Memories of Pete: A beloved legend of the Braves’ family

After handling our respective duties during an Aug. 4, 2008 game in San Francisco,  a group of us went to Lefty O’Doul’s to have a drink and tell just a few more stories about the friend we had lost 24 hours earlier.  As we prepared to exit the establishment, Pete Van Wieren left a shot of Dewar’s sitting on the bar.  He tapped his finger near the shot glass, stood and walked away with the wish that he might have had the chance to share just one more drink with Skip Caray.

Almost exactly six years after sadly saying goodbye to Skip, the baseball community finds itself mourning the passing of Van Wieren. The fact that he had missed last week’s Hall of Fame celebration in Cooperstown provided a clue.  But it was not until Saturday morning that most of us realized how dire his battle with cancer had become.

When Van Wieren came to Turner Field to emcee the Hank Aaron 715th home run anniversary celebration, staged before this year’s home opener, he was thrilled his doctors had informed him that he was as healthy as he had been since he was diagnosed with with cutaneous B-cell lymphoma on Nov. 4, 2009  — 13 months after he had retired from his 33-year stint as a Braves broadcaster.

Knowing he had experienced other encouraging updates over the previous couple years, I asked Pete how optimistic I should be with the tone of what I would write.  He said, “I’m not out of the woods yet, but I’m feeling great.”

The cancer returned a short time later and progressively worsened.  Van Wieren began receiving hospice care a couple days ago and then according to family members died peacefully this morning.

While thrilled that he will no longer suffer, I count myself among the many of you who are saddened by the reality that we will never again have the chance to see Van Wieren take great joy in the chance to be around the game of baseball.  But we will always have memories of that distinct voice that was enriched with the wealth of knowledge he gained through countless hours of preparation on a daily basis.

Though we possessed different roles within the same industry, I would say Pete has had a significant influence on my career.  While none of us could ever match the dedication and attention to detail that Van Wieren brought on a daily basis, we can always better ourselves just by trying.

Like many of you, I grew up away from Atlanta as the fan of a team that was not the Braves. Still throughout my youth, I recognized Skip, Pete and Ernie Johnson Sr. as three of the most recognizable figures of the Braves organization.  They were revolutionary figures courtesy of TBS’ nationwide reach.  But somehow Cooperstown’s doors have never been opened for any of these three legends.

From 1976-2008, Van Wieren served as a Braves broadcaster and one of the organization’s greatest ambassadors.  Whether in a hotel lobby or at a team-related function, he always graciously interacted with fans.  Then of course whether calling a game or emceeing  an event, he blessed us with gifts that came via the sound and contents of his voice.

During his final two years as a broadcaster, he called every Spring Training and regular season game, except for one  — an absence caused by laryngitis.  What a treat it was to have Pete at Spring Training on a daily basis those two seasons (2007-08).

As Pete spent the past few years watching his grandchildren grow and fulfilling his passion for poker, I urged him to return to Spring Training for a week or two.  He always said, “We’ll see” and never really indicated whether he was being limited by the cancer.

When I wrote  this Thanksgiving story two years ago, Van Wieren provided us hope that he might have beaten the cancer that had rudely interrupted his plans to spend much of his retirement traveling and spending time with his family.  He did some of this, but not nearly enough.

Still during his 69 years on this earth, Pete enriched countless lives and left his mark on a Braves organization that will forever be grateful for the opportunity to call him on of their own.

So, if you’re wanting to show your appreciation tonight, I suggest you grab a cold Heineken and raise it high.  Or you might just leave one sitting alone on the bar before walking away with the wish that you might have had just one more to share with Pete.

 

 

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