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Tom Glavine takes to Gladiators' rink for charity work

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

DULUTH — A number of jokes were made as Tom Glavine signed his official ECHL contract for the Gwinnett Gladiators on Saturday.

Glavine asked if it was now legal for him to jump out and take a shift during the game, instead of just going out for warm-ups and pre-game introductions as planned. He seemed only partially serious.

Glavine did draw a big roar of support from the crowd when, after coming out as the honorary starting center, he went to take the opening face-off. Despite the fans' urging, Glavine only shook hands at center and then skated to the bench.

The novelty was certainly having the legendary left-hander skate with the team, but the underlying cause, Keep Georgia Safe, and Glavine's induction into the newly created "Be a Gladiator" Hall of Fame were the real purpose of the appearance.

Glavine has long supported charities within the community and even as he did so again, the Gladiators were honoring him for a lifetime of work.

During the first intermission, Glavine was inducted as the first member of the "Be a Gladiator" Hall of Fame, a designation the organization plans to use to recognize locals that make a difference in the community.

"To have a Cy Young winner and a future Hall of Famer here and welcoming him into the ‘Be a Gladiator' Hall of Fame is just phenomenal," said majority owner Toby Jeffreys. "But being here with Keep Georgia Safe, it's a great, great day for us to be able to pull this off. And for Tom to do this for us, it's a rush."

Throughout his 22-year baseball career, Glavine has been involved with many causes which the Gladiators also support, including the Georgia Transplant Foundation, CURE Childhood Cancer and Operation Backpack.

On Saturday, it was Keep Georgia Safe, dedicated to children's safety education and crime prevention training in the state.

"Being a parent of five kids, that's a daily concern, keeping your kids safe," Glavine said. "So anything we can do to make that happen is a good thing and a night like tonight where we're going to raise awareness and bring attention to the cause certainly is a good thing as well."

Glavine signed autographs before the game in a private session for fans of all kinds. Some were there just because of Glavine, others were longtime Gladiator fans and wanted to help Keep Georgia Safe.

"We did it to support the charity," said Lenita Johnson, who with her husband, Mike, leads the team's booster club. "We're Braves fans, we're Glavine fans, but it's a great cause — and pretty much anything the Gladiators do, we support."

After all the autographs were signed and pictures were taken, Glavine went to the locker room to get ready for warm-ups. Dressed in full team gear, he skated and participated in some shooting drills.

He said he just didn't want to distract from the Gladiators' focus as they strive to earn a playoff berth.

"First and foremost, I want to make sure I stay out of the guys' way because they're trying to make a living and I'm just trying to have a little fun," Glavine said.

Glavine was a high school hockey star in his home state of Massachusetts and was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings — several rounds ahead of NHL Hall of Famers Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille. Glavine opted to play baseball instead and embarked on a career that included 305 wins.

"It was probably my greater love when I was a kid, playing hockey," Glavine said. "But when I got to that stage where I was 18 years old and got drafted by two sports, and really was faced with making the decision, it wasn't an easy one and it wasn't necessarily me choosing the one I liked better.

"I just felt like being a left-handed pitcher, I had a big advantage with that in baseball that I didn't possess in hockey. I think I made the right choice."