ATLANTA — The Atlanta Braves were cheered by hundreds of thousands of baseball fans in a two-stage parade Friday celebrating the team's first World Series championship since 1995.
Some area schools closed, and students seized the opportunity to attend the event.
"That's what the fun part of this is," said Terry McGuirk, the team's chairman. "Every block it was just kids, and it was all kids. Never, never did I expect to see that many little guys."
The parade started in downtown Atlanta, near the team's former home at Turner Field. The route took the buses, floats and pickup trucks past a memorial to Braves legend Hank Aaron, the Hall of Fame slugger who died this past January, at the site where Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium once stood and Atlanta clinched its 1995 championship. The procession then headed to Peachtree Street, where fans packed sidewalks several rows deep.
Atlanta police estimated 300,000 to 400,000 fans attended the downtown portion of the parade.
The turnout was similarly strong for the final mile of the parade, which ended at the Braves' current home, Truist Park in suburban Cobb County. The stadium was filled, and thousands more fans packed the Battery Atlanta, the mixed-entertainment complex outside the stadium.
The Braves were lured to Cobb County by tax incentives and the ability to build the network of dining, shopping, apartments and entertainment adjacent to the new stadium, which opened in 2017.
McGuirk said he thought "there were well more than a million people" overall.
"This city has lost its mind, and it's so wonderful to be a part of it," McGuirk said.
The Braves clinched the World Series by beating the Houston Astros 7-0 in Game 6 on Tuesday night.
Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, a native of Marietta in suburban Atlanta, had a hometown perspective on the fans' 26-year wait to celebrate another championship.
"This city has been wanting a championship for a long time," Swanson said. "It's just so cool they let schools out. To see kids be able to enjoy this moment and be inspired by this moment, it's second to none."
Despite temperatures in the mid-40s at the start of the parade, Braves outfielder Joc Pederson — whose minor league days included time with the Chattanooga Lookouts — wore shorts. Most of his teammates and fans in the street bundled up.
Pederson stayed warm by remaining active. Wearing a pearl necklace and puffing on a cigar, Pederson tossed more pearl necklaces to the fans as if he were in a Mardi Gras parade on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
Pederson also won the World Series last year with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but this was his first parade. The 2020 Major League Baseball season was altered in multiple ways due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the World Series being played in neutral territory with attendance limited.
"This is incredible," Pederson said. "The turnout is unreal. I didn't expect anything less. The A-T-L is the best. I'll remember it forever. It's a special moment."
Braves manager Brian Snitker rode in the back of a pickup truck with his wife, Ronnie. Snitker described the fan turnout as "insane" and said riding in the parade was "phenomenal."
"I'm so proud of our city and Braves country. What a day," Snitker added.
Aaron's wife, Billye, said at the Truist Park celebration that Hank, who died Jan. 22 at age 86, "is here with us. He loved the Atlanta Braves, and I am so very, very happy to see these young men who have picked up the mantle and carried it on."
Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos, unable to attend Game 6 because he tested positive for COVID-19, spoke at the ceremony from a luxury suite and said "Flags fly forever, 2021 will fly forever!"
Fans at the stadium were encouraged by broadcaster Joe Simpson to participate in the controversial tomahawk chop chant. Fans along the parade route had already cheered the team in that manner.
The celebration at Truist Park included a free concert featuring Atlanta rappers Ludacris and Big Boi.