For the last few years the Atlanta Braves have held a Winter FanFest in downtown Atlanta to thank fans and help usher in the new season. The largest of these gatherings was two years ago at the Georgia World Congress Center, as the Braves brought in a portable baseball field and combined autograph sessions with fan and player interaction at various stations.
This year the team is going back to the old style Caravans that used to make their way around the Southeast for so many years ever since the team moved to Atlanta. The canceling of the FanFest and the reincarnation of the Caravan is not about leaving the fans of metro Atlanta out of the pre-season festivities, quite the opposite. Of the 30 or so stops on the 2010 Caravan, almost half will be in and around the Atlanta metro area. When I talked with Executive VP for Sales and Marketing for the Braves, Derek Schiller, he said that the Caravan will be a "modified version of the FanFest to many different communities."
With over 30 stops on the 3000 mile Caravan, the Braves have been able to recruit every one of the players on their 40-man roster to participate in some way, shape, or form. They will also have some big-named minor leaguers and notable former players who will appear at each stop.
With all of these stops, and all of these different players, the opportunity for fans to get autographs will be greatly enhanced. This is especially true for fans in the Atlanta area. Whereas before they had to rely on one FanFest weekend to try and snag autographs and interact with players, now they will have over a dozen Caravan opportunities to do so. Season ticket holders will also be given special access at some of these events where they will be able to interact with players. While the details have not been finalized, Schiller said season ticket holders will be able to attend luncheons with Braves players and special autograph sessions.
As part of trying to make this the biggest and best Braves Caravan ever, the team has recruited Brian McCann and Tim Hudson to serve as player leaders. They will help make sure that a substantial contingent of players attend each day of the Caravan. Schiller said that the Caravan will not interfere with "Camp Roger," the pre-season pitching camp that pitching coach Roger McDowell puts on before spring training at Turner Field. In fact, there may be an opportunity for season ticket holders to attend one or more of the Camp Roger sessions. (Schiller also mentioned that Roger doesn't like calling it Camp Roger.)
The Caravan, from the Braves perspective, is also an opportunity to conduct the community outreach and service that the team has long been known for. In addition to the Caravan's stops at every Academy Sports and Outdoors store along the way, the team will also be visiting local Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, and select community charities.
While there will be some fans who will miss the FanFest, the Caravan seems to present a greater opportunity for smaller scale interaction and easier access to players, as well as more opportunities for fans to make it out to an event. The Caravan starts January 30th with several stops in Alabama, and ends February 13th at Gwinnett Stadium, just before pitchers and catchers report.
Talking Chop will be keeping everyone up to date on the latest Caravan news, and I encourage anyone who attends to post a FanPost with pictures and a recap of your experience. Information on the Caravan is also available on the team's website, including an up to date listing of events and Caravan stops.