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Number choice for Braves star has local ties

May 17th, 2014 2:05 pm by Greg Peters

Number choice for Braves star has local ties

AP photo.

GRAY — In society we measure an athlete by the numbers that he produces, whether it be home runs, touchdowns or points.

To measure the stature of Atlanta Braves centerfielder Jason Heyward you only need to look at the number on his jersey — 22.

The number 22 was worn by Heyward's best friend, Andy Wilmot, when they played high school baseball together at Henry County High School in Atlanta.

Wilmot was a year ahead of Heyward, but together they were part of a team that won the 2005 Division AAAA state championship.

After graduation in 2006, Wilmot enrolled at Walters State Community College and joined the baseball team. Tragically, he was killed in a car wreck just a couple of months later. Andy was the only son of Dave Wilmot and Tammie Ruston. Wilmot lives in Gray, while Ruston resides in Johnson City.

But to understand the connection between friends, a teacher and a number you need to go back several years earlier. In the early part of 2000, Georgia was offering bonuses as an incentive to entice teachers.

After divorcing, Ruston moved to Atlanta with Andy and became a British literature teacher at Henry County High School.

While there she taught Heyward and soon became his favorite teacher.

After Andy's accident, Heyward would stop by the classroom almost daily to check on her and see how she was doing.

In 2007, Heyward was drafted No. 14 overall by the Atlanta Braves and quickly began his climb up the minor league ladder.

In September 2009, he was named the Minor League Player of the Year both by Baseball America and USA Today.

As he made his way through spring training in March 2010, the phenom hit two batting practice home runs that are still talked about. One hit and damaged a Coca-Cola truck in the parking lot, while the other broke the sunroof of Atlanta Braves assistant GM Bruce Manno's car, which was parked nearby.

It was just a few days later that manager Bobby Cox called Heyward into his office to let him know he had made the team and was the new starting right fielder.

Heyward's first decision was to change his number to 22, and then he called Ruston to let her know he had made the team.

"He called Tammie almost immediately to let her know he made the team but told her he had another surprise that she would find out later," said Dave Wilmot .

The surprise was Heyward had chosen Andy's number in memory of his friend and soon after presented her with one of his new jerseys.

Ruston was also in the stands on opening day when Heyward slammed a three-run home run in his first major league at bat.

He repeated in his first at bat in 2011, becoming only the second player in MLB history to accomplish the feat.

Ruston has since moved back to Johnson City and teaches at Cherokee High School, while Dave Wilmot makes his home in G r a y.

But Heyward and Ruston still stay in touch throughout the year.

Last December, Heyward made his way to the Tri-Cities with a special gift for his favorite teacher — his 2012 Gold Glove award.

"He called and said that he was coming up and that he had something special for her," said Wilmot. "Each family member has one of Andy's baseball jerseys and I had mine framed and gave it to him in appreciation of all that he has done for Tammie and Andy.

"As soon as he unwrapped it he said this is the original 22 and I would much rather wear this one." 

The No. 22 has since been retired at Henry County High School in honor of Andy Wilmot. ESPN did a short segment on Heyward's choice of No. 22. It can be found on YouTube under Jason Heyward — Braveheart. The segment is popular at Turner Field during rain delays.

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