ATLANTA -- Though Bill Bartholomay's step might have slowed slightly over the course of the past five decades, the former Braves owner still has the same passion for baseball that he possessed when he moved the franchise from Milwaukee to Atlanta before the start of the 1966 season.
Bartholomay has vivid memories of what transpired as the Atlanta Braves played their first game on April 12, 1966. Six Hall of Famers -- Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell, Bill Mazeroski, Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Joe Torre -- played in that 13-inning Pirates victory, in which Braves starter Tony Cloninger went the distance.
"It was a fantastic evening for us and very exciting," Bartholomay said. "It was bittersweet because we lost the game. Joe Torre exaggerates a little bit, but on this one, he didn't. Our first two runs were scored on Joe Torre home runs."
Bartholomay, 87, was thrilled to be back at Turner Field on Friday night to watch this year's home opener and celebrate the start of the club's 50th season in Atlanta. Hank Aaron, Phil Niekro, Dale Murphy, Chipper Jones and Bobby Cox were among the club's other dignitaries who were present.
"My heart is going pitty-pat," said Bartholomay, who, since selling the team to Ted Turner in 1976, has served as the club's chairman of the board and chairman emeritus.
Bartholomay takes great pride in the fact that he was the first owner to bring a professional sports team to the Southeast during an era when this region still was influenced by racial tensions. At the same time, he has taken great joy in having the opportunity to watch the city of Atlanta celebrate the consistent success the Braves have experienced over the past 25 years.
"It was the right choice for baseball and the right choice for America [to move the Braves to Atlanta]," Bartholomay said. "Americans needed some good news in 1966, with Vietnam and all the other things that were going on. Baseball being played in the Southeast 100 years after Reconstruction was a pretty good thing."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.