ATLANTA - Twenty years. That's how long Michael Smith's shiny dome and easy smile have greeted fans, foes and media members at Atlanta Braves home games as a part-time employee of the MLB club specializing in game-day security.
To understand how much he loves such work, the 73-year-old Chattanooga native said of his role: "We are security officers, but we're also about community relations. We want to make people feel welcome when they come here."
So there was Smith on Sunday afternoon inside the press box located on Truist Park's top level, warmly greeting everyone who passed his way. However, unlike any and all of the previous 19 years, when almost everyone he has encountered must show him their tickets or media passes, Smith now has something to show Truist's visitors: A World Series ring with his last name engraved on one side.
"I take it off when I shower and go to bed," said the 1967 graduate of Red Bank High School who later got a bachelor's degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and a master's from UT-Knoxville. "Otherwise, I've had it on ever since they gave them to us."
Understand that these aren't exactly the same 755 diamonds-studded, LED-lit monsters the Braves players received in April for winning the 2021 World Series. A replica of those runs more than $25,000. The originals are rumored to be twice that.
Nevertheless, the rings that Smith and his coworkers wear are solid gold, the distinctive Braves "A" on the top of the ring formed by diamonds, with the words "Battle Won" on the inside of the band, which is exactly what's inside the players' rings.
"This time last year I couldn't even imagine us reaching the World Series," he said. "Then, first thing you know, ol' Jed's a millionaire!"
Indeed, to continue the "Beverly Hillbillies" reference, the Braves struck black gold, Texas tea just in the nick of time last season, which might also be one way to look at the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the game tied 0-0 at that moment.
But then Matt Olson singled, Austin Riley ripped a double to center field to score Olson from first and Atlanta had its third straight victory heading into a very tough week of two home games against the Philadelphia Phillies and five road contests versus the New York Mets, who are three games ahead of the second-place Braves in the National League East Division standings.
It also gave Riley a preposterous 27 extra-base hits for July, breaking the club record for one month of extra-base hits that ultimate Braves legend Hank Aaron set with 26 in July 1961.
"That's a pretty stellar man (Riley) just passed," Atlanta manager Brian Snitker after watching his team move 21 games over .500 (62-41) for the first time this season.
Said Riley of Aaron: "Such a great person on and off the field."
Similar words could be said of the Braves organization both on and off the field when dealing with the public. The club has long been revered for its charitable actions with clubs, churches and individuals, not just in coming up with tickets, but the whole experience of attending a game, from refreshments to meeting players.
Yet according to Smith, that philanthropy is no more impressive than how the organization treats both its full-time and part-time employees.
"We first learned we were getting rings in April," he said. "But we didn't know when. Then a few weeks ago we found out it would be July 14, a Thursday when there wasn't a game. They had us out on the field, served us champagne and presented us the rings. It was a first-class event."
It was still daylight when it ended, and Smith, who lives part of the year in Fayetteville, Georgia, couldn't wait to get home to show his wife Jackie the ring.
"I had a hard time driving," he said with a grin. "I couldn't quit staring at it."
Once home, Jackie said, "I like yours better than the one the players got."
Traci Moultrie has worked in Braves game-day security 21 years. She said she would have been quite happy to have the same ring the players received, but then laughed and said, "We all knew there was no way that was going to happen."
What she has enjoyed is showing the ring to children and hearing them exclaim: "Oh, wow. A real one."
Anthony McCollum, one of their co-workers, still puts his ring in a box each night when he goes to bed.
"That way it feels like it's brand new every time I open the box," he said.
A good business makes its employees feel special and wanted and appreciated as often and as much as possible. And that means all of its employees, from the million-dollar player to the folks who clean the stadium after games. Engraving each individual's name on the rings, probably more than 500 rings total, is a wonderful way to show your appreciation.
Or as Smith said of the Braves organization he's worked with for 20 years: "As far as I'm concerned, it's the finest professional sports organization in the world."