On Aug. 15, United Way is swinging for the fences again by welcoming former Atlanta Braves fireballer John Smoltz, a household name in Major League Baseball and a longtime hero in the hearts and minds of all who call themselves diehard Braves fans.
Although now retired, Smoltz hasn’t strayed far from the game. He continues to busy himself in TV announcing and much of his time he gives to his foundation which has become a proven supporter of worthwhile nonprofit causes. John Smoltz is the epitome of athletic stardom. He excelled on the pitcher’s mound for 20 years — as both a starter and a reliever — and in retirement he has continued to extol the virtues of excellence athletically and within the community where need is greatest and where civic involvement is best appreciated.
Loyal Braves followers remember Smoltz as one of the unforgettable trio of pitching greats whose era included 14 consecutive playoff appearances. Smoltz’s co-workers on the mound included the unflappable Tom Glavine and the wizard of control, Greg Maddux. All three are Cy Young award winners, members of the 3,000 strike-out club, multi-time National League All-Stars and World Series Champions. With pitching talent like Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux, it is not unreasonable to believe the Braves might today hold four championships — instead of one — had their bats arrived at the World Series ballfields on the same days as their quality pitchers.
Smoltz made his major league debut June 23, 1988,- as a member of the Braves, and spent the next two decades blowing fastballs past opposing hitters. In 2002, he became only the second pitcher in history to have had a 20-win season and a 50-save season, and is the only pitcher to have recorded over 200 wins and 150 saves in a career.
As much excitement as Smoltz’s lightning bolts — in baseball vernacular they are called “pitches” — brought to Atlanta Braves stadiums, the former star is also known for his heroics off the baseball diamond. These achievements were brought to light by United Way Chairman Cameron Fisher who told our newspaper he became “hooked” on the Atlanta squads during the era of power hitter Dale Murphy whose bat provided the pop while his pitching colleagues fueled the flames.
“He (Smoltz) has won several individual awards on the field, and with the team, but he has also been recognized by Major League Baseball for his community involvement,” Fisher explained.
Two include the Roberto Clemente Award and the Branch Rickey Award. Both recognized the athlete-turned-philanthropist for his charitable work in the Atlanta area.
One is ironically appropriate for local United Way supporters. The Branch Rickey Award was created by the Rotary Club in Denver. Locally, it is the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs that routinely host the United Way kickoff luncheons each year. Too, the national United Way organization was created in Denver.
For local fans and hometown Cleveland backers of United Way, and all the good it does in our community, Smoltz’s visit later this summer is an excellent fit.
He will bring the heat and hundreds of United Way believers will deliver the fire.
We welcome John Smoltz to Cleveland.
We thank him for coming on behalf of United Way and for boldly demonstrating his support of local residents who share his passion for this common cause.
This year’s United Way campaign will kick off in the Paul Dana Walker Arena on the Lee University campus. Tickets will go on sale July 12.
We urge local United Way loyalists, and all who are new to this worthy organization, to bring your biggest bats and swing for those deep fences of humanity.