Mascot moniker
Chopper wins vote for name of Gwinnett Braves' groundhog

LAWRENCEVILLE - The toothy-grinned mascot of the Gwinnett Braves got a name Monday: Chopper.

Officials christened the minor-league baseball team's groundhog mascot in front of screaming fifth-graders, choosing Chopper over Pop-Up and Shadow after more than 5,000 people voted in an online poll at www.gwinnettdailypost.com.

"What a great name," the Triple-A team's general manager Bruce Baldwin said. "It certainly represents the identity of the character and it's a baseball term as well."

Jim Bennett, the Lilburn man who came up with the name, tried to lead the kids in the Braves' tomahawk chop, but the fifth-graders were too busy getting high-fives from the giant groundhog, inspired by General Beauregard Lee, the South's official weather prognosticator who lives at the Yellow River Game Ranch.

A wildlife biologist, Bennett, 61, said he came up with the name because it combined the groundhog's natural ability with baseball. He won a trip to the 2009 Triple-A All-Star Game for the winning moniker.

"This is something that's going to last a lot longer than any of the modest records I've achieved," as his kids' softball coach, Bennett said. "Chopper is a natural."

Introduced to the crowd by center fielder Josh Anderson, the woodchuck led the kids in the wave and kissed the hand of Lawrenceville Elementary School's principal.

He passed along a proclamation from General Lee congratulating his cousin as the newest "V.I.G. - very important groundhog" in Gwinnett. He gave Chopper the duty of producing perfect April weather for the team's 2009 debut, "to get people ready for the other rite of spring, baseball."

Bennett said he doesn't have season tickets to the Gwinnett Braves inaugural season, but he hopes to take in lots of games at the Buford Drive stadium, currently under construction.

"It'll be exciting to see the young kids trying to reach the big game," said Bennett, who says he has been a Braves fan since 1957 when the Milwaukee team won the World Series.

Cabria McMillan, a 10-year-old who cheered for Chopper, was a little unnerved by the new mascot.

"He was scary. He was tall, a giant," she said.

And Lawrenceville Mayor Rex Millsaps said he thought the costume looked a little more like a bear than a groundhog.

But he was happy with the name.

"That was my pick of the three. It's more Braves," he said, pointing to the tomahawk chop. "It was nice they involved the Lawrenceville community, and it was good to see the kids involved."