With spring training starting this week, the Braves' 400 Club's annual Gameboree on Saturday night seemed like the kickoff to the 2006 season. It was a chance for some of the best Braves' fans on the planet to come together, honor some of the players, and talk about the upcoming season.
The Braves' 400 Club is the official fan club of the Atlanta Braves, and Saturday's Gameboree was the 40th annual event. The theme for this year was "Saluting our Homegrown Braves," which after last season was very appropriate.
Kyle Davies and Brian McCann, two of the twelve rookies that made their big league debuts last season, were on hand to share some of their experiences from the 2005 season. Both were instrumental in leading the Braves to their fourteenth straight division title.
Master of Ceremonies Pete Van Wieren introduced the award winners for the evening. The winner of the Red Wooten High School Player of the Year award, symbolizing the top high school player in Georgia for last sesaon, was P.J. Phillips from Redan High School in Stone Mountain. Phillips was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the second round last June after a stellar high school season. P.J. is the brother of Brandon Phillips, a prospect with Cleveland, who won this same award back in 2000.
The Jason Varitek Award, named for the former Georgia Tech and current Red Sox' star and given to the most outstanding scholar college athlete in Georgia, was given to pitcher Will Startup from the University of Georgia. Startup, who was drafted by the Braves in the fifth round last June, was named to the SEC Good Works Team in 2004 and 2005 for his outstanding community service efforts. He also received the Frank D. Foley Senior Scholarship Endowment last year and in 2004 earned a place on the First Team All-SEC and SEC Academic Honor Roll. The Cartersville, Georgia resident had an outstanding start to his minor league career last season in Rome, and he will head to spring training in a few weeks to battle for a spot on the Myrtle Beach Pelicans roster.
Veteran minor league skipper Brian Snitker was named as the Organization Manager of the Year for the 2005 season. Snitker led the Mississippi Braves in their inaugural season last year, and will be the Triple-A manager this year in Richmond. Snitker has managed in the Braves' system for fifteen seasons, winning 1083 games. The former Braves' minor legaue catcher has won two minor league league titles and has twice been named as the Manager of the Year in the Carolina League. Snitker has been extremely instrumental in the development of many of the Braves' young players through the years.
The Bill Lucas Award, given to the Braves' minor leaguer that best exemplifies sportsmanship and character, was awarded to Brayan Pena. The Braves' young catcher was unable to attend the event Saturday night. He is in Costa Rica helping his sister get out of Cuba, which demonstrates in itself Pena's fine character. Pena played in 18 games last season for Atlanta, but spent most of 2005 in Richmond, making the Triple-A All Star team with a .326 batting average.
Scott Thorman, one of the Braves' best hitting prospects, was named as this year's winner of the Hank Aaron Award, honoring the Braves' outstanding minor league player. Thorman started the 2005 season in Double-A Mississippi before being promoted to Triple-A Richmond. Overall, Thorman led all Braves' minor leaguers in hits (164), total bases (268), RBI (92), and tied for first with 21 home runs. Thorman, who will play for Canada in the World Baseball Classic next month, was thrilled with the award.
"It's a great honor," Thorman said. "I'm very honored to be apart of this program. It's a bit of a surprise. I didn't see it coming. It's great. Just a huge honor to have my name associated with Henry Aaron."
Chuck James was named the winner of the Phil Niekro Award winner, for the most outstanding Braves minor league pitcher for 2005. Outstanding doesn't even do justice when describing James' season, as he went 13-7 with a 2.12 ERA in 29 starts between Myrtle Beach, Mississippi, and Richmond. James also pitched well in two games with Atlanta, but is more proud of his 1.000 career batting average heading into the 2006 season. James will battle for a spot in Atlanta's bullpen this spring, but could be headed back to Triple-A Richmond to start the season.
The Luke Appling Nostalgia Award went to Pat Corrales, a Braves' coach for the past fifteen seasons. Corrales will start his 48th season in professional baseball this year. He played for eight seasons in the big leagues with the Phillies, Cardinals, Reds, and Padres. Corrales also managed the Rangers, Phillies, and Indians. He joined the Braves in 1989 as a special assignment scout and joined Bobby Cox's coaching staff the next year. Corrales spent nine years as the Braves' first base coach before heading to the dugout to be Bobby Cox's bench coach.
Dayton Moore, the Braves' Assistant General Manager and Director of Player Personnel, was named the Braves' 400 Club Ivan Allen, Jr. "Mr. Baseball" award winner for this season. Moore has been so instrumental in creating the best farm system in baseball, and over the past few years has developed into one of the best young executives in the game of baseball. The award is given to the person who has contributed significantly to the promotion of baseball in the Atlanta area.
Reinhart College, which is just starting its second baseball season ever, and Kennesaw State University, the newest team in the Atlantic Sun Conference in Division 1, were awarded the Phil Niekro scholarship awards at the banquet. The awards were presented in memory of Michael Marcey, a part President of the 400 Club who worked for many years to generate funding for the scholarships before his death in August of 2003.
John Padgett, who has been the President of the Braves' 400 Club for the past two years, turned over his duties to Wayne Coleman for the 2006 season. Coleman said he hoped to increase the membership of the club in the coming months. Click here to check out the Braves' 400 Club's website, with informaiton on how you can join the official fan club of the Atlanta Braves.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. You can email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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