CUMBERLAND — For someone who has spent more than half of his life greeting and welcoming people, longtime Atlanta Braves usher Walter Banks was taken back when he walked into his own surprise birthday celebration at the onUp Experience in The Battery Atlanta on Monday afternoon.
Banks, who has worked in the Braves organization for 54 years, turned 80 on Monday, and to kickoff a week of celebration, the Braves hosted a party with family and fans at the site where a Pop-Up Exhibit for Walter is being hosted.
“I’m so appreciative that they allowed me to take part, be a part and take advantage of the kindness and the things that were built here,” Banks said. “When I was brought up, I thought all parties were at night, but this tops all of the night parties that I’ve ever been to.”
Balloons, Braves memorabilia and a cake decorated with Banks’ portrait set the scene for the party. Family and fans from across the country have sent Banks their appreciation and birthday wishes.
“I worked for some people over in the Georgia Dome and they called me from Las Vegas, Nevada and one of my relatives is in the service over in Hawaii and some people from South Carolina called me,” Banks said. “I’m just overwhelmed.”
Behind the stage where Braves President and CEO Derek Schiller welcomed everyone and spoke praise of Banks was the exhibit filled with Banks’ old jackets, shirts from the Braves World Series win and a banner with his face painted on it.
Banks started working at Atlanta-Fulton County stadium in 1965 for $4 a game, he said. Since then, Braves fans and fans of opposing teams alike have experienced the impact Banks has had on them.
“We want to make that customer experience as good as it can be and he’s at the top of that pyramid,” Schiller said. “He represents everything that is great about going to an Atlanta Braves game. Whether that’s at SunTrust Park, Turner Field or Fulton County Stadium, Walter has been a part of that.”
The Pop-Up Exhibit in the onUp Experience in the Battery will be open to fans all week through Sunday. At the exhibit, fans will receive a special Walter Banks baseball card.
“Somethings you just can’t take for granted. This is certainly one of them,” Banks said of his 54 year career with the Braves. “This franchise from day one has seen the growth. I tell people ‘the tallest oak in the forest at one time was an acorn’...look at the height of the acorn now.”
At Friday’s home game against the Miami Marlins, the first 15,000 fans through the gates will receive a Walter Banks bobblehead.
“I was surprised,” Banks said. “I thought it looked just like Walter Banks.”
Along with the exhibit and bobblehead, the Braves franchise gifted Banks with a Braves road trip of his choosing sometime this season.
“He has more memorabilia than he knows what to do with,” Schiller said. “Walter is really big into experiences. He loves to experience Atlanta Braves baseball, but when he’s here he’s usually working. We’re sending him on the road as a fan.”
From the time he walked through the exhibit and took pictures with fans, the smile never left Banks’ face. The humility and hospitality and love Banks shows towards the game of baseball and the fans in Braves country has been there for 50 years and he hopes there’s more years to come.
“I think I’ve been to just about every ballpark in the major leagues. I never get tired of it,” Banks said. “My dad used to listen to the baseball games and I’d be in bed. It got in my system and it never left.”