Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Braves mark 40 years in Atlanta

Arrival in 1966 to be commemorated tonight

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


ATLANTA -- Felipe Alou was the first batter for the Braves in their new home of Atlanta. His brother Matty had been the first batter for Pittsburgh in that 1966 National League opener at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

"The biggest thing to me was the reception that the fans gave the team," the 70-year-old San Francisco manager said when asked his memories of the arrival of major league professional sports in the Southeast.

"Coming from Milwaukee, the black and Latin players didn't know exactly what to expect. We were told to be alert, that there could be some issues. But the fans that night were great.
"They accepted the whole team. It was awesome. Atlanta was our new home, and they were our fans."

The Braves mark the 40th anniversary of their first regular-season game in Atlanta tonight by reuniting the 1966 team before the game against Philadelphia at Turner Field.

Alou, of course, is busy elsewhere, and Hank Aaron will also not be able to attend because of a prior out-of-town commitment. But more than a dozen 1966 Braves -- including Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, Opening Night starter Tony Cloninger and slugger Rico Carty -- are scheduled to take part.

Cloninger pitched all 13 innings on April 12, 1966, but lost 3-2, to the disappointment of the 50,671 fans. Hall of Fame slugger Willie Stargell gave the Pirates the victory with an extra-inning homer. The Braves' runs came on homers by current New York Yankees manager Joe Torre.

The current Braves will wear replica 1966 uniforms tonight, and chairman emeritus Bill Bartholomay, who was instrumental in bringing the Braves south from Milwaukee, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

To mark the anniversary, the Braves also are offering throwback ticket prices. Upper-reserved and upper-pavilion seats will be $2.

The former players, as well as original manager Bobby Bragan, are scheduled to take part in an autograph and question-and-answer session.

During pregame ceremonies, there will be a moment of silence for Billy Hitchcock, who replaced Bragan and led the Braves to a 33-18 finish in 1966. Hitchcock died Sunday at age 89.

Alou looks back on his first season in Atlanta fondly. Playing center field, he had the best average (.327) and home run total (31) of his career while making the All-Star Game. His final season with the Braves was in 1969, when they won the NL West title.

"I really liked playing in Atlanta," Alou said. "It was great for me."

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