0

Part of the action
Gwinnett fans road trip for inaugural game

FORT MILL, S.C. - At exactly 11:18 Thursday morning, the Gwinnett Braves made it official.

The county's new minor league baseball team debuted with a 9-1 victory over the host Charlotte Knights, creating a new tradition some three hours away from their home base in Lawrenceville. The distance, however, didn't prevent the first-year franchise from having support.

A number of Charlotte-based Atlanta Braves fans sat behind the Gwinnett dugout, while a few even made the drive up from Gwinnett.

"The kids are on spring break and it's baseball," Suwanee resident Rick Fifer said. "What else do you need?"

Fifer and his wife, Kim, trekked up Interstate 85 for the Gwinnett team's first game as the Atlanta Braves' Class AAA affiliate. They brought their two sons, 12-year-old Nick and 11-year-old Clay, to support their hometown team.

The foursome all sported Gwinnett Braves hats, a rarity for a visiting crowd that featured mostly Atlanta Braves apparel, including quite a few jerseys of all-star catcher Brian McCann. The Fifers typically make summer road trips to minor league baseball games, including several each year to see the Rome Braves, but those will be curbed by a new favorite team.

The family has season tickets to G-Braves games and they tested them out at Tuesday's open house at the new stadium.

"That was a blast," Rick Fifer said. "It's official. It's real. It's here. We really have minor league baseball in Gwinnett."

The G-Braves may not have played a game in their new stadium yet - that comes a week from today for the home opener - but they already have a good deal of support, even on the road. More than 100 fans in Braves gear were stacked behind the visiting dugout.

"Being three and a half hours away, I kind of knew (the Gwinnett Braves' rooting section) would be good," Gwinnett manager Dave Brundage said. "We got a lot of calls from people saying they would be in Charlotte for the inaugural game. It was nice to see. I know there are a lot of (Atlanta) Braves fans here as well."

Gwinnett continues its series with Charlotte at 7:15 p.m. today, followed by a 7:15 p.m. game Saturday and a 2:15 p.m. game Sunday. The games are part of an eight-game road trip leading up the April 17 home opener.

"(The opening game) was fun, but it's going to be a little bit better when we get back home," G-Braves right fielder Reid Gorecki said. "We can't wait to see those hometown fans."