Caleb Bailey, 6, of Loganville, gets a high-five from Tyler Pastornicky during the Braves Caravan stop at Academy Sports in Snellville on Friday. (Photo: Chris Roughgarden)
Atlanta Braves Caravan
Several Atlanta Braves players and coaches stopped by the Academy Sports+Outdoors in Snellville.
SNELLVILLE — Chris Johnson gained a new fan last summer when he met Adam Dorn at a baseball ballpark for an autograph signing in Alpharetta.
Dorn, 11, a middle infielder from Canton, carried a framed picture of him and Johnson, the Atlanta Braves’ third baseman, that Johnson autographed last summer to the Academy Sports+Outdoors in Snellville on Friday for a stop on the Braves Caravan tour.
Wearing a Braves baseball hat, and with a bag of memorabilia, Dorn wore a wide smile when he and his mom, Rhiannon Tzimenatos, were chosen by Johnson in a Twitter contest to move from the back of the line of hundreds of people, to first in line.
Tzimenatos was the first fan in line to retweet the Braves’ tweet to move ahead in line, and once Johnson saw her profile, and a picture of Dorn, “the cute 11-year-old,” she said he thought she was a big Braves fan.
“I think that helped,” Tzimenatos said.
Added Dorn, “It’s awesome.”
“It was huge because you don’t think they actually do remember, they meet so many people, to think that they remembered somebody like that,” Tzimenatos said. “It was huge to him.”
Dorn was among a long line of Braves’ fans that stretched around the store to meet several Atlanta players and coaches.
Johnson, infielder Tyler Pastornicky, infielder Todd Cunningham, first base coach Terry Pendleton and Gwinnett Braves manager Brian Snitker were on hand to sign autographs. With spring training only weeks away, Johnson said the caravan stops provide a chance to spend more time with fans than the players can during the season.
“It does get you really excited for the start of the season,” Johnson said. “Once these things start happening, you can see spring training coming up really quick.”
This was Johnson’s first caravan tour with the Braves, but he said he did a similar event with Houston as a rookie.
More Braves fans recognize Johnson entering spring training this year than a year ago after he hit .321 with 12 home runs and 68 RBIs, and flirted with the National League batting title most of the season. Johnson said making the playoffs last year was the “coolest experience” of his baseball career.
“Being in Atlanta, the fans are a lot more enthusiastic about autographs, and it’s a lot more fun,” he said.
His approach, though, remains the same.
“I’m a really superstitious guy, so I’m trying to keep the same mind frame I had last year, try to win a job,” Johnson said. “There’s going to be guys over at third base taking ground balls, and I’m going to do my best to beat them out and win the job.”
Pastornicky, meanwhile, spent much of his offseason rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee that ended his season in August.
“It’s been a lot of hard work, I’ve been dedicated to it, and working hard,” he said. “I’m trying to get strength back in my leg now and going through the progressions they’re telling me to go through.”
Before Dorn and Tzimenatos moved past him in line, Lee Palmer of Dawson County was first in line because he arrived at the store at 6:30 a.m. anxious to meet one of his favorite players, Pendleton, the Braves’ first base coach.
Palmer didn’t mind waiting in his truck until the store opened at 8 a.m.
“You never heard about him getting in trouble,” Palmer said. “He was a good third baseman.”
Palmer said he goes to a lot of Braves games, goes to as many signings that he can, and considers autographs from Dale Murphy and Hank Aaron among his most prized possessions.
The makeup of this season’s Braves roster is considerably different following the departures of veterans Brian McCann, Tim Hudson and Eric O’Flaherty, but Johnson said other players like Kris Medlen, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward are used to stepping up.
“Obviously losing those guys is tough,” Johnson said. “The things some of those guys did in an Atlanta uniform are incredible, and in the locker room all three of those guys are going to be tough to replace, but I think we showed last year when guys got hurt, some guys stepped up, and we’ll have to do that again all year round.”
Remaining dates and locations of the Braves Caravan:
Saturday, Nashville, Tenn.
Sunday, Huntsville, Ala.
Monday, Aiken, S.C. and Augusta
Wednesday, Birmingham, Ala.
Thursday, Chattanooga, Tenn.
Jan. 31, Macon
Feb. 1, Metro Atlanta area
For a list of details in each market, visit www.braves.com/caravan.