His year in Rome playing baseball for the Braves is one Wes Timmons will always cherish.
This weekend, 11 years after he was part of the team's historic inaugural season that ended with a South Atlantic League championship, Timmons finally returns to State Mutual stadium for the first time since 2003, joining not only his former teammates but also more than 25 more former players who wore the Rome uniform when the Braves hold their first-ever Alumni Weekend.
"It's been so long since I've been back," said Simmons, who played third base for the Braves and went on to play 11 seasons - all as a minor leaguer - with Atlanta for nine years and two with Oakland before retiring in 2012.
"I'm looking forward to coming back," he added, "and will be bringing my family with me. I've got a lot of good memories of being in Rome."
"We've had 11 years of player history," Rome Braves General Manager Mike Dunn said about putting together this first alumni event. "We're constantly seeing players who have left the game come back and reminisce about being in Rome, so we thought it'd be a good idea to get them all together at one time."
Dunn expects about 30 former players to gather at SMS this weekend, with the main festivities taking place on Saturday prior to the Braves' 7 p.m. game against the Charleston Riverdogs, when the gates are opened to the public at 2:30 p.m. Fans can enter through Gate 6 and the purchase of a $5 general admission ticket includes access to the Alumni Weekend pre-game events and the game that night.
At 3 p.m., fans will have the opportunity to see some of their favorite Rome Braves alumni members compete in a Smash Ball Home Run Derby that is followed by a whiffle ball game and them mingle with the former players 5:30-6:30pm on the front plaza.
Timmons is especially eager to renew the friendships he made with that 2003 inaugural Braves team as a number of his teammates will be on hand - Brian Almeida, Miguel Bernard, Greg Donato, Ryan Ewin, Onil Joseph, Mike Mueller, Jonathan Schuerholz, who is now Rome's manager, and Bobby Moore, a member of the inaugural coaching staff and who continues to serve as the team's hitting coach.
"It was an amazing season," Timmons said about that special year. "By far that was the best season I've been a part of. We had a great team and the chemistry between us was there."
After being drafted out of Bethune-Cookman by the Braves in the 12th round of the 2002 draft, Timmons spent the remainder of that season playing with the organization's rookie Gulf Coast League team before being called up to what was then Atlanta's low-A ballclub in Macon.
When the Braves made the move to Rome in 2003, Timmons came as well.
"I really didn't know the guys who were part of the 2002 draft class when we came to Rome," he said, noting that many of the players on that inaugural team spent their first season as professional players with the Braves' rookie team in Danville.
Timmons immediately connected with his new teammates, and called Rome home for the season as he and his then-new wife Randi rented a house across the road from SMS in Riverside Village along with pitcher Anthony Lerew and his fiancé.
That season, Timmons became a mainstay at third base for the Braves, ending the championship season hitting .277 with seven homers and driving in 45 runs.
For the next seven years, Timmons gradually worked his way up the ranks of the Atlanta farm system, eventually playing five seasons for the AAA Braves in Richmond - he helped that team win the 2007 International League crown - and then in Gwinnett.
After making consecutive Triple-A All-Star teams in 2009 and 2010 but after finding his path blocked at third base in Atlanta in the presence of Chipper Jones, Timmons signed as a free-agent after with Oakland at the end of the 2010 season.
In 2011, Timmons turned in his best season ever with the Athletics' AAA team in Sacramento, batting .321, but after the 2012 campaign and the window of opportunity of moving up to the big leagues getting smaller and smaller, he decided to step away from the game.
All told, Timmons wound up playing in a remarkable 1,047 games, all of them on the minor league level.
"I was searching for a way to spend more time with my family," said Timmons, the father of two daughters and son who, after hanging up his glove, was an assistant coach at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, N.C. for the past year and is now embarking on a business career in Charlotte,
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"If you love what you're doing, you will do it for as long as you can," he added. "I still love the game but now what to share that love with my family."
"It will be a great weekend," Dunn said, "for the players, their families and the fans alike."
For tickets contact the box office at State Mutual Stadium at 706-378-5144
CONFIRMED ROME BRAVES ALUMNI RETURNING
Brian Almeida, Miguel Bernard, Greg Donato, Ryan Ewin, Onil Joseph, Mike Mueller, Jonathan Schuerholz, Wes Timmons, Bryan Digby, Chuck James, Wes Letson, Stephen Russell, Scott Schade, Jason Paul, Van Pope, Dustin Evans, Phillip Britton, Brett Cammons, Dave Berres, Stephen Shults, David Francis, Adam Milligan, L.V. Ware, Allan Chase, Greg Hall, Brandon Harris.