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Richmond Braves bring storied tradition
Cox, Niekro among team's famous alums

Phil Niekro pitched for the Richmond Braves. Atlanta manager Bobby Cox played third base for the International League team.

That shows how long of a baseball history there is between Atlanta and the Virginia capital.

Niekro, a Baseball Hall of Famer with 318 major league victories, was a member of the first Richmond Braves team in 1966. Cox, baseball's fourth- winningest manager, played the following season.

Niekro is the only former Richmond Brave to make it to the Hall of Fame so far, but far from the only future major league standout that passed through en route to the big leagues.

Tom Glavine, who won his 300th game last season, pitched in Richmond and someday will join Niekro in Cooperstown.

Other current Braves all-stars who played with the International League team include John Smoltz and Chipper Jones. Former Braves who played for Richmond include Dale Murphy, David Justice and Andruw Jones.

With players like that, it is easy to see why Richmond has won five Governors' Cups as champion of the International League's postseason playoffs.

The most recent championship was just last season. Richmond, runner-up to Durham in the South Division, made the playoffs as the wild-card team, then upset Columbus and Durham in the postseason.

The Braves, though, have had plenty of bad teams as well during their long stay in Richmond.

After winning the Governors' Cup in 1994, Richmond had mostly losing teams until last season.

One of the worst teams was in 2006. Decimated by injuries and call-ups to Atlanta, Richmond had a 57-86 record - last in the International League.

Snellville's Brian Snitker, now Atlanta's third base coach, was the manager stuck with that no-win situation.

The match between the Braves and Richmond came about in 1966 because the Braves needed a place to relocate the Atlanta Crackers when major league baseball finally arrived in the Southeast.

The Crackers had moved from the Class AA Southern Association to the International League in 1962 and played the 1965 season at the new Atlanta Stadium as the Braves waited to relocate from Milwaukee.

The International League team first played at Parker Field, which was leveled to make way for The Diamond in 1985.

The Diamond was state of the art when it opened, but the 12,000-seat stadium - built for $8 million - is now outdated and in disrepair.

How bad had things gotten in Richmond? Rats invaded the visiting dugout in 2000, a section of concrete fell from the roof during a game in 2003 and games had to be moved to the opponents' ballparks in 2004 when part of the outfield became a giant sinkhole.

A new playing surface was installed at The Diamond in 2005, but other problems remained.

The Braves and Richmond officials had been negotiating on a new ballpark for years, but without success.

Now the International League's second-longest match between AAA and a major league team is coming to an end as early as 2009.

SideBar: Former Richmond Braves

A distinguished group has worn Richmond Braves uniforms. Here are a few very recognizable names:

Player

Years

Bobby Cox

1967

Glenn Hubbard

1978-80

Chipper Jones

1993

Andruw Jones

1996

Tom Glavine

1986-87

David Justice

1989-91

Javy Lopez

1993

Dale Murphy

1976-77

Phil Niekro

1966

John Smoltz

1987-88