He definitely did put a smile on the face of 6-year-old Joshua Whitaker.
You see, Joshua is a baseball fan and a big Atlanta Braves fan. He is also a huge John Smoltz fan, partly because of what a great player Smoltz was, but also because Joshua’s middle name just happens to be Smoltz.
Joshua’s father, Darrell, grew up in the Atlanta area, and has been a Braves fan from the age of 3 when he saw his first game. Joshua’s mom, Michelle, is from the Cookeville area, but also has been a Braves fan for as long as she can remember.
In fact, the two former Lee University students (where they met) stopped at and took in a Braves game on the way back to Tennessee from their honeymoon.
“We both liked the name Joshua, and we were debating on a middle name,” Darrell said. “We were debating Avery, for (Braves pitcher) Steve Avery, but we were thinking traditional and I wanted something a little different.
“We tossed Smoltz out there, and I liked it. I had some friends who said, ‘hey, that’s cool,’” he remembered.
“I thought it was cool too,” said Michelle. “I wasn’t completely for his middle name, but I wasn’t totally against it either. I really wanted Joshua as his first name, but agreed we wanted him to have a special middle name.”
She said Joshua is very proud Smoltz is his middle name.
“Joshua loves the fact that his middle name is Smoltz, and he loves baseball, basketball and music, but he has developed this passion for baseball,” Michelle added.
“He started watching the Braves on television … not just parts of the game but the whole game, and he has begun to keep score of the games and keep up with statistics.”
The Whitakers, which also include teen daughter Marah (a sophomore at Walker Valley High School), have all been to a few Braves games, and even attended the June 8 game where John Smoltz’s number was retired.
“He was thrilled to see him from a distance,” Michelle said.
Little did Joshua know that John Smoltz was going to be in Cleveland at the United Way luncheon.
“He knew he was going to lunch and that he might meet someone, but he had no idea who,” Joshua’s mom said. “As soon as got in (the Presidential Dining Hall, where a Meet and Greet session with Smoltz was set up), his jaw dropped and he was speechless.”
The Whitakers were special guests at the Meet and Greet of Richie Hughes, a college friend of Darrell’s who is also co-chairman for this year’s United Way campaign. Hughes was responsible for bringing Smoltz, also a friend, to Cleveland.
“Richie was able to get Joshua a baseball signed by John Smoltz for Joshua for his first birthday,” Darrell said.
Darrell added another friend, Bobby Ludwig, found an autographed Smoltz jersey that is now at Darrell’s office on Mouse Creek Road (Home Mortgage Solutions LLC).
Joshua likes to mimic other players, which helped him learn to bunt without any previous teaching.
“He said he learned it from watching Michael Bourn on TV,” Darrell said.
His dad related a time when Joshua was acting like his arm was hurting, and when asked, told his dadhe was Brandon Beachy, a Braves pitcher who is on the disabled list due to arm problems.
“He likes to imitate the players, and that’s how he learns the game too,” Darrell added.
“He loves the Braves and for a while said he was J-Hey, No. 22 (for Jason Heyward), but now, he’s No. 29 for John Smoltz.”
Still, the name Smoltz turns heads and creates some interesting scenarios. Darrell said that the coaches at his son’s recent baseball camp wanted to know if they could call him Smoltzie.
“Then there is the story about the time at Dick’s Sporting Goods when I was trying to get his attention, and I said ‘Joshua Smoltz’, and people turned around looking for John Smoltz thinking he was there with his child,” he remembered.
“It’s funny to see people’s reaction.”
The reaction of Joshua when he saw John Smoltz at the luncheon was priceless. The two were able to talk a little at the Meet and Greet, and Joshua and his family walked with Smoltz from the dining hall to the Walker Arena where the luncheon was held.
It was a special day for the entire family, but especially for Joshua.
“That afternoon, just he and I were in the car, and he said, ‘mama, I am going to remember this day for the rest of my life’,” Michelle said. “He was just on Cloud 9.”
Several family members were able to attend, and others will undoubtedly hear about it from Joshua. His grandparents, all from Cleveland, are LaVonne Whitaker and the late Joe D. Whitaker and Ralph and Wanda Fisher. Great-grandparents are Loyd Cofer of Georgetown and Beatrice Cole of Cookeville.