What started out as a two-year gig to make some extra money turned into a 16-year part-time job Mark Owens absolutely loved.
For 16 seasons, the 1997 Harrison High School graduate worked for the Atlanta Braves, first as the pre-game plaza host for two years, then as the in-game entertainment host for 14 years. If you remember the guy who conducted the cap shuffle game or introduced the Home Depot Tool Race contestants on the big screen at Turner Field and Truist Park, then you’re familiar with Mark.
But at the end of the 2022 season, Mark decided it was time to “retire” from his side hustle to spend more time with his wife of 12 years, Gretchen, and daughter, Caroline, 9, who “100% owns me.”
“It was time, and I was burned out,” he said. “The Braves have always been an amazing part-time gig, but it was just part time. When the team is in town, those are 15-hour days, and the 10-game homestands where your energy must be cranked to 10 in the 95-degree heat can be brutal. More importantly, I owed it to my girls. I’ve never had a full summer with Gretchen or Caroline. She’s already 9, and I don’t want to miss any more birthdays, holidays or vacations.”
Mark — who moved to west Cobb at age 7, lived there until he finished college, then moved back to his native Smyrna — worked as the plaza host during the 2007 and 2008 seasons and took over the in-game hosting duties in 2009.
“I was working on ‘The Bert Show’ on Q100 and got word the Braves needed a pre-game plaza host,” he said, noting he worked in Atlanta radio for 20 years. “I was single, had the evenings off and had plenty of energy, so I auditioned and got the job. After the conclusion of the 2008 season, the then-in-game host stepped away, and I moved into the spot. It was originally going to be a two-year gig for extra cash, but I fell in love with the gig, the fans and the atmosphere and wouldn’t leave. (It) lasted for 14 seasons.”
As the in-game host, Mark’s responsibility “on paper” was to “host features and keep the crowd entertained and informed.”
“However, I gave myself the task of being the voice of the fans,” he said. “I was born and raised a Braves fan, so I experienced the same emotions they were going through. When they won, I cheered. When the Braves lost, I was also bummed. I was not only the guy giving away prizes on the big screen, I was also a fan.”
Mark said Beat the Freeze — former college track star Nigel Talton — is the most popular feature at the games, and he loved “how involved the fans would get watching a contestant try to outrun a track star.”
“(But) my favorite games were the ones families played together,” he said. “Sundays were family days, so we would have parents and their kids participate together in a feature. Watching the sheer joy from a dad who won the Napa Cap Shuffle with his son or a mother and daughter winning a seat upgrade made my day. I would have adults tear up talking about experiencing Braves games with their parents, and then they would have their own bucket-list moment that they would never forget with their kids.”
During his 16 years with the team, Mark has experienced more memorable moments than he can count, but a few are seared into his memory forever.
“Sitting with my dad in the fancy seats watching a post-game concert on Father’s Day and getting my mom tickets to the World Series are top three,” he said. “Mom was so proud to see her baby boy on the big screen at the World Series. However, my favorite moment would be after the World Series parade, celebrating on the field, covered in confetti, with Gretchen and Caroline. It’s not just a top Braves moment; it’ll be one of my all-time cherished memories.”
Speaking of the World Series, Mark also is the proud owner of a 2021 championship ring, a feeling he described as “surreal.”
“I played baseball at Oregon Park, but once I got to Harrison, I realized I was not as good as I thought,” he said. “So, for someone with little to no athletic ability to be part of a World Series championship is, in a word, surreal.”
As a Cobb native and lifelong Braves fan, Mark said he loved having the team relocate to his home county and build its new stadium practically in his backyard.
“When the announcement was made, my phone blew up with people wanting details,” he said. “I had no clue and found out just like everyone else. I loved Turner Field, but it was too big, and there was nothing for the fans, aside from baseball. To grow a new fan base, you need bars, restaurants, hotels, music, etc. The Battery offers the fans more than just a baseball game.”
Working for the organization for a decade and a half, Mark couldn’t help but develop some “favorites.” His favorite Brave, for example, is Brian McCann, whom he called “gracious, humble and kind to every fan wanting a picture or autograph.”
“Plus, I was also a catcher growing up, so I respect his ability and longevity in such a tough position,” he said.
But his favorite visiting team? “None.”
“Any team that comes to Truist (Park) is our enemy and could ruin our season,” he said. “I really don’t like the Mets, Dodgers and Cubs. It’s less about the teams, more about the fans. Mets fans are obnoxious, Dodgers fans want to fight everybody, and Cubs fans have a weird sense of entitlement.”
Leaving the stadium for the last time as an employee made Mark feel “proud.”
“Proud because I know deep down, I gave the team, the organization and the fans 100% for 16 seasons,” he said. “There was never a game or event that I didn’t try to make that experience a little more memorable for the fans. Plus, I was proud that my family got to join me on this journey along the way.”
Mark said it will be “very odd” for him to not be at the Braves’ 2023 home opener April 6 as a team employee.
“I haven’t been a beer-drinking, hooting-and-hollering paying fan since 2006,” he said. “It’ll be weird, but I’m very excited to experience a game from the other side. I’m also excited to watch a home game while on vacation. I was born and raised a Braves fan, and that will never change. However, you had better believe I’ll be wearing my World Series ring to the games. I earned that!”
But Mark, whose day job is working in the radio/TV department at Impact Partnership in Kennesaw, said he doesn’t plan on being “that former employee hanging around, asking for free stuff or getting in the way.”
“It’s time to step back,” he said. “They know if they need me, I’m here.”
Mark summed up his long stint with the Braves in one rather surprising word — quick.
“The days were long, but the seasons were short,” he said. “I had some unforgettable bucket-list moments, from closing Turner Field to opening Truist Park, opening the new spring training facility in Florida, working the Fort Bragg game (July 2016 against the Miami Marlins), and I was in the World Series parade. Moments I am forever grateful to have experienced and will never forget.”
The former employee offered a heartfelt shoutout to Braves Country for all the support through the years.
“Thank you to the fans for allowing and trusting me to be part of your game-day experience,” he said. “I hope I made you proud and allowed you to make some memories. Go Braves!”