The 116th Army Band played the Tomahawk Chop theme while 300 chopping guard members and their families welcomed the Braves in the National Guard’s Joint Headquarters Building.
“Now I know what the University of Georgia feels like having their own band,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said.
Chaplain Capt. Leslie Nelson led attendees in a Braves-themed prayer in which she wished that God would let the umpires know the “difference between an infield fly and an outfield fly,” a reference to an infamous call in the 2012 Wild Card playoff. She then announced that she has a Braves tattoo.
But the event wasn’t all fun and games. Before the ceremony, Braves outfielders Jason Heyward and B.J. Upton, pitchers Mike Minor and Eric O’Flaherty, manager Fredi Gonzalez, bench coach Carlos Tosca and Wren got to see the Guard’s emergency operations center, where guardsmen were busy a day earlier monitoring the deadly tornado that hit Adairsville. The room features more than a dozen video screens, where officials keep tabs on different television stations and Internet reports.
While the Georgia Emergency Management Agency ended up not calling the Guard to assist in the tornado aftermath, Army Col. Perry Carter, the operations officer, said they monitored the situation until Wednesday evening. Had the tornado continued east on its devastating path, he said the Georgia Guard might have had to respond to its first natural disaster since 2011.
“Last year was a good year for us,” Carter said of the year when they didn’t respond to any disasters after deploying for three South Georgia fires and a snowstorm in 2011. “We’re always ready to respond if GEMA needs us.”
Heyward, who lives in the Cumberland area, said he appreciates the work the Guard does, which also includes deploying soldiers to Afghanistan.
“There’s a lot going on, and it’s kind of more than meets the eye,” Heyward said. “It’s also comforting to know, me being a Georgia native, to have that reassurance of how much of an eye they have on us.”
Later, the Braves gathered for an autograph session for guardsmen and their families. After Heyward signed a baseball for her, Sgt. Chassy Lee of Austell said she planned to upgrade to better seats when she goes to Turner Field this season.
“I really do appreciate that they would take the time out of their day,” she said. “It really shows us that we are appreciated, and we appreciate them.”
The visit was part of the Braves Country Caravan, an annual tour of the Southeast that includes autograph sessions and other appearances. The same group appeared later Thursday for a public autograph signing in Hiram.
Wren said the Braves often make an effort to stop at military bases on the caravan, which started Jan. 22 and wraps up Saturday.
“They come see us at Turner Field, but this gives us an opportunity to see them in their home,” Wren said. “The military’s got a special place in our heart. We’ve had a great association here with Dobbins and we will continue to do so.”
As more Georgia National Guard members prepare to head to Afghanistan, Adjutant Gen. Jim Butterworth said the Braves visit comes at a good time.
“Our folks deserve a little bit of a breather,” he said.
With spring training starting in just over a week, Heyward likes the Braves’ chances with the additions of B.J. Upton and his brother, Justin Upton, to the outfield.
“If the pitching and defense stay solid and sound, offensively we’ll be able to make enough noise to carry us through the season,” Heyward said.