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Gwinnett fans brave heat, delay to meet former Atlanta All-Stars

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Former Atlanta Braves all-star Javy Lopez throws out the first pitch prior to the Gwinnett Braves and Charlotte Knights game at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville on Saturday.

Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Former Atlanta Braves all-star Javy Lopez throws out the first pitch prior to the Gwinnett Braves and Charlotte Knights game at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville on Saturday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Former Atlanta Braves all-star Javy Lopez laughs with Gwinnett Braves manager Dave Brundage in the dugout prior to the Gwinnett Braves and Charlotte Knights game at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville on Saturday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Braves fans Kris Johnson and his son Gabe, 5, of Sugar Hill get an autograph from former Atlanta Braves all-stars David Justice, right, and Javy Lopez, back, prior to the Gwinnett Braves and Charlotte Knights game at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville on Saturday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Braves fans Andrew Pope and his father Matt Pope of Flowerly Branch show off their autographs from former Atlanta Braves all-stars David Justice and Javy Lopez during the Gwinnett Braves and Charlotte Knights game at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville on Saturday.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Former Atlanta Braves all-star David Justice laughs with Javy Lopez in the dugout prior to the Gwinnett Braves and Charlotte Knights game at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville on Saturday.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- There was plenty that didn't go as planned for the first night of the Gwinnett Braves' All-Star weekend in Saturday night's game against the Charlotte Knights.

But neither oppressive heat nor change of venue nor delay of first-pitch could damper the spirits of the hundreds of fans among the not-so-Coolray Field crowd that braved the elements to stand in line for a chance to get autographs from two of the catalysts to the successful Atlanta Braves of the 1990s.

G-Braves officials improvised for the planned autograph session with ex-Atlanta stars David Justice and Javy Lopez.

But the fans and those team officials both seem pleased with the way the evening progressed.

"It's been crazy," G-Braves assistant general manager Sheri Massengill said. "(But) honestly, that's just what we do in baseball. We can never assume it's always going to be a perfect scenario. ... We just kind of have to deal with it and make the best of the situation and try to make everybody happy."

In order to allow fans a bit of a respite from the record 105-degree temperature, the team moved the session from Coolray Field's concourse to a suite in the upper level.

And neither the fans who waited in line more than an hour to get autographs nor the two Atlanta All-Stars seemed to mind the changes.

In fact, the delay to the start of the game of an hour and 11 minutes, caused by the late arrival of Charlotte's equipment truck, helped things work out well for many of those fans who didn't have to miss a single pitch of Saturday's games.

"The great thing about the delay was it gave us more time to spend (with the fans). More time for Q-and-As," said Justice, a three-time All-Star during his 14-year major league career with the Braves, Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics. "You've got to do what you've got to do."

Of course, the chance to meet and get autographs from two Atlanta Braves greats like Justice -- the 1990 National League Rookie of the Year whose home run in Game 6 of the 1995 World Series provided the clinching run in Atlanta's only world title -- and Lopez -- the Most Valuable Player in the Braves' 1996 victory in the National League Championship Series -- was enough to make the wait worth it.

Many, like Mark Brumbach of Cumming, came equipped with specific momentos for either or both players to sign.

"This particular photo I got signed I've been carrying around for 18 years, waiting for an opportunity (like this)," Brumbach said of a photo of Justice taken during spring training of one of his earliest seasons with Atlanta.

Others, like Levi and Lindsey Wood of Lawrenceville, had to look a little longer for the memorabilia they brought to have signed.

Lindsey Wood, who sported a small poster of Lopez, had a much easier time locating her token than her husband did in finding a Justice momento from among his large baseball card collection.

"I was able to stumble across a Triple A card of Justice," Levi Wood said of the card of Justice with the Richmond Braves that he had signed.

"We actually started (looking Friday) night, and we found it late into the night," added Lindsey Wood. "He's got a huge tub (of cards) and it was probably one o'clock (Saturday) morning (by the time it was found)."

Both Justice and Lopez were struck by several of the unique items that were brought before them to be signed.

"Probably a newspaper that showed (Justice) sliding into me at home plate," Lopez said of a newspaper clipping of Justice sliding into him at the plate after the former had been traded to Cleveland.

"I'd have run Javy over if I didn't love him so much," quipped Justice in response.

No matter what items fans brought to be signed, it was just a thrill for them to get to meet Justice and Lopez, especially those like Lindsay Wood, a former youth softball catcher who grew up as a huge fan of both players, especially Lopez.

"It's hard to say (who my favorite was). Hopefully, the door is closed," joked Wood, who, like her husband, was just 9 years old when Atlanta won the 1995 World Series. "But it was probably Javier Lopez, since I was a catcher. The 1995 World Series was probably the best (memory of the two players), but every year they were with (Atlanta) was awesome."

"(Saturday night's event) was awesome. They were so nice."

Even for fans too young to remember the exploits of players like Lopez and Justice, like 12-year-old Reese Johnston of Suwanee, meeting a pair of players so important to Atlanta Braves history was equally exciting.

"I think it's pretty cool," Johnston said. "You don't get many opportunities like this (to meet former big-league players)."

Fans will get a chance to meet two more former Atlanta all-stars before the G-Braves' game with Charlotte this afternoon at Coolray Field.

This time, it will be two-time National League MVP Dale Murphy and first baseman Ryan Klesko, another member of Atlanta's 1995 World Championship team, who will meet and greet fans and throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to today's 5 p.m. start.