Steve Broach was ambushed upon returning home Monday from his morning run.
His oldest son, Trey, jumped on him as soon as he walked through the door. “C’mon, dad, we’ve got to get there early.”
Broach, wife Tricia and three sons promptly hopped in the car and hurried to Academy Sports + Outdoors on Peachtree Parkway off Ga. 400.
The Forsyth County natives were five of more than 400 fans who hoped to snag a few seconds of up-close-and-personal time with Atlanta Braves players Chipper Jones, Dan Uggla, Brian McCann, manager Fredi Gonzalez, general manager Frank Wren and postgame TV host Ben Ingram.
The Broaches were too late.
Braves and store officials handed out 350 wristbands starting early Monday morning that guaranteed passage through the long, winding line waiting to see the Braves.
The family was 351st, so Tricia Broach, decided to take Trey and his two brothers to school.
“Our kids were pretty sad, so we made a decision to stick around,” Steve Broach said. “We didn’t think we were going to get autographs, but we got in there by the skin of our teeth.”
He stayed in line alone all day until the rest of his family rejoined him shortly before the guests of honor arrived.
“What a memory for [our children],” Tricia Broach said. “Although it was a long day … They’ll be able to say ‘remember when?’ So it was cool.”
A similar outlook revealed itself in the smiles of fans from near and far experiencing the Braves Country Caravan from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday.
The presence of three All-Stars, the unveiling of Atlanta’s new alternate uniforms and anticipation for the upcoming season combined to draw one of the bigger crowds thus far on the 15-stop travelling tour.
It was the only caravan appearance scheduled to include Uggla or McCann, who signed autographs and chatted with fans while sporting the team’s new crème-colored jerseys.
Modeled after the late-1960s uniforms worn by Hank Aaron and his teammates, the home alternates were officially unveiled Monday morning. They will be seen on Saturdays and Sundays at Turner Field this season.
The first aficionado hopped in line at 11:45 a.m. Sunday.
For diehard Braves followers like Josh Teal, who arrived about midnight Sunday, it was well worth the wait.
But what drives a grown man to spend 16 hours braving the cold, losing sleep and using a vacation day to have another man scribble his name on a baseball and jersey?
“A 5-year-old boy,” said Teal, who left his home in Peachtree City as soon as the Super Bowl ended and spent the night playing the game Angry Birds on a Kindle.
“When I was a kid, my mom [got me] all kinds of memorabilia — baseballs, baseball bats — signed. I’ve been into sports my whole life. [My son] had to go to school today, but I came up here and got some stuff signed for him, kind of carrying on the tradition.
“[His favorite player is] Chipper, of course, like everybody else.”
Indeed Jones, who will turn 40 in April, received the most love as fans young and old reached the autograph table.
Entering his 19th year as a Brave, the seven-time All-Star with a .304 career batting average could be nearing retirement, though he told the media last week this may not be his final season.
Recent high school graduates Jordan Lewis and Brandon Donaldson of Columbia, S.C., reached Cumming at 2:15 a.m. Monday.
They caught the caravan’s Feb. 1 stop in their hometown. They then realized if they made the four-hour trip to Cumming and followed the caravan to Greenville on Tuesday, they could get signatures from seven different players.
The two expressed enthusiasm about the lack of turnover in the team’s roster despite its collapse at the end of last season. But Lewis hasn’t forgotten the final night of the regular season that saw Atlanta eliminated from postseason contention.
“It was heart-crushing,” he said. “It felt like the whole world just dropped right on your chest.”
Although fans like Lewis and Donaldson staked their claim early, Dawsonville residents Tayler Hasbrouck and Erica Sams took a more tactical approach.
Rather than wait in line, the Dawson County High School students arrived at noon to join the throng of fans gathered directly in front of the Braves autograph table. They snagged Jones, Uggla and McCann on their way out of the store.
“We’ve been diehard Brave fans our whole life,” Hasbrouck said. “We’re going to get to the World Series this year.”
Due to the large turnout, the Braves personnel took their posts at 4 p.m., half an hour before the event’s scheduled start time.
When the team’s tour bus rolled away, about 30 unfortunate late arrivals remained outside in line.
Much to the relief of his parents, Trey Broach wasn’t one of them. Flanked by brothers Jackson, 7, and Brody, 3, the 9-year-old bounced out with a shopping basket containing signed baseballs and other various memorabilia.
Already, the enthusiastic youngster’s gaze turned toward opening day.
“Last year, we didn’t do really good,” said Trey, who got a high-five from McCann, his favorite Brave. “But I think they’re going to do good this year.”