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One last hurrah for Lopez

One last hurrah for Lopez

ATLANTA -- It wasn't exactly the way Javy Lopez had envisioned it. But he was given one last opportunity to stand on Turner Field and say goodbye to the Braves fans who showered him with praise throughout his career.

If all had gone right during Spring Training, Lopez would have been in uniform with the Braves for their home opener against the Pirates on Monday night. But having been forced to face reality and into a decision to retire, the catcher instead gladly accepted the opportunity to throw the ceremonial first pitch.

With his longtime teammate, veteran pitcher John Smoltz, standing behind the plate in sort of a role reversal, Lopez fired a strike that elicited a roar of approval from the hometown crowd.

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As he was walking off the field, Lopez shared a hug with Chipper Jones, whom he'd first called a teammate in the Minors in 1992. Then, when he got to the dugout, he found himself sharing embraces with manager Bobby Cox and many of the other Braves players and coaches.

Lopez, who played in Atlanta from 1992-2003, went to Spring Training with the Braves hoping to win the role as a backup catcher. But when he didn't earn a roster spot, he opted to retire and return to his home in suburban Atlanta.

When he announced his decision, Lopez said he was thankful for the opportunity to retire as a Brave.

Before Lopez delivered the first pitch, many of the Braves players received heartfelt welcomes from the Turner Field crowd. Jones, Smoltz and Cox received their expected rousing ovations.

But the loudest cheer was reserved for Tom Glavine, who was preparing to make his first start as a Brave in six years. The 300-game winner previously pitched in Atlanta from 1987-2002.

Recording artist Diana DeGarmo, who gained fame in 2004 on "American Idol," sang the national anthem.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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