For a man who believes in the immutability of azaleas and the national pastime, Turner has done much to change the Braves. Of last year's starting lineup only Rowland Office in center field remains and, at 23, he looks to be around a while longer. From May 23 to June 24 he assembled a 29-game hitting streak, the longest in the National League this year. But newer people have made significant contributions, too. Montanez, unhappy in San Francisco, has driven in more runs in 28 games with the Braves than he did in 60 with the Giants. Marshall, unhappy in Los Angeles, has five saves in 12 games with the Braves as against eight in 30 with the Dodgers. And Messersmith, who missed all of spring training after liberating himself from his Dodger contract and shopping for a new owner, has returned to the form that has made him one of the game's finest pitchers. Tom Paciorek, another Dodger refugee, is hitting .331, and Darrel Chaney, a former Red bench-warmer, is hitting .261 and fielding brilliantly as a full-time shortstop.
After a bleak early season, during which they lost 13 straight games, the Braves have rebounded to within five games of .500. Manager Dave Bristol, a tough Southerner, says the improvement will be even more pronounced in the second half of the season. "We've made some changes and we'll make one or two more," he says. "I've gotten to know the players and they've gotten to know me. There is a good attitude on this club, and the front office backs you all the way."
Turner has promoted furiously. On Sunday, nine couples were married in a mass ceremony on the field before a come-from-behind 9-8 win over the Mets, and professional wrestling bouts were held afterward. Oddly enough, Turner was involved in neither attraction, although he had offered to wrestle sportswriter Frank Hyland of The Atlanta Journal, one of his proposed opponents in the ostrich race. Whatever he does, the fans seem to have responded to the Turner brand of show biz. In half a season, the team has drawn within 28,000 of last year's total attendance.
As a youngster, Turner played little baseball, preferring sailing, hunting and fishing. Until he bought the Braves he had seen but 20 games in his lifetime, and he did not become interested in the team until his television station began broadcasting the games. Such esoterica as the balk and the infield fly rule were beyond him. But he is learning. Before his recent low-profile decision, he made all the road trips with the team, asking questions of other owners and general managers, checking out stadium operations and polishing his knowledge of the rules.
He decided to disengage himself slightly in the belief that his fraternization with the players only added to the pressures on them. "They were actually trying too hard," he concluded. This past month he took several weeks off to race boats in Bermuda and Norway, though he was continually on the phone, asking for the scores.
Few fans are more vocal and physically active than the Braves' owner. He will even battle his seat-mates for foul pops in the stands. They seem to love him all the more for his involvement. During Friday's game, Turner was approached by a pudgy man in shorts and a rugby shirt. "I just want to thank you, Mr. Turner," the visitor said. "I want to thank you for the great job you're doing for the city of Atlanta."
Turner seemed touched by the tribute. "Thank you," he said and then turned to his wife. "Isn't that great?" He glanced up at the stadium message board. The words were there bold and clear: "Not Too Shabby."
"Awwrriight," said Turner. "Where's that Hope?" And then he was out of sight again.