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By John Pierce

 With all the animosity in the current political squabbles that occupy the news, I was glad for a simpler conversation. That’s what I find outside the season ticket holders’ gate at Atlanta’s Turner Field where “The Chief” is always first in line.

Actually, he’ll work his way to front of the line even if he’s not first. But who’s going to argue with the team’s most loyal fan.

Robert “The Chief” Walls had been wearing his tacky Indian costume to games for a long, long time. Last night’s game was known to most fans as Chipper Jones bobble-head night, a loss to the Pirates and, amazingly, a game completed in just nine innings.

To Chief, however, it was number 1,140. That’s right; Chief has not missed a home game in more than 13 years. And that was not the beginning of his well-known presence.

After the ’92 season his mother casually asked him what he wanted for his next birthday, even though it was not until spring. He quickly responded, “Braves season tickets.”

That was the end of the conversation, he said, until a packet was delivered to him just after the ’93 season began. Robert said he had pulled out his old Halloween costume for opening day that year and was surprised by the attention — so he decided to wear it to every game.

It takes effort for Chief to attend. He lives in a group home in the northern suburbs and uses a combination of public transportation and old-fashioned hoofing to get to and from the ballpark. Sometimes a fellow fan will give him a ride home.

His streak would go all the way back to ’93 except he missed one game to attend a birthday party for his grandmother and her twin sister when they turned 90.

You can spot him at each game in the front row of right field stands — or when he makes his second-inning walk around the stadium where he often pauses for photos.

The players and coaches appreciate Chief’s loyalty too. Bullpen coach and former Braves catcher Eddie Perez shares a birthday and has treated Robert to a celebratory meal. And pitcher Peter Moylan gave one of his gloves to Chief — though we kid him about having not yet snagged a homer with it.

When not at the ballpark, Robert is busy cleaning the Old Navy store near his home or playing tennis, softball or floor hockey in Special Olympics events. We hear of his successes outside the gate.

Talking baseball and life with the Chief is wonderful break from all the political debate in the news. In fact, it seems a little closer to what life is suppose to be.

 

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