Okay, that's not how he enters the field at Turner Field. Instead the song "Thunderstruck" comes on over the loudspeakers and the crowd gets onto its feet and cheers. An amazingly electric atmosphere is created for number 29 as he runs out to take his place on the mound.
By the time John Smoltz throws the first 97 mph fastball the crowd is awake and ready to see the guy they have adopted as Smoltzie dominate the opposing team and secure another Braves’ victory.
The closer role isn't one that Smoltz wanted to inherit. Smoltz, who was originally drafted by the Tigers, then traded to the Braves for Doyle Alexander, started his career as starter. A very good starter. Who was on the field when the Braves secured their "worst to first" pennant run? None other than John Smoltz. Smoltz remains the only member of that team still in a Braves uniform.
In 1996, Smoltz won the Cy Young Award with a record of 24-8 and an ERA of 2.94. Including a period in the season when he won 14 straight. However, in 2000 he went down with an injury that required the career changing Tommy John Surgery. Coming back in 2001 he started 5 games but just was not able to sustain the starting role. The Braves tried something else, something that would change the way Smoltz is viewed forever.
Atlanta, trying to keep Smoltz a valuable member of the team, moved him to the closer role after 157 wins as a starter for the Atlanta Braves. Not a role that he envisioned or even wanted, Smoltz went out the 'pen in right field and became the terminator that he is today.
Don't get me wrong, Smoltz was a tremendous starter. Always a tough pitcher to beat and every bit menacing to the opposition as he is now. But this role would embody John Smoltz.
Again back to the music of this closer, you are indeed thunderstruck by his ability to throw 3 pitches and make the opposing batter look foolish and perhaps even cry for mama. Most closers have one pitch that makes them successful, this man has three. Is he human? I’d have to ask for DNA results to convince me.
Smoltz, who makes his home permanently in Atlanta, is indeed more than a closer; he creates an atmosphere that any person would have to be a part of to believe. He is charitable in his community, and without question he deserved to win the 2002 Marvin Miller Man of the Year, which is given annually to "the player whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement."
The talent didn't change for number 29, the role did. The role that he did not want or embrace at first has allowed him to wear the uniform of the Atlanta Braves for a few more years. It's not a matter of the role defining Smoltz; it's Smoltz defining the role. And I believe he does it pretty well.
Special thanks to Kristi Clemmer for assisting me with this piece.