follow the club still to this day.
As for me, baseball has opened every door I have walked thru in my life and I owe the game. I coach with Giants, coach my kids team, and do pitching clinics all over the country. Johnny Bench was my cathcer and there were none finer. Tom Seaver was a teammate as was Joe Morgan and Pete Rose. I have had the good fortune to be around the best that ever played the game and it is my duty to pass their knowledge on to today's young players. The game has changed. Frankly, some of the pitchers today should wear skirts as opposed to the uniform, but it is still our game. Dads and sons share experiences that will last a lifetime.
I remember old Fulton County Stadium was another one of my favorites. The Braves had like a BBQ area down by the visitors bullpen. I had Chief Nokahoma to my left smokin’ his peace pipe or whatever it was, and gracious Braves fans who would have killer southern BBQ to my right. It was awesome. Braves fans were fun people who knew the game, the women were stunning and in those years, the ole Braves weren't very good. Trips to play in Atlanta were always one of every ball players favorite cities.
Obviously times have changed, the Braves won 14 straight division titles, the old ballpark is gone and I am now living in Los Angeles making movies and and raising my kid as a single dad, but I will always have nothing but great memories of my baseball career, my teammates, the championships and the great and loyal fans along the way.
I have considered Doug Gray, Toy, and the MTB boys family for some 30-plus years. You take away baseball. I would have never met the Tucker boys that night at the Walnut Grove, nor would my life experiences have been as plentiful as they have been. Like I said...I owe this game.
- Brad Lesley
"The Animal "
ABOUT THE ANIMAL: Brad is a former Major League Baseball player for the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers from 1982 to 1985. Lesley, who was nicknamed "The Animal", was known for his aggressive style to motivate himself. He later became a television personality in Japan after playing two seasons for the Hankyu Braves. His record in Japan is 7-5, 24 saves, 60 games over 2 years.
He is probably best known for his role as Ajimaru "Animal" Resry in the Japanese game show, Takeshi's Castle where he would participate in such games as "Devil's Domain," "Stuck Up" and his own game "Animal Bang." Takeshi's Castle would later be shown in the US on the cable network Spike TV as Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, later shortened to MXC.
He has also made a number of appearances in certain films such as Brother (2000) (as Moose), Big Monster on Campus (2000) (as Arnie), Buddy (1997) (as Ali Baba), A Boy Called Hate (1996) (as the Moving Truck Driver), Little Big League (1994) (as John 'Blackout' Gatling) and Mr. Baseball (1992) (as Niven). He also made a brief appearance in Space Jam (1996) (as Himself), after Michael Jordan had asked him to star in it personally.
He now lives in Los Angeles and works for the San Francisco Giants as a youth baseball pitching instructor. Oh, and he dearly loves Southern Rock, especially The Marshall Tucker Band.
Thanks guys for posting my article! Between me and Animal, you have a couple of HUGE fans! LOL.
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