The Atlanta Braves proved they have a fan base that reaches as far north as Knoxville where several hundred fans gathered at Academy Sports & Outdoors in Knoxville on Thursday to greet members of the team.
Braves outfielder Jason Heyward, first baseman Freddie Freeman, relief pitcher Cory Gearrin and new batting coach Greg Walker met with fans and signed autographs at the new sports store on the last stop of the 2012 Atlanta Braves Community Caravan. The players were just happy they could meet with their fans.
"We know [our fans] are outside in Alabama and South Carolina and all over the place, so we want to get out there and show them we care so they come and support us when we need them," Freeman said.
I think it gives them a chance to encourage all their fans to be here and to support them and makes the fans feel good that they care a little bit too. Braves fan Adam Jolley
Freeman also mentioned that the line was so long in Chattanooga that many fans had to be turned down. The Caravan arrived thirty minutes late to Knoxville because of this and found the store just as full when they arrived.
"It's crazy but in a good way," Heyward said. "I'm definitely touched by it."
The line for autographs wound the entire way around the store and many people had to be turned down after an hour and a half of signing. Adam Jolley was the first person in this line and says he is glad the players did this for their fans.
"I think it gives them a chance to encourage all their fans to be here and to support them and makes the fans feel good that they care a little bit too, as much as we do," Jolley said.
Looking back on their performance last year, the players were not pleased with how they finished. However, the team has only made minor lineup changes since last year and look to come back strong in the upcoming season.
"For some of us, that's our first full season in the big leagues and you know we've got to take positives from that and we've got to learn how to not let that happen again," Freeman said. "We've got to prove to people to still come out and watch us play even though what happened, so we're ready to go."
Heyward holds a similar outlook and hopes that having a healthy team will fix their problems from last year.
"I'm looking forward to it," Heyward said. "I'm personally confident about myself, feeling healthy and looking forward to seeing what a healthy Braves team can do."