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Nixon recalls Braves career path, beating addictions, UT Football

Otis Nixon, former Atlanta Braves standout centerfielder now an ordained minister, signs an autograph for Brittain Mattingly, 3, of Farragut, during the “Braves Power Lunch” stop at Wild Wing Café.- Alan Sloan/farragutpress
Among seven Atlanta Braves organization representatives during a “Braves Power Lunch” southeastern tour that stopped at a jam-packed Wild Wing Café in Farragut, Otis Nixon received by far the loudest applause.

“It just brings back memories when I come back through this area,” said Nixon, former Braves standout centerfielder who helped Atlanta win three National League pennants during his four seasons there (1991-93, ’99), at the Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 9, gathering.

“I was up in Nashville stealing 112 [bases],” Nixon added about his Class AAA years with the Nashville Sounds, early ’80s, in the New York Yankees organization.

Traded to Atlanta after Major League stints with the Yankees, Cleveland and Montreal from 1983 to 1990, “I came to Atlanta on April Fool’s Day [1991], believe it or not,” said Nixon, now an ordained minister who admits battling addiction to alcohol and illegal drugs within the pages of his new book, “Keeping It Real.”

About being traded from Montreal to a Braves program struggling prior to 1991, “I thought it was a trick, because we were training together and they told me to go to the other side of the field,” Nixon said. “I said, ‘Man, come on, I’m not. I’m going to the worst team in baseball?’”

However, “We went there, and magic starts to happen,” added Nixon, who ended with a career .270 batting average, 626 stolen bases and a .989 fielding percentage. “We went from worst to first in that particular year.”

In additiont to Braves promotion work, Nixon and his wife of less than two months, Candice Staton, “Go across the country ministering and singing to kids in high schools,” he said.

Nixon’s familiarity with Knox County had been all Orange and White. “I’d been to a couple of Tennessee games — I could not believe so much orange,” he said. “And the talent they put on the field, the [fans] remind me of the old Braves, how they rally around a winning team.”

As a Braves ambassador, “I do enjoy it, going with the guys into the hospitals … We appreciate the fans, and how they come out to the stadium [Turner Field],” he said.

Nixon spoke about 1991’s turnaround as part of the Braves’ panel, including assistant general manager Bruce Manno, who addressed the packed Café audience prior to an autograph session.

About 1991 when he had career bests seasons in batting average (.297) and stolen bases (72), Nixon told the gathering, “In your mind, you could see yourself winning. In my mind, I could see myself winning.”

Pointing out he played against controversial all-time home-run king Barry Bonds, then with Pittsburgh when the Pirates faced Atlanta in the National League Championship Series in 1991 and 1992, Nixon said Bonds now “looks a little different today” as an alleged steroids user.

About a leaping catch Nixon has been famous for — robbing Pirates’ all-star centerfielder Andy Van Slyke of a home run to help preserve Atlanta’s eventual 13-game winning streak in 1992 — Nixon said Van Slyke “still doesn’t want to speak to me today.”

With Tiger Woods’ infidelity story international news since December, Nixon said he’s also battled addictions.

“Tiger is going through something that I went through in 1991,” he told the gathering. “I went through one of the lowest periods of my life when I made the catch and went up so high — and one of the worst lows in my life.”

Nixon then pointed out he was “drinking water” at Wild Wing “for a reason.”

“We have to come to grips with something that’s ticking inside of us,” he added. “I know today I have a peace, I can get with guys and pull into them, whether it’s a kid, a woman or a man.”

Nixon said his book covers his life “as a father, as a man and as an ex-Brave as well.”

While praising the overall talent of those early ’90s Braves teams, Nixon was especially complementary of manager Bobby Cox, who is scheduled to retire after the 2010 season. “My favorite manager said this is his last year,” Nixon said.

About the 2010 Braves, Nixon said, “I’m excited about the team this year, I see a lot of transactions taking place … it reminds me of the team in 1991, except [the 2010 team] is not in last place.”


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