Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Gwinnett Braves fans file into Coolray Field on opening day prior to the Gwinnett Braves and the Durham Bulls baseball game in Lawrenceville on April 12, 2012.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- The languid pace of baseball brought a 'Nole and Gator to the ballpark Thursday evening, sans spear and tooth, where they huddled against the chill and found common ground amid so many chopping Tomahawks.
Grayson resident Mary Phillips (the Gator) and Andy Buschbom (the 'Nole), both Sunshine State expats, have held Gwinnett Braves season tickets since the team uprooted from Virginia. At the home opener of the AAA club's fourth season, as temps flirted with the 50s and Durham Bulls relievers donned stocking caps, Phillips encapsulated her motivation for supporting the team in simple terms:
"I like to watch baseball," said the retiree and former "Big Braves" season ticket holder.
That sentiment echoed among a couple of thousand opening-night attendees who chopped their hands, heckled umpires, scurried for foul balls and tailgated heartily at Coolray Field.
"It's just a nice way to spend an evening, or a day," said Buschbom, a state network analyst who, uh, braves a crosstown commute from Cobb County for the G-Braves.
A more rowdy scene prevailed near the cornhole games and barbecue brigades in the parking lot. It was the habitat of Hall County jokester Bubba Spivey, who joined about 50 colleagues and clients from Duluth's Dixie Plywood at an expenses-paid company outing.
Spivey, inspired by summertime nostalgia and Coors Light, waxed philosophic about the significance of opening day.
"It's a wonderful day -- better than being at work," he said.
After G-Braves' mascot Chipper, fresh from off-season lounging in Hawaii, doused an announcer in water to jump-start the season's shenanigans, Phillips recalled a prediction she once made to her kids: That wherever she retires, there will be a minor-league baseball team there.
Phillips is happy her hunch materialized.
"I think (the G-Braves) have a good product," she said. "I just wish more people would come out."