Sorry, but given the splendid conversations I had for decades with Robert Walter Dews Jr., I'll call him Bobby the rest of the way. In contrast, he'll always remain "Coach Dews" to Julian.
If you've never heard of Bobby, he was a gifted writer disguised as a baseball lifer, with twinkling eyes and something witty, scholarly or flat-out hilarious always sitting near the tip of his tongue. Actually, he was more than that, and I'm not just talking about his spending the 1960s at multiple positions in the Minor Leagues for the Cardinals. He eventually wore blue-flavored uniforms more than red ones since 37 of his 53 years in baseball were with the Braves. He coached in their Minor League system, helping them build the base for a Major League record streak of 14 consecutive division titles.
• Longtime Braves coach, administrator Dews passes away
Down the stretch of those Braves teams grabbing five National League pennants and a World Series championship, Bobby operated as the oldest yet most effectively spry bullpen coach you'll ever see. He spent the majority of his 60s (yep, 60s) in that role. He also prospered with the Braves as a senior executive, and he offered his homespun advice to peers, players and anybody else who recognized his wisdom.
Bobby wrote books, too. They were deeply personal, and they tugged at the conscience of the reader.
Then along came Bobby and Julian.
Nothing about this friendship out of nowhere made sense. One was a senior citizen who used fictional characters in his writings to describe his past as a white man growing up in segregated Georgia. The other was an African-American kid in elementary school on the outskirts of Atlanta.
I'll just start from the beginning.
Soon after Julian was born on Aug. 28, 1991, I told his parents that he was the good luck charm for the Braves. Somehow, with Julian sort of watching games while sucking on his bottle, the Braves completed their journey from worst to first after a dreadful stretch in the 1980s. By the time Julian was walking and talking, the Braves were a consistent playoff team, and Uncle Terry had turned his godson into a diehard baseball fan.
We were frequent visitors to Turner Field, where the home team featured Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, along with Chipper Jones, a Hall of Famer in waiting. Those Braves also had perennial All-Stars such as David Justice, Marquis Grissom and Fred McGriff. Then there was Bobby Cox, who managed his way into Cooperstown.
Now consider the following: Eight-year-old Julian sat at his family's dining room table when I came to visit him one day in Sept. 1999, and he studied a bunch of baseball cards in front of him.
Julian showed me one, then another ...
Then Julian grabbed a card sitting by itself and said, "Here's what I really want to ask you, Uncle Terry. Do you know Coach Dews?"
I nodded, and Julian said, "Wow."
What was that about, I thought? I asked Julian, and he shrugged without responding before he spent the next few minutes dissecting everything on the card about the Braves' bullpen coach.
Julian's fascination with Bobby didn't end there. It lasted for weeks, months and years. In fact, it never ended. Whenever I chatted with Julian after I covered a Braves games as a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he'd often ask along the way, "So did you talk to Coach Dews?"
I first told Bobby about his biggest fan in Oct. 1999, and he couldn't stop his tears from flowing in the Braves clubhouse at Turner Field. "I've got to do something for that kid," Bobby said, searching in his locker for something, anything. He autographed a baseball. He also grabbed a pair of the famous batting gloves he used to direct traffic in the bullpen, and he scribbled a personal message on them to Julian.
I had a better idea.
Before I handed Bobby's gifts to Julian, I entertained my godson in the kitchen of his family's home when the phone rang. I grabbed my camcorder as Julian answered, and after he said, "Hello," he looked as if he were speaking to a white-bearded guy from the North Pole.
Better yet, it was Bobby.
"Oh, hi, Coach Dews," Julian said, almost yelling. The conversation lasted maybe three minutes, with Julian doing a lot of nodding, and with only his mouth opened wider than his eyes. He finally said, "Goodbye, Coach Dews, and good luck in the World Series against the Yankees."
Julian hung up, and he did a couple of cartwheels around the room before adding a little dance between screams.
I showed the video to Bobby, and there were more tears.
A couple of years later, I had another surprise for Julian. I took him to the right-field bleachers at Turner Field before a game, and I told him to peak down into the Braves bullpen. It was a setup. Soon after we arrived, Bobby looked up and shouted, "Hi, Julian. Here's a ball for you."
Bobby threw it, and Julian caught it. Their friendship was sealed forever right there, with both of them spending more than a decade sharing bits and pieces of their lives through me.
There were Julian's academic and athletic successes in high school that led to his years as a prolific tennis player at Whittier College, the alma mater of longtime Major League player Jamie Quirk and President Richard Nixon. "Tell Julian I'm proud of him, and tell him I was a guard on Georgia Tech's basketball team that went to the Final Four in 1960, because I think he'd get a kick out of that," said Dews, who was correct. He also was omniscient when he thought Julian would find joy in the bullpen coach's literary skills.
In my copy of Bobby's book called "Legends, demons and Dreams," he wrote on the inside, "For Terence and Julian ... In time! Thanks, Bobby Dews."
Speaking of time, Julian is now 24, and he works in Los Angeles. When I texted him the news of Bobby's death, the biggest fan of a bullpen coach in the history of the world replied, "That's so sad."