ATLANTA -- As the Braves were playing in Arizona less than a week after Skip Caray passed away, Pete Van Wieren was finding it difficult to do the job he loved without the presence of his close friend and longtime broadcast partner.
But Mark Lemke, who filled the seat that Caray had long occupied, and former Braves radio producer Jake Cook managed to brighten Van Wieren's spirits with a comical exchange based on a computer's pronunciation of Ooltewah, Tenn.
"We had Pete laughing so hard that he couldn't even do the play-by-play," Lemke said. "We had him laughing just so hard. I've never seen him like that. When that inning was over, he said, 'Boy, did we need that.'"
Likewise, many members of the Braves family needed the opportunity they received at Turner Field on Saturday night, when a pregame ceremony honored the memory of Van Wieren, who lost his battle with cancer on Aug. 2. He was 69 years old and six years removed from ending his 33-season stint as a Braves broadcaster.
"I can't help but think that Pete and Skip and Ernie Johnson Sr. are up there right now sharing a couple laughs, sharing a couple drinks, getting ready to watch the Braves do business tonight," Chipper Jones said. "Rest in peace, Professor."
Braves president John Schuerholz, John Smoltz, longtime broadcaster Joe Simpson, Ted Turner and Jones were among those who delivered messages during Saturday's on-field ceremony. All of them touched on a passion that Van Wieren displayed, dating back to the days when he would work eight hours at a Binghamton, N.Y., radio station and then race across town to broadcast a game for the Yankees' Double-A affiliate.
In 1968, when asked to pick up a player who had been promoted to Binghamton, Van Wieren jumped at the chance to leave the radio station and gained a treasured memory by picking Thurman Munson at the airport.
Munson, the great Yankees catcher, tragically died 11 years later. Coincidentally, Van Wieren passed away 35 years to the day after Munson passed.
Like the Yankees still celebrate Munson, Braves fans will forever cherish those countless days when Van Wieren's soothing voice painted a clear picture of the game that was unfolding in front of him.
"In my opinion Pete Van Wieren was right there with Ernie Harwell as one of the great all-time broadcasters," Schuerholz said.