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NL East: Braves celebrate franchise legends for final Turner Field game

NL East: Braves celebrate franchise legends for final Turner Field game

ATLANTA (AP) -- Walter Banks posed for pictures, caught up with old friends and turned a bit wistful as he remembered all the good times as an Atlanta Braves usher.

It was time to say goodbye.


The Braves played their final game at Turner Field on Sunday, ending a run that lasted a mere 20 seasons with a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers. They are moving to a new stadium in the suburbs next season, while Turner Field will carry on as the downsized home of Georgia State's football team.

A sellout crowd of 51,220 turned out for the occasion, while Banks manned his usual position in the box seats near the Atlanta dugout, not far from former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn.

Banks was wearing a Braves jersey with No. 51 on the back, marking his seasons of service with the team going back to its move from Milwaukee in 1966.

"You save the best to the last," he said. "No matter if they win, lose or draw, you'll always remember this day."

Banks spent 31 seasons working as a Braves usher at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium -- though, he was quick to point out, it was actually 32 since he started in 1965 when the Triple-A Crackers called it home while the Braves spent a lame-duck season in Wisconsin.

"I've met so many people, so many friends," he said. "A lot of people, I won't get to get see anymore."

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Banks was on hand for the Braves' final game at their previous home in 1996. The following year, the team moved next door to Turner Field, which began life as the main stadium for the Atlanta Olympics before it was converted into a baseball park.

Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium was imploded, clearing the way for a parking lot that served its replacement.

That was an easy move for Banks and other longtime stadium employees. He's not sure he'll be heading to SunTrust Park, which is only about 15 miles away but isn't served by Atlanta's rapid-transit system.

"If they get transportation, it would be a lot better," Banks said.

The Braves marked the final game at the ballpark affectionately known as "the Ted" -- a nod to its namesake and former Braves owner Ted Turner -- with elaborate ceremonies before and after the game.

For starters, they recognized their all-time Turner Field team. One by one, they trotted in through an opening in the center-field wall, beginning with Chipper Jones. He took his former position at third base, followed by shortstop Rafael Furcal, second baseman Marcus Giles, first baseman Adam LaRoche, left fielder Brian Jordan, center fielder Andruw Jones, right fielder Gary Sheffield and catcher Javy Lopez.

Finally, the pitchers emerged -- three of them. Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz strolled out together in their familiar Braves jerseys, the crowd saving its biggest cheer for the remarkable trio. They anchored the team through much of its unprecedented run of 14 straight division titles, the last nine of which came after the move to Turner Field.

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Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz were fittingly given the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitches in unison -- or maybe they should've called them the last pitches. They were joined on the mound by another Hall of Famer, former Braves manager Bobby Cox.

A giant American flag was unfurled across the outfield during the national anthem, which was capped off by two military jets roaring overhead on an unseasonably warm afternoon.

As soon as Jim Johnson struck out Justin Upton to end the game, the grounds crew hustled on the field to pry up home plate. Former home run king Hank Aaron and Braves chairman Terry McGuirk took it on a police-escorted trip to the new stadium, which was met with a smattering of boos when shown on the video board. To cap things off, team president John Schuerholz led the crowd in one last "Tomahawk Chop," the crowd roaring as night fell.

SunTrust Park has sparked plenty of debate over its location outside the city center, near one of the most congested interchanges in the metro area, and a secretive deal that gave the Braves some $400 million in public funding.

But Tim Landrey, who attended the Turner Field finale with his 12-year-old son, Jack, is eager to attend games at the new stadium. He said it will be a bit closer to his home and there will be more to do at the mall-like complex adjacent to SunTrust Park, which will include restaurants, retail shops and a hotel.

The Braves had long complained that the city never followed through on plans to bring development to the struggling neighborhood that surrounds Turner Field.

"I'm looking forward to going to Braves games and hitting a restaurant or a bar before or after the game," Landrey said. "It's something to do as opposed to just coming here, so it's a good move for the Braves."

Turner Field is barely older than Braves rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson, who was born in 1994 in suburban Kennesaw and has fond memories of cheering on the Braves as a child.

"It's a little bit surreal," Swanson said. "This was pretty much my whole life, what I can remember. You can't really put it into words. I don't know if I've even allowed myself to think about what's going on today and this whole year."

[RELATED: Nationals ready for Dodgers and the MLB playoffs]


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May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

May the odds be ever in your favor: Vegas sets over/unders for 2018 MLB season

The start of spring training is a glimmer of hope during the cold of winter. It means warm weather, cold beers and hot dogs at the ballpark are coming your way.

It's our first chance to get a taste of how our favorite team is shaping up for the 2018 season, and for those who are not quite into just the game itself, betting odds.

CG Technology, a Las Vegas sportsbook operator, has set the 2018 odds for each MLB team.

Specifically, how are things looking for the local teams?


Washington Nationals: 91 1/2 wins

The 2018 season is looked at by many as the last World Series run for some time for the Nationals and their core group of players. Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gio Gonzalez will become free agents after the 2018 season in addition to general manager and President of Baseball Operations, Mike Rizzo.

In 2017, the team won 97 games and went on to win the NL East, but couldn't make it past the first-round of the National League Division Series. In 2018, Vegas is giving the Nats 7/2 odds of taking the National League title. They are just behind the Chicago Cubs, who knocked them out of contention last season, at 4/1 odds.

As far as winning the World Series, Vegas is giving the guys an 8/1 chance of their first title, tied with the Cubs.

Baltimore Orioles: 77 1/2 wins

The O's finished the 2017 season with 75 wins, which could be considered somewhat of an accomplishment considering their pitching resources.

The same problem will occur in 2018 as the organization hasn't signed any new starting pitchers. Vegas is giving them 50/1 odds of taking the American League title and 100/1 odds of winning the World Series.

The lack of depth in their rotation will come back to bite them as division rival New York Yankees have 5/1 odds of winning the World Series and the Red Sox have 10/1 odds.

A below average season should be expected.

A few other standouts, good and bad, include the Miami Marlins at 500/1 odds of winning the World Series, the Kansas City Royals at 200/1 and current champions, the Houston Astros, at 6/1 odds.


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Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine


Former Nationals pitcher Esteban Loaiza arrested with more than 40 pounds of suspected cocaine

SAN DIEGO — Former All-Star pitcher Esteban Loaiza has been arrested on suspicion of trafficking drugs after packages containing a white powder believed to be cocaine were found at a home he rented in Southern California, officials said Monday.

The 46-year-old former Major League Baseball player was booked Friday on charges involving the possession, transport and sale of 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of suspected cocaine worth an estimated $500,000, according to the San Diego Sheriff's Department.

Loaiza played for numerous teams between 1995 and 2008, starting with the Pittsburgh Pirates and concluding with his second stint with the Chicago White Sox. He had a 21-9 record with the Chicago White Sox in 2003 and started in the All-Star Game that year.


He also played one season for the Washington Nationals in 2005 — the team's inaugural season in D.C. after the franchise changed from the Montreal Expos. During his one season in Washington, Loaiza finished with a 12-10 record adn a 3.77 ERA over 34 games played that year.

It was not immediately known if Loaiza had hired a lawyer and the former player could not be reached to comment. He was being held Monday for lack of $200,000 bail pending a court appearance on Wednesday.

Loaiza's agent, John Boggs, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he had no information about the arrest and that he has not spoken to Loaiza recently. He said that Loaiza had called his office early last week but Boggs was unavailable at the time.

"I am shocked and saddened by the news and had no indication he would ever be in this type of situation," Boggs said in a text to the newspaper. "I don't know how he would get himself involved in this, so it's difficult to even comment on it."

Officers stopped Loaiza for a minor traffic infraction Friday after he left the home he started renting recently in the Pacific coast community of Imperial Beach, along the U.S.-Mexico border. Authorities had the vehicle under surveillance on suspicion it was used for smuggling drugs.

When they searched the vehicle, they found a sophisticated compartment used to conceal contraband, authorities said. That led them to obtain a search warrant for Loaiza's rental home, where they found the packages of drugs, according to investigators.

The packages containing a white powder are still being tested but are believed to be cocaine, said San Diego Sheriff's Lt. Jason Vickery.

Loaiza was born in Tijuana, Mexico and was married for two years to the late Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera. She filed for divorce shortly before she died in a plane crash in 2012.

The 43-year-old Rivera was known as the "Diva de la Banda" and died as her career was peaking. She was perhaps the most successful female singer in grupero, a male-dominated Mexico regional style, sold more than 15 million records, and moved into acting and reality television.

Loaiza sued the aircraft's owners in 2014 for wrongful death but her relatives accused him of trying to profit from her death. He denied the accusations and later retracted his lawsuit.

NBC Sports Washington contributed to this report.