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Braves’ inaugural class of fellows preps for Hank Aaron Week

By Erik Bacharach
Zoe Watkins (left) and Sterling Bright started with the team last July.Courtesy of Atlanta Braves

Zoe Watkins was born more than two decades after Hank Aaron last played in a major league game. But the significance of his name in her current role is not lost on the Spelman College graduate.

“Us being able to hold his legacy is something I get emotional just thinking about,” said Watkins, one of two members of the Atlanta Braves’ inaugural Henry Aaron Fellowship in Business Operations class, a team initiative designed to assist in growing the pipeline of diverse candidates who are interested in becoming the next senior-level executive of an MLB club. The fellows have reported directly to Braves President and CEO Derek Schiller since joining the organization last July. They will remain with the team in this full-time, paid role through the end of this season. Recruitment for the next class of fellows begins in October.

Watkins and Sterling Bright, the other inaugural fellow and a 2020 graduate of Florida A&M University, have had exposure and learning opportunities in all areas of the Braves’ front office, from ticket sales to marketing to legal to operations.

They’ve also had a hand in the Braves’ annual Hank Aaron Week, which takes place Tuesday through Sunday. “They’ve been instrumental in planning and giving feedback on many of our diversity initiatives,” said Danielle Bedasse, Braves senior director of community affairs. Over the course of Hank Aaron Week, community events and in-game presentations will highlight efforts Aaron made to further equity and positive social change. The Aaron Fellowship, which is sponsored by Truist, seeks to honor the legacy of the baseball icon, who died in January 2021.

Not long after the fellows started with the Braves, they went to lunch in The Battery Atlanta with Schiller and Billye Aaron, Hank’s widow. What was initially planned as a one-hour lunch stretched into more than two hours. Schiller left after about 90 minutes to allow Billye time with the fellows.

Broadly, Watkins and Bright learned that while Aaron is a household name because of his on-field legacy, he became known as a business leader in his community after his playing days. Specifically, Bright learned that a Popeyes restaurant down the block from his house in Atlanta, a place he’s been going to all his life, was owned by Aaron.

“It’s incredible to see how much he’s touched Atlanta,” Bright said, “and being able to be a part of his legacy is amazing. So one of my biggest things is that I want to do well enough that this fellowship continues on for years to come and that there are other young African American and HBCU students that come after us that have the space to do well and grow this program.”

Bright’s first interview for the role was with Schiller, who didn’t take long to ask him about his ultimate goal. Bright was confident in telling the Braves president that he one day wants his seat.

“I said, ‘I want you to have this. And I hope it happens sooner, not later,’” Schiller recalled. “It’s not because I’m trying to get out of my seat, but it would mean that we are ultimately successful in what we set out to do. So I hope that happens, and I’m confident it will.”

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