April 14, 2017, Atlanta, Georgia - The Atlanta Braves Heavy Hitters Drumline perform at the Atlanta Braves Opening Game at Suntrust Parkin Cobb County, Georgia, on April 14, 2017. (HENRY TAYLOR / HENRY.TAYLOR@AJC.COM)
Photo: Henry P. Taylor/Henry Taylor / AJC
Photo: Henry P. Taylor/Henry Taylor / AJC

From crazy nicknames to “Drumline:” The 411 on the Atlanta Braves’ Heavy Hitters 

The Atlanta Braves just returned to SunTrust Park for one of their final spring training games. The 7:35 p.m. game against the New York Yankees was a warmup for  Opening Day on March 29.  It also marked the return of another popular Braves’ team, the Heavy Hitters.

In a city where drumming is both high art and pop culture (both “Drumline” movies were set and filmed here), the Heavy Hitters stand especially tall. They play at every home game, starting several hours before the stadium gates open on The Battery, then moving inside SunTrust to play during games (that includes pounding the giant drum beneath the scoreboard when the Braves are at bat).

In February, the AJC sat in on part of the highly competitive auditions that were held to fill nine open spots on this year’s squad. You can read and hear all about that (literally) in a myAJC story and an episode of the accessAtlanta podcast (listen below).

Here are five heavy-hitting things to know about the Braves’ signature drum line:

   1. The Heavy Hitters basically pounded themselves into existence in 2004. “Five gentlemen from Clark Atlanta (University) would come and perform outside of home games” initially on weekends, said Anthony Aiken, a Hitter for nine years and now the squad’s captain. “Braves (personnel) came out and saw what the fun was all about” and soon the official drum line was born.

   2. There are 24 Heavy Hitters this year, ranging in age from 18 “into their 40s,” said Braves Entertainment Manager Geoffrey Schmidt. Typically, 10 work each home game, arriving 3-1/2 hours before game time and working through the seventh inning. On weekends they perform post-game as well). It’s a physically demanding gig, but “Honestly, age is not that important to us,” Schmidt said. “If you’re 50 and can bring it as a drummer, do it.”

Is there a future Heavy Hitter (or two, or three) in there somewhere? This file photo shows Tri-Cities High School marching band taking the field at Herndon Stadium during a past Metro Atlanta Battle of the Bands.The East Point high school sends many drummers to the Atlanta Braves elite drumline.
Photo: Joey Ivansco / jivansco@ajc.com

   3. Yes, the Heavy Hitters are paid. No, the Braves won’t say how much. Many of the Hitters have other jobs --  their ranks have included church musicians, client support specialists, teachers, even a firefighter, said Aiken, himself a dispatch support rep who works an overnight shift. At least one of the Hitters appeared in “Drumline.”

LISTEN: accessAtlanta: Things to do in Atlanta by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Apple Podcasts 

  4. Just like certain countries churn out a steady supply of great major league baseball players, Tri-Cities High School in East Point is Heavy Hitter Heaven. At least 17 Tri-Citiers have been on the squad. Says Aiken (a graduate of you-know-where): “At one time when the line was 25 people, it was 13 of us” who’d gone to  Tri-Cities.

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   5. Every new member is given a nickname (”Daz Dilly,” “Suave Da Great,” etc.) for the back of their Braves jersey, which they must keep at least for the first year Some years there’s a theme  -- recently, it was the movie “Sandlot.” Sometimes a new Hitter’s nickname is based on individual characteristics. A couple of years ago,”Bowzer” (that would be Aiken) says,  a guy who worked in merchandising for the Braves made the line and was dubbed -- what else? -- “Merch.” We don’t yet know the nicknames of the nine new members of this year’s line, which includes two female drummers, but we do know the theme: “Cartoons,” Schmidt chuckled. “All are named for cartoon characters.”

Last week’s podcast:  Atlanta Hawks talk about major changes coming for fans

The AJC’s weekly accessAtlanta podcast brings you the stories that make our eclectic city one of a kind. Go with us behind the scenes for interviews with the people who create movies, music and art that’s making waves around the world. We’ll share some fun things to do in Atlanta over the next 10 days, too.

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