Chipper: Priceless Memorabilia

Over the many years of obtaining and collecting memorabilia, I’ve probably sold about 90% of all the autographs I’ve obtained, but my favorite piece- an item I would never part with… would be my pair of Chipper Jones Game-Used, Autographed & Framed Batting Gloves. I obtained both of the gloves myself at separate games, hanging out above the dugout after the Braves wrapped up a victory (they only come out to shake hands after a win). I probably tried to yell at Chipper to throw them 40x at least. I remember getting the first glove like it was yesterday… September 11, 2008– The Braves were 65-82 and about to wrap up another rough season; however on this day, the Braves had just wrapped up a sweep vs. the Colorado Rockies 8-4. I hadn’t taken my dad to a game in 2-3 years and we were sitting down the first base line about 2 sections over from the dugout; me and him were about to head toward the exit but during the last out I told him I was going to run over by the dugout to see if I could catch a ball or something, might as well try. As the players were shaking hands and headed back toward to clubhouse– I saw Chipper reach in his back pocket…. I leaned over the dugout (trying to fight off everyone else) as much as I possibly could… one glove flew and 4 rows deep and the other was floating right towards my hand… I reached out and caught it… ripping away a couple other folks hands in the process. Most people wouldn’t think it was too big of a deal- but after trying a million times I had finally caught one… I felt like I was in a dream or something… the one game used item I had always wanted, almost paid for many times… I had obtained myself. My feet didn’t hit the ground for at least a week, the next season I got really lucky again and caught another one, same glove style-opposite hand. I was thinking how great is it that I caught the opposite hand and not the same one again? fate I suppose. This was the type of thing I wanted to display, not just keep out sitting on a dresser somewhere. As most of you know, Chipper is very difficult to obtain a signature from these days considering he’s an old timer that’s signed probably a million items. This was the type of thing I didn’t really want him to sign at all unless it was neat and clean- not something he scribbled in a rush trying to sign as many items as he could during the rare chance he did sign… I needed to get him to sign these sitting down, so I could make sure his signature displayed well on the gloves (there wasn’t really an ideal place for him to sign them). The perfect opportunity fell in my lap about a year later- Chipper was signing at “Buckarama” a hunting show in Atlanta, the perfect situation. Better yet- I didn’t have to fight the mob, a friend had connections inside the event… I was able to get a show ‘dealers’ badge so I got in the door and was first in line before they let the rest of the autograph hounds in… I got a great signature from him before he got tired of signing a million random things and he told me he hadn’t ever signed a batting glove of his like this before… I added a couple signed photos for the final product, PhotoFile shots of him wearing the exact same gloves. I took it to Field of Dreams and had it professionally framed, set me back a pretty good chunk of change, but definitely worth it considering this is something I could frame, pass down, repeatedly tell the story and display in my game room/office forever! Chipper without a doubt is my hero and a a baseball legend of my generation- and for that I’m lucky to have a small, personal piece of his legacy forever…

Only In The Minors

Last night me and Haleigh went to the G-Braves game and it was a scorcher. Temperature was around 104 when they opened the main gates at 6:00pm. We had planned to leave a little early and try to get a few autographs for a couple reasons- one our tickets were on the first row of third base by the Braves dugout, and two David Justice and Javy Lopez were signing autographs in a suite upstairs, so therefore everyone was in line for that and our chances were good to get lucky since no one else was down there at the field. We got in at 6, but we found out since it was so hot that most of the team wasn’t going to come out and stretch until 6:30. About 10 minutes later, the PA announcer asks for everyone’s attention– “Good evening, we have an important announcement, the start time of the game tonight has been delayed until 8:15 PM, The Charlotte Knights equipment truck had some travel issues, and they will not be here until 7:00PM. The team will then need an hour to prepare, and we will start tonights game at 8:15, thank you for your patience.” My first thought was, great! no notice, it’s 105 degrees out here. We can’t leave, we can’t get autographs and we will leave here at midnight. Only in the MINORS does this type of thing happen, I figured the truck should have been there around 1PM. Why does a MINOR league games players NEED ESSENTIALLY to warm up for a whole hour. Didn’t these guys play yesterday? everyday this week? everyday since they were like 10 years old? ….Unbelievable. We had some great luck however once the guys DID actually come out at 7:40- Haleigh got Tyler Pastornicky (Braves Opening Day SS) and Rueben Gotay (Former Met/Brave a few years back) to easily come up and sign for her after they got stretching. The atmosphere around autographs obviously is nothing like it is in Atlanta; these guys gladly come over and sign for the 2-3 people or kids asking for them. That’s probably because it’s not a flock of blood-thirsty wolves like it is at The Ted, things can get ugly quick (especially if someone like Jack Wilson comes over, just kidding). I figured Pastornicky might have a chip on his shoulder or be a little arrogant since he had been recently demoted, but he couldn’t have been nicer, classy guy. José Constanza signed down the line for about 10 minutes for every kid that asked for an autograph, I think he’s a guy that deffinetly deserves to be in Atlanta. We had a good night, but I wouldn’t go back again (especially over an Atlanta game); the tickets are about the same price as the ATL Braves, the product is pretty bad (that night they lost their 15th consecutive game, a franchise record- most of the talent in the Braves organization is in high A ball or AA Mississippi), they charge for PARKING now (last time I went it was free) and the stadium is pretty bland, nothing really to get excited about in Gwinnett. All in all we did have a good night and we left about the 5th innning, ya know… so we good beat traffic. 😉

Wild Ride

Wow. That’s all I can muster up about how I feel right now. I was informed a couple weeks ago that they would not be rehiring me because of 2 reasons- I did not play all of my players a sufficient amount of time and I was using foul language when I spoke to the boys. The second one is completely false, I never did. I’d lie in the bed I made and fess up if this did occur, but you could poll my entire roster last season and all of them would agree I did not. My integrity was questioned and I would swear under oath I did not speak to my team using any type of foul language; it was a “my word vs. their word” sort of thing. I was never informed I had to play any kid a set amount of time, even when I asked this particular player to play he said he was still hurt or “wasn’t going to be able to run 100%”, this is a fact. Not once was I addressed by this particular parent during the season with any type of concern and not once was any complaint voiced. What transpired was the MS Athletic Director, Nicki Jenkins, submitted my name to return as Head Boys Soccer Coach for 2013-he said it was denied. I wrote a letter to the the BOE, parents wrote letters, I met with the superintendent several times per his request, he investigated the situation, motioned to the board to re-vote, and since then I have been hired back. The letter I wrote to the BOE is below; it has been quite a whirl wind the past couple weeks- specifically because I knew in my heart I was wrongly accused and care a lot about a future career here. — June 21, 2012 Board of Education Lumpkin County School System To Whom it May Concern: My name is Josh Gralton and I wanted to write regarding the decision for me not to return as the boys soccer coach at Lumpkin Middle School for the 2013 school year. I was very disappointed to learn of the decision after receiving a phone call from A.D. Nicki Jenkins this morning. I felt the need to voice my thoughts on this action is hopes of appealing the decision and possibly returning to coach again in some soccer related position, whether that be now or in my future career teaching in Dahlonega. I am a lifetime student and graduate of Lumpkin County Schools, I was a player on the first LCMS soccer team ever in 2002, I have been employed as the league coordinator of the youth soccer program here in Lumpkin at LC Parks & Recreation/YMCA since 2007, I have received numerous coaching licenses & coaching positions (in LC and beyond) at the youth soccer level since I graduated in 2006. I have coached most of the boys on the 2012 LCMS boys roster since they were 7-8 years old at the former Dahlonega United Soccer Club and YMCA over the past few years. My passion for the kids in this community has made it easy to reject higher paying coaching opportunities in other places, being involved with the kids here in Dahlonega is very close to my heart and my passion for staying here and building something great in this community has been one of my biggest goals since day one. I am currently on track to graduate with a physical education/teacher certification degree from North Georgia College this summer. My work for this team has extended beyond the 2012 season, I have 2 fully rostered U14 teams (28 kids) I organized tryouts for at the YMCA the past 3 weeks and was planning on keeping most of the LCMS boys together while allowing other potential rising sixth graders and local prospective middle school students the opportunity to play year round together (during the fall season), all in hopes of developing a tighter team chemistry, work ethic and competitive roster for LCMS in 2013. I also held a team soccer camp for these boys- (all 28) for 4 days; two weeks ago to keep them working during the offseason, on my own time and my own dollar. The energy surrounding the program as a whole has been electric having the ability to be involved daily at the recreational youth/YMCA level, and as you can imagine the news today was shocking not only to myself, but to both of these U14 competitive teams players and parents. Support for this has been incredible, we made 2 cuts to finalize both rosters- and the unexpected news today has left us in a situation of not knowing what to do or where to turn at this point. I was informed the decision was based on 2 main issues: (1) That I poorly delegated playing time to members of the team. This issue was dealt with from day 1- I wrote a “2012 LCMS BOYS SOCCER – PLAYER/PARENT CONTRACT” myself and it was distributed at the first parent meeting (you can view the contract at http://bit.ly/parentc), and I was under the impression from EVERYONE that I spoke to that there was no minimum of playing time to be delegated per player- I gave out playing time based on who had earned it at practice by attitude/performance and no other reason. Several occurrences also came into play- where I asked a player if they were “ready to play” and sometimes answers of “I’m not at 100%,” “I may not be able to go as hard as I can,” or “I guess” (indifference) – led me to decide not to play said player on the account of safety, risk of injury/reinjury or playing someone that wasn’t “all in”. Each decision I made was in the best interest of the team on every level, not me personally- but the entire team as a whole. (2) My use of bad language around the boys or in an incident that occurred when the track team interrupted one of my practices. Not once did I curse to any member of the team, coach, official, student or student-athlete during the course of the season. I am extremely aware of my actions and chose of words carefully not only being an LCMS coach and someone with an elaborate history of coaching- but also because of my job dealing with the youth of Lumpkin County in my position at LC Parks & Recreation/YMCA. I have NEVER, not ONCE had a negative event or incident occur during my past 6 years at the park involving bad language, and I never once did so in my several months being employed as the boys soccer coach at LCMS; you could poll my entire team, players, parents and everyone involved- and they would back me fully on this statement. I feel anyone that has accused me otherwise is making assumptions based on hearsay and not FACT, on bitterness and not concrete evidence- and is not only falsely accusing me of events that never took place; but questioning my morals, values and integrity that I preached daily at practice to these boys. I was very proud of the way we played this year as a team. We had one of the best (if not THE best) seasons record wise in LCMS boys history by finishing undefeated at home (5-0) and 8-3 overall, despite dealing with numerous key injuries and sicknesses down the stretch. We had a roster that included only five players returning players from the 2011 season. Our roster included SIX 6th graders (4 starters) and no 6th grader had ever made the final boys team until this season. We had 4 victories in which we scored the winning goal during the last 2 minutes of the match. We took 2 of 3 games vs. our biggest rival White County and beat 3x defending-undefeated/Region Champion South Hab for the first time in school history, scoring the winning goal in the last minute of regulation. I understand the decisions the Board of Education make can be difficult sometimes, but that the best interest of the students of Lumpkin County go above all else. I feel the majority of the parents and players on the soccer team will disagree with the decision, and almost all of them have contacted me wanting an explanation or way they can express their disappointment with the recent decision that was made regarding my coaching position at LCMS. I have only stated to voice their opinion to our board members and those of you that feel my removal is best for LCMS. I have been professional in every response, I refuse to bad-mouth any 1 individual or seek pity for whatever course of action that has taken place, you are all qualified to make these decisions and I honestly understand and respect that, regardless of how it may affect me personally. The only thing I wish was handled differently was me being approached during the season with any concerns a staff member or parent was having with my decision making/coaching so that I could have received a warning or adjusted these issues before it led to this. At the end of the season, both the LCMS Principal and A.D. told me specifically that they approved of the job I was doing and hoped to have me back in 2013 based on the fact that they had received very few to zero complaints from anyone. This came as a shock to me since I had received no specific disapproval, verbal or written reprimand regarding any aspect of my coaching this past season. I was not presented with any ideas, suggestions to follow to become better at the job, or course of action for improvement during the entire process; based on the feedback received I obviously had assumed that I wasn’t leaving on anything but good terms. In closing, I understand that sometimes things don’t work out the way that you want them to and that sometimes things happen for reasons beyond your control, I just feel the work I have done for this team, on and off the field- before, during and beyond the 2012 campaign, will be appreciated and beneficial for 95% of those involved in the entire process. My goal as long as I can remember has been to consistently improve, grow & positively develop the students and players in all phases of the Lumpkin County Soccer Program; and that, regardless of the decision at hand, will continue to stay the same. Thank you for your time in hearing me out on my perspective in this matter. Sincerely, Josh Gralton