Academy Sports & Outdoors is hosting the regional Caravan, which will stop at the store’s Bent Creek Road location Jan. 29 from 3–4 p.m.
Braves players who will be present for autographs include former Auburn players Tim Hudson and David Ross, along with Eric Hinskie, Tyler Pastornicky, Scott Fletcher and Braves radio announcer and MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton.
The Braves’ fan fest that preceded the Caravan—which is in its third year—took place at Turner Field, but Braves Senior Vice President Derek Schiller spearheaded the effort to take the fan appreciation series on the road in order to reach the largest percentage of the fan base possible.
“Some version of the Caravan has been around since the Braves have been in Atlanta,” said a Braves spokesperson. “The Caravans have a lot of history; they have evolved over the years. Instead of having 25 players on one day, we will have three or four players every single day.”
The Caravan will travel through five states and stop in more than 25 cities, from Charlotte, N.C., to SEC towns like Athens, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn.
“We try to get headliner guys on every single trip,” the spokesperson said. “On every trip there are always future stars. Last year one of the cities had first baseman Freddie Freeman and pitchers Craig Kimbrel and Johnny Venters. At the time they weren’t that well known.”
Membership in the Braves Country Fan Club costs $29.99 and includes a membership card and attendance at a game with a pregame parade honoring the members.
Hudson and Ross attended Auburn’s Home Run Derby last Halloween weekend that benefited the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Lee County and the Hudson Family Foundation.
“Our goal is to make this into a premier fundraising event for both the Auburn baseball team and the Hudson Family Foundation,” Hudson said. “Having moved back into the Auburn area and raising a family here, we want to give back to the community as much as we can. This is a win-win for our foundation and for the Auburn baseball program.”
Hudson played at Auburn from 1996–97 and earned the Rotary Smith National Player of the Year Award.
Hudson’s statistics from that season include a 15–2 record with a 2.97 ERA, along with 18 home runs and 95 RBIs.
Ross was a teammate of Hudson’s that same season. Before his transfer to Florida, he had a .251 batting average, two home runs and 26 RBIs.
In 1997, Auburn scored five runs in the ninth inning against Florida State, including a go-ahead home run from Ross to help clinch the game and a spot in the College World Series.
Along the Caravan route the Braves will also make stops at schools and hospitals to visit and speak with students and sick children.
Braves right fielder Jason Heyward especially enjoyed the team’s stop at the Birmingham Civil Rights institute during last year’s Caravan.
As an African-American player, Heyward said he was especially moved by the experience.
“It was a pleasure and an honor,” he said. “Anytime you can go see stuff firsthand, it always exposes you to what people felt back then. It brings you closer and it gives you peace of mind on how fortunate you are today.”
After the Caravan the Braves head to Orlando, Fla., for spring training. The team’s season opener is April 5 on the road against the New York Mets.
The Braves’ home opener at Turner Field is scheduled for April 13 at 7:35 p.m. against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Kimbrel was named the 2011 National League Rookie of the Year. He set the rookie save record with 46 and had 127 strikeouts in 77 innings.
Kimbrel was also credited with a blown save when the Braves were defeated by the Philadelphia Phillies 4–3 and were denied a playoff spot.
“I can’t say it’s something that I’ll get over,” Kimbrel said, “but it’s something that’s going to push me and something that’s going to make me strive to do better next year.”