MOULTRIE — W.C. and Jeanette Crawford have long been Atlanta Braves fans, following the team since its move to Georgia from Milwaukee in 1966.

But after they retired and began taking their motor home to Florida each year to spend a month or so watching the Braves play their spring training games, their interest grew to another level.

Jeanette can take you to a spare bedroom in their comfortable Moultrie home and show you several three-ring binders filled with photographs of Braves players, coaches and manager Bobby Cox, many of which she took over the last decade while at Champions Stadium at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., where the Braves train.

On a bookcase in the room are stacked some 40 autographed baseballs, encased in clear plastic cubes. There are more signed baseballs in a bag on the floor, waiting to be displayed. And others are in a curio cabinet in the living room.

She has a pair of batting gloves given to her by former Braves second baseman Marcus Giles lying not far from a Braves cap she received from one of her favorites, longtime Braves coach Bobby Dews.

And outside the door to the garage, leaning against the wall is one of the bats used by former Braves catcher Corky Miller.

Those mementos are cherished, as are those warm spring days in central Florida, getting to the ballpark early, renewing friendships with folks they hadn’t seen since the year before and gathering at the rail next to the dugout to chat with the likes of Martin Prado, Don Sutton, Jimy Williams, Tom Glavine and others wearing the jersey with the tomahawk stitched across the chest.

That the Crawfords should find such enjoyment where balls are thrown and hit and caught is not surprising.

Jeanette was playing softball for Warner’s one evening when one of her friends said she wanted Jeanette to meet her uncle, a tall, handsome former Moultrie High baseball player not long out of the Air Force. His name was W.C. Crawford.

The two met in July. Jeanette received her engagement ring on Oct. 12 and the couple married on Nov. 23, 1955.

W.C. was the senior center fielder on the 1951 Moultrie High baseball team coached by Ike Aultman that advanced to the state playoffs.

In addition to Aultman, that team featured three other future Colquitt County Sports Hall of Famers in third baseman Ray Mercer, left fielder Lindy Boatwright and catcher Owen Thomas.

Also playing for the Packers that year were Ray White, Lynn Fowler, Billy Register, Lamar Weaver, Henry Daughtry, Franklin Weaver, Dykes Barber, Larry Moore, Richard Fowler and Eddie Oxford.

“We had a pretty good team,” W.C. remembers.

And he also recalls that while he didn’t consider himself much of a hitter, he prided himself in his ability to throw from the outfield. He once got to display his fine arm for Jim Poole, the manager of Moultrie’s Georgia-Florida League team, who happened to be at a Packers practice.

W.C. also played some county league baseball, and while in the service, performed for the 20th Air Force all-star fast-pitch softball team in Japan.

It was after being discharged from the Air Force in 1955 that he returned to Moultrie and met Jeanette Pope, his future bride and a 1954 Moultrie High graduate.

She, too, was a fine athlete, but did not play for the Moultrie High basketball team. Her father did not believe in girls wearing shorts.

W.C. worked for Merck Chemical in Albany for 36 years before retiring in 1994. He and Jeanette raised daughter Tanny, who now lives in Albany, and Gail, still in Moultrie. They have seven grandsons and two great-grandchildren.

Three years after W.C. retired and the couple was on the way back to Moultrie from California, where they had visited his brother, they stopped at a recreational vehicle dealer in Arizona.

They drove the rest of the way home in a 36-foot Fleetwood Bounder. It has been their transportation to and from Lake Buena Vista and their home-away-from-home during their eagerly anticipated trips to spring training these last 13 years.

“It’s 536 miles, round trip,” W.C. says of the trek to central Florida.

Most years, they have parked at the Mill Creek RV Resort on Michigan Avenue in Kissimmee, which is close to the ball park.

“It’s 10.1 miles to the stadium and takes 15 minutes to get there,” W.C. says.

Last year, the Crawfords arrived in Florida on Feb. 21, four days after the pitchers and catchers reported and two days after the full squad gathered.

They went to all 16 Braves home games and, as always, did some local traveling during off days or when the team was out of town. They always look forward to a trip to Plant City for the Strawberry Festival.

There are other activities at the motor home site, but, of course, they especially enjoy their days at the Braves park.

“We’ve made a lot of friends there,” W.C. says. “People from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Pensacola. They look for us. We look for them.

“We get to catch up on all the gossip.”

One year, during a rain delay, W.C. and Jeanette waited out the shower under cover at the stadium with the parents of then-Braves outfielder Jermaine Dye.

W.C. enjoys going down by the bullpen, watching the Braves pitchers hone their craft, then settling into his familiar seat just above the dugout to watch the game.

Jeanette, however, likes to get to the park early and make her way down close the field, where she enjoys taking pictures, asking for autographs and talking with the Braves she will watch on television the rest of the spring and summer.

A number of the Braves remember her. Most are willing to pose for a picture or sign a ball.

“Some of them will get an attitude,” Jeanette says. “But a lot of them are nice.”

She cherishes her autographs, but the first one she ever got did not come at a ball field.

She was dining in the Marriott in Atlanta years ago when she saw Pete Rose eating with his mother. Jeanette approached him asked for his autograph on a napkin and he complied.

It was the start of a large collection and she has found most of the players willing to spend a little time with fans in the more relaxed atmosphere of spring training.

One year, while chatting with Braves second baseman Marcus Giles, she asked about the health of his child, who had been seriously ill. Giles replied and then began to walk away.

He then turned around, walked back to her, and gave her his batting gloves.

“I didn’t ask for them,” she said. “He just gave them to me.”

Jeanette looks for Dews, the longtime Braves coach, who lives in South Georgia, just outside Edison. He once gave her his cap.

Coach Jimy Williams smiled and posed for a photo and then asked another fan if she would take a picture of him with Jeanette. Williams took off his cap, put it on Jeanette’s head, moved close and smiled for the camera.

Jeanette said it is difficult getting a photograph with Bobby Cox, but she was able to get him to pose with a young baseball fan.

Braves broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton was willing to pose for a photo with Jeanette and her sister, and players such as Tom Glavine, Martin Prado and Mike Gonzalez have been friendly and courteous and are now among Jeanette and W.C.’s favorites.

The Crawfords have been spring training season ticket holders for a number of years and are guests of the Braves at an annual luncheon during which they get to meet the players.

Each August, the Crawfords receive a form from the Braves that they send back renewing their season tickets. And this summer will be no different.

Until then, it’s watch the Braves on television the rest of the 2010 season and somehow get through next winter.

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