Monday, December 28, 2015

Renaissance Man

Bobby Dews was a Braves fixture for most of my life. At some point several years ago the multi-talented renaissance man became one of my favorites, and I’ve been a Dews fan ever since. Player. Coach. Baseball. Basketball. Georgia Tech. Poet. Novelist. Fisherman. Movie Star. His passing was noted by former Braves’ luminaries Bobby Cox, Freddie Freeman, Chipper Jones, Dale Murphy, Eddie Perez, David Ross, John Schuerholz, and others.
Dews grew up in rural Edison, Georgia and was one of the most talented athletes to ever come out of the state. At Georgia Tech he starred in both basketball and baseball, playing for Whack Hyder. Dews was named the Jackets’ defensive player of the year in both sports.
He was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals organization and toiled in the minor leagues for ten years, at one time or another playing all nine positions on the field (but mostly shortstop). Daytona Beach (1960), Billings (1961), Lancaster (1961), Tulsa (1961, 64, 66-67), Portsmouth-Norfolk (1962), Winnipeg (1963), Jacksonville (1965), Arkansas (1966-68), and St. Petersburg (1970). In 1967 he pitched one inning for Arkansas, allowing one hit and hitting one batter. In 1968 he even caught a game.
In 1969 Dews began his coaching career, managing the Lewiston Broncs (1969), Cedar Rapids Cardinals (1971), Gulf Coast Cardinals (1972 and 74), Modesto Reds (1973), Greenwood Braves (1975), Kingsport Braves (1976), Greenwood Braves (1977), Savannah Braves (1978 and 1983), Durham Bulls (1982), Greenville Braves (1984), and Richmond Braves (1984) – finishing with a record of 414-413.
Dews’ playing career was diminished with his struggles with alcohol. Finally in the late 1980’s Bobby Cox sent him for treatment and Dews was able to conquer his demons once and for all. From that point onward Dews was willing to speak about his battle with anyone who would listen.
Dews served on Bobby Cox’ coaching staff from 1979-1981 and later during the Braves storied run of 14 straight division championships. He helped transition floundering first baseman Dale Murphy into a Gold Glove centerfielder. In 1999 at the age of 60 Dews became the Braves’ bullpen coach, where he could often be seen wearing two batting gloves and catcher’s chin guards.
In 2006 Dews’ visits to the nearby Our Lady of Perpetual Help cancer hospice became a national story.
The 2008 season marked his 35th consecutive season with the Braves. Dews was the subject of a Fox Sports South “driven” profile, joining the likes of Braves greats such as Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Cox, Chipper, McCann, and Francoeur.
Several years ago I stumbled across a used Bobby Dews Braves jersey at the Turner Field game used shop. To this day I regret not buying it.
Braves beatwriter Mark Bowman wrote a fitting tribute, including one more amazing Dews story I had never heard: at the age of 65 he caught the Atlanta Braves 2004 Hall of Fame game in the July heat at Cooperstown New York.
After retiring Dews became writer in residence at Andrew College in Cuthbert Georgia, where he published four books, including two novels. His longevity and great storytelling ability made him comparable to Don Zimmer and Buck O’Neil. Too bad Dews passed away too late to be included in any of the year-end tributes.
Though in 2016 the Braves will be wearing a patch commemorating their last season in Turner Field, I’m hoping they’ll find room for a memorial Dews patch as well. And perhaps also a Bobby Dews bobblehead – complete with batting gloves and chin guards.

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