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Braves fans braced for new sights, sounds
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For nearly 30 years, Allen McNeil has spent the spring and summer sitting by the TV or radio and following his beloved Atlanta Braves.

He’s seen it all; 100-loss seasons, 14-straight division titles and even a World Series championship, but this year will be a little different for the Buford resident.

When he sits in front of his TV will hear a different broadcast team on a different channel talking about a different team.

"It’ll be odd not hearing Skip Caray because he was one of the best broadcasters there was," said McNeil, who started following the Braves in 1978. "He was a real no-nonsense type of guy."

Carey’s death last year left an arguably unfillable void in the Braves’ broadcast booth, and when his partner Pete Van Wieren retired after last season, the way fans experience Braves games changed forever.

"It didn’t influence my decision in any way because my decision was pretty much made before (Caray’s death)," Van Wieren told last year. "But it did reinforce my belief that I didn’t want to do this until I couldn’t do it anymore."

Noone can doubt the effect that the Carey/Van Wieren team had on broadcasts, but their departure is just another sign of the changing times.

No longer are the Braves the sole team televised by TBS, which began televising games from around the country last year after sending Braves’ games to homes across the nation for 35 years.

"I didn’t like not having TBS because you had to watch games on SportSouth," McNeil said. "Luckily I had cable or else I wouldn’t have been able to watch games."

Not only did McNeil not like the switch away from TBS, but he wasn’t a fan of the games being broadcast on the FM dial either.

"There’s something about AM radio," he said. "It’s old school."

Well old school is gone, and the new school is in session, not only in the broadcast booth, but on the diamond at Turner Field, as well.

"We’re a young team," said Wade Sheram of Buford, whose been a Braves fan since the Bob Horner days. "We got some veterans, but we’re pretty dang young."

While youth will be served on the playing field, an old familiar voice returns to the broadcast booth. Hall of Famer Don Sutton returns to the Braves after a two-year stint with the Washington Nationals, and will be joined by Jeff Simpson and Jim Powell, who sat alongside Bob Uecker in Milwaukee last year.

"It’s gonna be different, but you got Don Sutton and Jeff SImpson and they’re both familiar voices," Sheram said. "I’m gonna miss (Caray and Van Wieren), but we’ll adjust to it."

He’ll also have to adjust to the group of guys on the field, the Braves will still have some of the old stalwarts in Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones and manager Bobby Cox, but there’s been an influx of new and younger players this year which means some casual Braves fans may not even recognize the product on the field.

"It’ll be odd with (John) Smoltz not being here," said McNeil, refering to the departure of the longtime Brave. "We won’t be able to see him until he plays here with the Red Sox."

Even with the loss of Smoltz and the new talent on the field, McNeil thinks the team will be OK.

"I think they’re gonna be fine," he said. "They got a good farm system that plays just up the road in Gwinnett and if they need some help they won’t have far to go to get it.

"They’re gonna win the east," he added. "That’s a realistic goal."

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