BUFORD - Tuesday fans were able to get their first taste of stadium hot dogs and beer and their first glimpse of the Gwinnett Braves in action.
The weather was chilly but the reception warm as Gwinnett Stadium staffers welcomed visitors into the new, state-of-the-art home of the county's newest team. "Welcome to Gwinnett Stadium," they said, smiling and handing out baseball magazines and Braves season previews.
The gates opened at 3 p.m. and fans immediately spread throughout the stadium and, like Suwanee resident Scott Snead, flooded the gift shop.
Snead stood in line wearing a G-Braves cap he was about to buy, along with more than $100 worth of merchandise, in preparation for the team's upcoming home opener. He and a couple of friends bought four season tickets and were meeting at "a local pub" to decide who has dibs on which games. He said he also plans to share the tickets with fellow employees at his Duluth medical billing company.
Sammy Anderson of Lawrenceville browsed the gift shop with his two young sons, Evan and Spencer. The Tennessee native said he pulls for all Atlanta-area teams, including the G-Braves.
"Atlanta everything," he said. "We love baseball and (having the Braves here) is something Gwinnett needed."
During a brief mound appearance by Atlanta Braves' Tom Glavine, Dan Franklin and his wife, Jennifer, watched from the stadium's top row. The couple's daughter, Madison, and son, Tommy, chose front-row seats and were sitting directly behind the home team's dugout.
Dan Franklin said that years ago his father, through his job, came to know the mother of then-Atlanta Braves star Dale Murphy. It was through this casual acquaintance that Franklin became a lifelong, die-hard Braves fan.
"In a friend's backyard off of Bunten Road in Duluth, (Murphy) presented us with our Little League trophy," Franklin said. "He autographed baseballs for us, too."
Franklin never imagined he'd have the minor league affiliate of his favorite team basically in his own backyard.
"We can see the stadium lights from our house," Jennifer said.
Season ticket holders Jim and Carol Collier are retired and excited about the upcoming baseball season. They have followed the Atlanta Braves for as long as they can remember and Jim described Gwinnett Stadium as "awesome."
Jim's current post-retirement project is instilling that spirit in his 8-year-old grandson, Evan, who sat with his grandparents, tucked into a brand new G-Braves hat.
"He's getting there," Jim said with a laugh.
As Glavine left the field, Braves fans applauded the two-time Cy Young Award winner. Just before entering the dugout, the sport's winningest active pitcher tossed a baseball into a crowd of children in the first row, right into the hands of Madison Franklin.
Madison ran that prized souvenir several rows up to her father. When asked what she planned to do with it, she said, "I don't know. My dad's more excited about it than me."
"She's right," Dan Franklin said. "I am."
The autograph Murphy signed so many years ago has faded. Many of the memoirs of that Little League championship and the beginnings of a lifetime love affair are gone.
But April 17 - when the G-Braves take the field for the first time in their new home - will offer Franklin, Collier and thousands of others the chance to do what they love to do: Pull for the Braves without even leaving Gwinnett.