Even though I write subjective things, I try to be objective. (If that makes any sense, which it probably does not.) I am not, however, objective about Walter Banks. He’s the nicest man who has yet lived. If you disagree with me on this, you’re wrong.
Doubtless you know him as the Atlanta Braves’ legendary usher and best ambassador. You probably know that Walter worked the Braves’ first exhibition game in 1965 at the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. You’ve seen him on TV, I’m sure, and this year’s farewell to Turner Field featured his photo in print and online ads. Heck, he even delivered the final “Play Ball!” on Sunday.
As it stands, Walter isn’t sure he’ll be able to work at SunTrust Park next year. He’s 77. He lives along Cascade Road. He doesn’t like to drive after dark. He took MARTA to Sunday’s farewell game. He takes MARTA to Georgia Tech and the Georgia Dome and the College Football Hall of Fame. (He has standing gigs at all three.) But the Braves, I feel safe in saying, are the team of his heart.
You haven’t really lived until you’ve met Walter, who makes everyone he meets feel like the most important person on Earth. You also haven’t lived until you mention a number and he free-associates. Like “51”, which he wore on his shirt Sunday, denoting the number of years he has been a Braves’ usher. “In 1951,” he said, “Willie Mays was the rookie of the year.” (Yes he was. Walter is never wrong.)
Full disclosure: Walter used to work with my wife at Rich’s — he knew her long before he knew me — and has met our daughters many times. When they come to a game, they care more about seeing Walter than they do the game itself. They love the guy. Everyone does. The one time I’ve gotten Ted Turner on the phone was for him to talk about Walter, who was Ted’s personal usher back in the day.
As we know, Cobb County is a MARTA no-go zone. I know connections with Cobb County Transit exist, but I’m not sure they’d be do-able for someone whose working day might end at 11 p.m. I’m not sure they’d be feasible for Mr. B. Neither is he.
But what, I asked, if the Braves found a way to get Walter to SunTrust, be it a season-long Uber pass or even a ride on John Schuerholz’s golf cart? Would he want to work there then? Yes indeed, he said.
Then, being Walter Banks, he said: “I don’t want to be a problem for anybody.” And I know him well enough to know that’s not just lip service: He’s one of those rare people who loves doing stuff for you but gets antsy if you try to do something for him. What can I say? The man is a saint.
Here’s also what I’m saying: The sight of Walter Banks, 51 years a Braves usher, in the new home of the Braves even a few times a week would go a long way toward making SunTrust Park feel like a real home. Braves players have come and gone, and managers and GMs and presidents and even owners, but Walter has been the constant. The Braves need to make a place for him in Cobb County.
That’s not open for debate. If you disagree with me on this — although I can’t imagine anyone would — you’re wrong. This has to happen. There can be no Braves without Walter Banks.