Amateur golfer for life, Derek Eckersley celebrates more than wins

Signs at the feet of Derek Eckersley, Doug Glanville and John Smoltz rally the base paths. A water slide is on display, and a different color baseball bobblehead is available. Even before baseball had…

Amateur golfer for life, Derek Eckersley celebrates more than wins

Signs at the feet of Derek Eckersley, Doug Glanville and John Smoltz rally the base paths. A water slide is on display, and a different color baseball bobblehead is available.

Even before baseball had two divisions, Bud Selig used to tour baseball-playing ballparks with family and friends to see where great players would be dropped. His trips often included a stop at the Atlanta Braves’ spring training facility in Kissimmee, Florida.

”It’s always great to go in there, and you can’t get a crowd without some kind of spring training town you were in when you were in the big leagues,” Selig said. ”That’s the sort of thing that you can’t miss.”

The Braves’ current manager was in that dugout when they were there, too, a part of the terrific Braves teams led by Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux from 1992 to 2005 that won four World Series titles, including 1998 and ’99.

But most of the talent had left for another city by then.

One of the parts missing in their travels has been a parade.

If they can get past the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night, Atlanta’s exuberant fans finally will get their chance to celebrate with their baseball heroes in front of the home crowd in 2017.

So if the Braves hold on in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series, fans who lined both ends of Charles Boulevard in Atlanta from Monday through Tuesday to cheer on the Braves could get a taste of what Selig was talking about.

”This is sort of like a cameo that I have in this story,” Selig said. ”I don’t know whether it’s part of that storyline, but we certainly brought in players that the fans here felt that they could identify with. Doug Glanville, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux. They were the players that the fans came to know and love.”

Especially Maddux, who holds the franchise record with 305 wins and ranks among the top 10 in many other big categories. He was a fan favourite for his blond hair and neat style, a throwback to the beards and 3-point stance many major leaguers favored in the `80s and ’90s.

Maddux would lead the Braves to four NL East titles in eight years, and once posted a string of six straight winning seasons from 1998-2001, when he was among the top 20 MVP candidates.

”For the most part, this town knew me as an everyday pitcher and that was that,” Maddux said in an interview with The Associated Press this season. ”That’s why the fans missed me so much when I left, because I was their pitching hero.”

The Braves took advantage of Maddux’s departure to lure his protege, Kevin Millwood, to be their new pitching coach.

It was also worth noting Maddux’s good friend Greg Maddux was the starting pitcher when the Braves clinched their first World Series title in 11 years with a 3-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics.

If Atlanta can win on Tuesday, the Braves are one win away from closing out a World Series they are the favorites to win.

But it won’t happen if they don’t get home-field advantage for the best-of-seven series.

”There’s no question that we need the home-field advantage,” Maddux said. ”But it is not enough. There is a championship component to it. It is nice for the fans to know that you’ve had a chance to do this many times, but the bottom line is, whatever’s meant to be is meant to be.”

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