For several years, Kenny and Cheryl Reddick took their two sons to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium to see Atlanta Braves games, turning the trips into short summer vacations.
Even then, Josh Reddick, now 27, figured he’d be on the field in Atlanta one day and not in the stands. Even though the Oakland Athletics starting right fielder made his big league debut more than five years ago — and his family has traveled near and far to see him play — seeing him in action at Turner Field with a throng of friends and family culminated a long-held dream.
“He said, ‘Daddy, I’m going to play here one day,’” Kenny Reddick said on a sweltering Saturday night amidst dozens of Josh Reddick fans in Turner Field’s section 202. “And the day has come.”
As for himself, though he’s played in most of the big league stadiums and has been a starter since being traded to Oakland before the 2012 season, taking the field where he once sat in the stands had its own distinct feeling.
“Just walking out there, it’s something magical,” he said. “When you go to a ballpark where you grew up watching your team, and now you’re playing against that team, it’s something special.”
There were plenty of Reddick jerseys in the announced crowd of 40,760 at Turner Field, the sixth-largest crowd of the season for the Braves.
“All the number of people in this stadium wearing Reddick jerseys? That’s amazing,” said Tony Kirkland, Reddick’s coach during his high school days at South Effingham and now the coach at Colquitt County.
It wasn’t easy for Josh Reddick to accommodate the number of friends who wanted to come see him. Players are given a number of passes for each game for their guests, but Oakland has quite a few players with ties to the Southeast. Brandon Moss is from Loganville, just down I-20 from Atlanta. Josh Donaldson grew up in Alabama and played at Auburn and Sonny Gray, the A’s starting pitcher Saturday night, is from Smyrna, Tenn., and pitched at Vanderbilt.
Reddick left 15 tickets for family members — spanning four generations — and had between 30 and 75 in his cheering section Saturday night, he estimated. He told his friends he was going to take care of his family first, since passes were going to be highly sought-after commodities among A’s players.
“Moss has plenty of guys,” he said. “Donaldson has 60-80. Sonny, I think his whole hometown is up here. Even without our families, there seems to be a lot of A’s support, which is pretty eye-opening.”
Added his dad: “It was really nice to have the whole family watch him. It’s hectic for him because everybody wants a piece of him.”
After Josh’s sister was born, the Reddicks cut back on their trips to Atlanta to watch the Braves. He and some friends went to Atlanta for their senior trip to watch the Braves, he said, and he went a few more times when he was at Middle Georgia College in Cochran.
All the while, he was one of the tomahawk-chopping fans. At least then. This past weekend, as a member of the opposing team listening to the war chant and seeing hands and arms slice through the hot night, Reddick saw it from another perspective.
“It’s different,” he acknowledged. “When they started playing the chop, it was a mixed feeling. I grew up doing the chop my whole life. It’s definitely a different feeling playing against these guys and you used to be one of the fans throwing the chop out there.”
The Braves scouted the young Reddick in high school but didn’t draft him. That didn’t happen until after his one season at Middle Georgia, when the Boston Red Sox chose him in the 2007 first-year player draft.
“We always had the aspiration of watching him play in Atlanta,” Kirkland said. “This is our home. It’s special. It’s very special to me, every time he goes out there. I don’t miss a ballgame.”
Kirkland has traveled to Tampa and Miami to see his protégé play — he proclaimed he was 22-6 in games he attended, prior to Saturday night’s conclusion — and he’s also traveled cross-country to watch Reddick at O.co Coliseum in Oakland. And when he’s not in person to watch, Kirkland gets little sleep, since he’s watching every at-bat by broadcast.
His father never had any doubt he would get to see his son play major league baseball. Seeing him finally do it as close to home as possible — the Reddicks also have burned up the highways and the airliner routes to see Josh play — is even more gratifying.
“When he was about 4 or 5 years old, you could tell. He had a natural knack for it,” Kenny Reddick said. “As he got older, you could tell he was better than some of the older kids.”
Reddick’s parents went so far as to put him in age groups older than his own to see how he would perform.
“And he kept getting better and better,” his dad said. “When he got to 13, 14, you really knew his dream was possible to achieve. You could tell there was something special about him.”
His parents and grandfather even offered reassurance when young Josh was cut from the middle school team.
“Don’t let anybody tell you you’re not good enough,” his dad recalled.
Having once told his father he would be a big leaguer and playing in Atlanta, Reddick set his sights on that goal. This past weekend helped complete that dream — though with the Athletics now a favorite to win the American League, more aspirations may be waiting to be accomplished.
“I knew from a very young age this is what I wanted to do,” Reddick said. “I was pretty sure nothing was going to stop me. My parents were the only ones supporting me until Coach Kirkland came along. That was my determination from day one. I was going to be the guy who made it from the hometown. I had that tunnel vision of making it.
“And here we are.”