Packed bleachers of cheering fans ushered baseball back to Augusta, but for many the highlight came before the Augusta GreenJackets home opener Tuesday night.
"This is one of my favorite nights ever being at a baseball game," 12-year-old Tony Parella said, wearing a freshly autographed cap.
He was one of many GreenJackets fans who were particularly excited to see former Major Leaguer Cal Ripken Jr. toss out the traditional first pitch of the game. Mr. Ripken is the president and CEO of Ripken Baseball Group, the organization that bought the minor league team in September.
The purchase signaled a new era for the Class A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, and some fans see a change for the better as witnessed by the sell-out crowd.
"I've been to so many GreenJackets games, and I've never seen so many people, never," Tony's mother Donna Parella said. "I think this is going to make a big difference. I'm even considering season tickets."
Mrs. Parella, who used to live in Baltimore, and her son Michael, 9, wore Mr. Ripken's No. 8 Baltimore Orioles jersey to the game.
Scott Butts and his family filled an entire bleacher. The family of 11 was there to watch the game, but also to see Mr. Ripken, a player Mr. Butts called "all-American."
"I think Cal Ripken is going to turn this thing around," he said. "He's going to get people involved."
Others were there as family as well, including Sammy Hicks and his 6-year-old grandson Samuel Solt. While fans pulled for a win, Samuel, glove in hand, was just hoping for a home run so he could catch it.
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.