When the first pitch was thrown out this spring, the Braves began their 20th season in Rome.
It seemed like yesterday when the Rome Braves sent Brian McCann, Jeff Francouer, and others out of the dugout to open play in the new State Mutual Stadium, now known as AdventHealth Stadium.
Professional baseball arrived in Rome in 2003 thanks to a vote by residents of Floyd County to support a penny sales tax to construct the stadium, which Floyd County owns. A narrow 142-vote margin approved the special purpose tax proposal.
Construction of the stadium lured the Macon Braves to Rome. Ground was broken for the $19 million stadium in the spring of 2002, and the first pitch was thrown out 12 months later.
That first season proved to be double historic as the Rome Braves, under the leadership of Rocket Wheeler, won the second half of the season in the Southern Division of the old South Atlanta League to earn a spot in the playoffs, where they defeated Hickory (N.C) to advance to the championship series against Lake County (Ohio). The Braves won that series three games to one to 1 to claim the SAL championship!
The next 13 years brought mixed results for the franchise until the 2016 season when the likes of pitchers Max Fried, Touki Touissant, and Mike Soroka, aided by the big bats of Ronald Acuna Jr. and Austin Riley which led to another SAL championship with wins in the division series over Charleston (S.C) and another 3-1 championship series win over Lakewood (New Jersey).
The 2020 season was wiped out by the COVID pandemic, which allowed the baseball hierarchy to re-evaluate the structure of the minor league’s system. Sweeping changes consolidated play into four levels, Low-A, High-A, AA, and AAA. Rome was placed into the High-A classification, and a new South Atlantic League was created. During that same 2020 lull, the Braves concluded negotiations with Floyd County to renew their lease with the local stadium through 2030. The 2022 season produced another winning record Vaughn Grissom, destined for a long future in the major leagues, played in 74 games for Rome before ending the season in Atlanta.
Former Rome Mayor Ronnie Wallace has been a season ticket holder since that inaugural season. “The association with the Braves has brought superb athletes to our community and the absolute best franchise in baseball,” Wallace said. “It’s a huge win for our community and has supplied young and old alike with the personal enjoyment of the greatest sport, not to mention the jobs, superb debt-free facility, and opportunity to bring folks into the greatest city in Georgia.”
The Braves welcomed new general manager David Lane over the winter. He is a veteran of more than two decades of professional baseball administrative management but comes to Rome from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, where he oversaw Samford University’s Corporate Partnership Program.
Angel Flores is the on the field manager for the Braves, his first opportunity in that role. He was an assistant coach in Rome two years ago. Mike Steed moved up from Low-A Augusta to become the Brave’s new pitching coach, Garrett Wilkinson is the new hitting coach, and Bobby Moore is back for his 13th season with the Rome Braves.
Rome realtor Bill Pelfrey has had season tickets for 18 of the 20 seasons and is one of the members of the original K Club, which had seasons behind the Braves dugout down the third baseline. Pelfrey, Ernie Studard, Randy Van Horn, and Adrian Carney would hang K’s on the railing every time a Braves pitcher recorded a strikeout. Braves hurler Dan Meyer inspired the K club with his impressive strikeout totals in that inaugural year.
He recorded 158 strikeouts in 160 innings pitched! Pelfrey said the closeness of fans to the action at the stadium is one of the great draws for him, along with the chance to see the stars of tomorrow.
The Braves plan to celebrate their 20th anniversary with special promotions, including season-long Fireworks Friday spectaculars.
Pelfrey and thousands of other long-time fans are eager to see who the next Brian McCann, Ronald Acuna, or Max Fried will be!