Archive for May, 2008

46: Daily Buzz Special: Braves Hall Of Fame Report.

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by Mr Fly

SAVANNAH, GA – In this special, two-part report, I’ll cover three surefire future Hall of Fame pitching aces, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz and also the baseball legend and future Hall of Fame manager, Bobby Cox.

Between hanging with Mad Dog, Glav and Smoltzie when Greg was in town Greg Maddu xrecently… to sitting in on an executive meeting concerning Bobby Cox, it’s been busy. That and, well, its Georgia peach blossom season. Just, uh… got over all the spring orange blossoms in Florida and now, you know… so many blossoms, such little time… but enough about me. Wait, one more thing about me: thanks to a nice gentleman from Mechanicsville, I now have a new press portrait. Thanks Mr. Gil for taking my picture while I was on assignment in Richmond. I gave copies to all my blossom buddies.

The following are two recent unpublished reports from my Braves travels:

Part One:

The Three Amigos Weigh-in On A Reunion.

Logged Tuesday, May 6 – ATLANTA – In this first report, we’re in the Braves Tom Glavine weight room with ‘the boys’. I was invited by Tommy Glavine (my new cheeseburger buddy) to listen in on a conversation with Mad Dog, Glav and Smoltzie. So hold onto your seats… what you’re about to read is a first time, first hand, unedited and uncut documentation of a conversation between three of the top pitchers in the modern era. You just never know what exciting scoops and revelations might come from these rare, multi-Cy Young winning get-togethers when no holds are barred, anything goes… and yours truly had exclusive access. Now, in the weight room, Smoltzie chimes in first:

John SmoltzJOHN: Real good to see you Doggie. So, how do you like San Diego?

GREG: The weather is real nice.

JOHN: No, I mean the Padres.

GREG: The weather is real nice.

JOHN: Right… got it. Better than LA, though, huh? Alyssa Milano

GREG: Ahh… well, miss seeing Alyssa and all. You know…

JOHN: Milano? Sure, but she digs the long ball. Not your style, Dog.

TOMMY: Hey Doggie, have you been to Vigilucci’s?

GREG: What’s that?

TOMMY: The great Steak & Chop House over on Prospect.

GREG: Uh, no.

TOMMY: How about Soleil over on K Street?

GREG: Um, nope.

TOMMY: They’re good restaurants. Me and my little buddy, Mr. Fly, hit those places together when we’re in the area. Some good enchilada-cheeseburgers at the stadium too. Hey Dog, why are you grinning like that? Why are you and Johnny snickering? Ok, what’s up? Did you hang some dirty underwear on my doorknob or something? What gives?

JOHN: Teeheehee.

GREG: Snork…snork…chortle…

TOMMY: Alright dammit… what are you two up to?

MR. FLY: So Doggie, you coming back to the Braves? It’d be cool.

GREG: I’d like to Mr. Fly. We’ll see soon. By the way Tommy, didn’t you get a new set of pearly white choppers up in New York ‘cause’a that sudden stop in that cab and all?

TOMMY: Yes… why? What, is something stuck in my front teeth or…

JOHN: No, they’re fine. Do they chew pretty well Tommy? Hee hee…

GREG: That grill make pretty good headway with the fork and spoon? Yuk yuk yuk…

TOMMY: Yes they fit well and work just fine but what does that have to do with… hey, why are you yukking it up? What’s so damn funny? And why the hell are you guys both staring at my belly with those smirks?

GREG: Lots of good food up there in the Big Apple, there, Tommy?

JOHN: OK, let’s hit the links guys… we’ve got us a tee time.

TOMMY: You guys will never grow up.

Part two:

Braves Management Takes A Chance… Again.

Filed Saturday, May 10 – PITTSBURGH – In this road report, I was invited to sit in on a behind the scenes executive meeting between John Schuerholz, Frank Wren and Bobby Cox. Before you read my report, just know that me and Bobby go way back. We’re pals and all, but I do like to give him a hard time. Wish he’d retire and enjoy the HOF life, work in the executive suite for the Braves, enjoy his wife and grandkids and such. Moving along, this special report begins as Bobby and Frank enter Mr. John’s executive suite at The Gardener Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh:

MR. SCHUERHOLZ: Good afternoon gents. Please have a seat. How’s life?

Bobby CoxMR. COX: It was a good game today but we just caught a few bad breaks. I thought Chucky pitched real good but it just didn’t go his way. Frustrating really. Left a few up is all. Pirates were tough. That wet weather made it tough too. Chucky’s coming around. One day soon he’ll be able to go 6 innings again. He’s working on his control right now and he has only two pitches and, oh, he has trouble remembering hitters he’s faced… even from inning to inning, but he’ll come around. Good kid. Hangs a hell’uva good window too. He just got through putting new windows in my day room at the farm. Kid did a nice job. Well, one was crooked and a few were hung too high, but he’s coming around. That one today just got away from Chucky but other than a few he left up, he pitched a good game. Dunno… scratchin’ my head over that game. He went 6, so that’s good. He’ll come around. Pirates played us tough and, boy…

MR. SCHUERHOLZ: You OK, Bobby? All well at home? How’s the wife, the farm, the grandkids?

MR COX: Oh, yeah, sure… fine. Jojo is coming around too. He’s got a few blisters and all, but he’s a good kid. Campillo’s looking good. He’s gonna be a solid pen guy. Good kid. Blisters, but good…

MR. SCHUERHOLZ: That’s fine, Bobby. Glad to hear everything’s OK.

MR. COX: Good kids. We’ll get’em tomorr…

MR. SCHUERHOLZ: That’s fine Bobby. How are you Frank?

MR. WREN: Doing great, John. Thanks. All is well on the home front.

MR. SCHUERHOLZ: Good, good. Well now, what do you think we should do about starting pitching, Frank?

MR. WREN: I’d like to send Chuck back to the minors. He sucks.

MR. SCHUERHOLZ: Yep. What do you think Bobby?

MR. COX: Good kid. Just a few hanging… pitched good today. He’s my boy. Hangs a good window too. Car detailing, runs the tractor…

MR. SCHUERHOLZ: Uh, Frank, you want to lose him right?

MR. WREN: Yes sir. I’d also like to start Campillo. He can pitch.

MR. SCHUERHOLZ: Your call Frank. Done and done then. Bobby?

MR. COX: I’m thinking about an extension of my contract.

MR. WREN: Bobby, since I’m new, I’ll let Mr. Schuerholz handle this.

MR. SCHUERHOLZ: Bobby, aren’t you about ready to wind it up, take a bow, maybe come upstairs with me, assist with player recruitment, take your place as an all-time Hall of Fame manager and executive with the Braves organization and let someone else take the reins in the dugout? Don’t you miss your family, your farm, your animals and such?

MR. COX: I like to manage. Maybe sign me to another ten-year deal. I like the games. I like to watch. Good kids. Those Pirates matched up pretty well. Chucky’ll come around. Left a few up…

MR. SCHUERHOLZ: Hmmm. Well, OK, Bobby, but let’s just do a one-year deal. You OK with that? Frank, are you good with that?

MR. WREN: Well, sir… it’s a bit, um, well… I was thinking that with Bobby’s historic run and everything he might want to slow down a bit. But I’d like it to be your call, Mr. Schuerholz.

MR. SCHUERHOLZ: Bobby? What say you? Ready to hang’em up?

MR. COX: Dunno what happened today. Wet mound. Good kid, Chucky. We’ve had a few bad bounces lately. Bats have been quiet, but they’ll come around… it’s only April…

MR. SCHUERHOLZ: Uh, Bobby, we’re well into May. But OK, you can have a one-year contract extension.

MR. WREN: Uh, John, in that case, could we talk about a strategic bench coach?

MR. SCHUERHOLZ: I hear you, Frank. We’ll talk later downstairs in the Gardener Lounge. I know it’s a Chance we’re taking here.

MR. COX: I like to watch umpires.

Mr Fly

~by Mr Fly~

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45: Steering into the fast lane

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By ssiscribe

ATLANTA – Windows down. Sunshine gleaming. Radio cranked.

Two heads bob in unison to the music coming from the speakers, the melody and rhythm fighting for attention with the whirl of Interstate 75 on a perfect late morning in late spring.

In the back seat, a 5-year-old – dressed head-to-toe in Braves gear – enjoys the prospects of being out of pre-K for the day. Behind the wheel, his dad – sporting that pristine white Braves home jersey and Las Vegas-style Braves’ lid – sings at the top of his lungs, drawing both praise and laughter from the audience in the backseat.

“Life is a highway … I wanna ride it all night long!”

Rascal Flatts might not be my favorite musical group. Country music certainly isn’t my favorite genre, strange when one considers I’m from the South and listened to the rhythm of the steel guitar throughout my childhood.

But there’s something about that particular song that strikes me. Maybe it’s because that tune is on the soundtrack of the movie “Cars,” the wildly popular animated hit from a few years back that is a favorite of all four of us who reside in our humble abode. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because there is a message in the lyrics, one that applies in this case.

The highway zooms along under our tires as we navigate toward Turner Field. On this day, heading north for the opening game of a day-night doubleheader, traffic is moving along, the weather is perfect, and the setting is one that every father who so cherishes this game we adore hopes to have with his first-born at some point in time.

So, too, does it describe the baseball team who resides at 755 Hank Aaron Boulevard. Through the stop-and-go frustration of a lost April, May has brought spring flowers and sparkling baseball to the Atlanta Braves. The pitching staff, as stable as a pack of NASCAR wannabees racing down the back straightaway on a Saturday night at the local dirt track, has settled into a nice rhythm. The manager, asleep at the wheel for far too many nights the first month of the season, suddenly has realized the lineup can be adjusted and the bullpen can be used wisely (there still are moves like last night, when Jeff Bennett pitched in a nine-run game, but I digress).

And the offense, stuck in the far right lane fighting merging traffic in second gear, has wandered into the fast lane and put the hammer down.

All offseason, Braves fans salivated at the prospects of the best hitting team this franchise has fielded in years. All April, the good denizens of Braves Nation gnashed their teeth and chewed their fingernails as those not named Chipper Jones or Yunel Escobar sputtered like my old ’79 Silverado used to on the Downtown Connector.

But now, the Braves are hitting. Top to bottom, Atlanta hitters are producing, even when they don’t seem to produce. Several times during Tuesday’s opener, a father talked to his attentive son about the fundamental aspects of the game. The team wearing white provided plenty of good examples on this day, working deep into the count, hitting the ball to the right side to move runners along, getting the fly ball needed with a runner on third, and hitting in the clutch to turn an early deficit into a comfortable lead.

Baseball is a hard, hard game. I’ll never forget walking back into the newsroom one night as a young sports writer, ready to pound out my game story. Satisfied with my work, I shipped it to my sports editor, a fine man whose short lists of priorities include baseball … and perspective.

“Remember how hard this game is,” he asked after recrafting part of my story.

The game we watch seems so easy from the Terrace Level, the Sports Garage, the local watering hole. But on the field, it’s far from a stroll in the park. Still, when the talent is there, it’s frustrating to see your team muddle along like a used jalopy when you know down to the core of your being that team should be lapping the field, racing toward the postseason.

We’re seeing that now out of the Braves. Mark Teixeira is heating up. Brian McCann is having the best month nobody is talking about. Kelly Johnson is flourishing in the seventh spot. Gregor Blanco continues to impress. And, Jeff Francoeur got the day off he needed, then returned to wreck the Mets last night.

Life is a highway. So, too, is a baseball season. There will be traffic jams and construction ahead, for sure. But when you have a sports car, it’s a shame when you can’t get over to the left and roar past the potholes.

Hopefully, the Braves now have settled into the fast lane. And if they have, there’s nothing but open road between now and the checkered flag.



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44: Greetings, bloggers and blogettes!

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by The Grinch

PALMETTO, GA -Having just gone through a bunch of nonsense, I’m having a difficult time getting into the mindset of telling a story, so with your permission I’ll just rant on the state of things and what might be done about it.

Let me start off by saying that I am not a fair-weather fan. I spent the 1980’s dragging coolers full of alcohol and food down to Fulton County Stadium to watch both the Braves AND the Falcons. If y’all remember how putrid both teams were during the ’82 to ’91 period, you’ll admit that this isn’t something a non-fan would do. While I wish the Braves would go back to the old stadium rules regarding coolers so that it didn’t cost me $150 to go to a game, they’ve at least put a better product on the field to partially make up for it.

However, here’s the problem I have with both the way the organization’s being run and the people they’re marketing it to: “better than it was” seems to be all anybody’s aiming for as well as all the fans need to be pacified. What’s missing? We have a great scouting department, a great farm system (the envy of most other teams), a large payroll, a large market that provides good revenue, a shrewd GM, a Hall of Fame Manager and a solid collection of veteran superstars, up and coming superstars, and solid role players. So, what’s the problem?

The problem is that this team should be ten games ahead in the division by now, even with all the injuries. The fact that they’re just tripping and stumbling along nonchalantly in third place like a Harley with a bad spark plug should be a major cause of concern for everyone. However, it isn’t for some reason. Sure, we get frustrated. Sure, we come up with ideas about what would help. Sure we keep the fires of hope burning that things will pick up and be all right. “Smoltz’s gonna come back and close,” we say. “Gonzo and Soriano are gonna shore up the bullpen and give others a rest.” “Chuck’s gone.” “We’ll pick up Maddux at the deadline and it’ll be just like old times again.” And a partridge in a pear tree.

The fascination with old times and memories are exactly what the problem is. It wouldn’t matter WHO we had on the team right now. The Braves are coasting, and getting by with it on the reputation of past laurels. Atlanta is the only major city I can think of that is so “neuvaux riche” that both the people and the baseball team can only think back a few years to capture their “tradition.” Look at the Yankees. We were essentially tied with them as the best team of the 90’s. Since then, neither team has done squat (though we’ve done less than them). The difference is the Yankees won’t continue to put up with being mediocre or even pretty good. That’s not the way they do things there. The organization won’t allow it because the fans and the media won’t allow it. They demand better, and better they will get or at least a damn solid visible effort at it. The fans and media know what good baseball is, and won’t accept less.

Atlanta doesn’t demand anything of anybody; as long as we’re at or above .500 and Bobby says “Aw, shucks” when interviewed, the businessmen in their Izod’s and loafers with no socks and silicone enhanced wives will continue to make deals on the cellphone at the park instead of watch the game and pay attention. If everyone else thinks its ok, they will too. I GUARANTEE you if the AJC would start doing its job (and we could force that by booing them; let ‘em know we can dang sure get another paper or two started here…they don’t have a monopoly) and Schultz and Bradley started ripping the Braves like they do the Hawks things would turn around quick. Imagine if there were two or three major papers and ALL of them were doing that. Creative Loafing, too. And blogs everywhere. And the evening news. Jerome Jurenovitch (?). Y’all, I love Brian Jordan but they have him on there for a reason; he doesn’t make waves. That must stop. The people would catch on that we don’t have to put up with all this failed planning, poor managing, poor effort, poor excecution, etc. When Bobby does something stupid, write about it. Talk about it. Yell about it. Boo at the stadium like other teams do. Boo bad bunt attempts. Boo rally-killing double plays. Boo ignorant lefty-righty bullpen moves. Boo Tex for talking like Boras and playing like Andruw. Other cities would. Boo poor effort. Make the Braves from the President on down to the bat-boys understand that we know what the heck is going on and we won’t put up with it. That if players are underperforming we want them benched or traded, or we’ll make a scene. That if Terry can’t help any of the hitters with fundamentals, we want someone who can. Boo them. Talk about it. Get the media going. If Bobby can’t motivate players anymore, promote him up or talk him into retiring. If you don’t, we’ll make a scene. Booooo! That’s the way others do it, and that’s why they’re “Baseball Towns” and we’re not. That’s why their teams may not always win, but they always look like they’re giving maximum effort.

People, the people who run this team are only there because we pay for it and support it. This team with its payroll just like it is now could be up there competing with the Yankees and the Red Sox every year. WE NEED TO BE TIRED OF PAYING NEW YORK CITY PRICES AND RECEIVING LAZY REDNECK RESULTS IN RETURN.



43: Draft It Like Beckham

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by williamwallace

ATHENS, GA –Here come the Beckhams! No, we’re not talking about David and Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham. We’re talking about Timothy and Gordon Beckham, a pair of shortstops from the great state of Georgia. And, no, Timothy and Gordon Beckham are not brothers.

Timothy BeckhamTimothy Beckham is a 6’2”, 190 pound high school senior in Griffin, Georgia who has committed to play college baseball for the Trojans of the University of Southern California. Tim, however, will most likely never play for USC. The opinion is almost unanimous that Tim will be drafted with one of the top 5 picks in the upcoming Major League Baseball amateur draft. Many scouts have commented that Tim has the best collection of tools of any positional player in the upcoming draft. Many believe he will most likely be drafted with the first or second overall pick by the Tampa Bay Rays or the Pittsburgh Pirates. It is often said that Tim will not escape the grasp of the Rays at the first pick because he fits the athletic profile of many picks in the draft history of the Rays: Josh Hamilton, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Elijiah Dukes and B.J. Upton.

Tim is a former three sport star who is often seen honing his tremendous skills on a baseball diamond or in a batting cage at all hours of the day and night throughout the year. That wasn’t always the case, however. A few years ago, his passion was football and basketball. His father and older brother, however, patiently guided him back to baseball. “I didn’t lose passion for (baseball), but I fell in love with basketball and stopped playing baseball for about three years,” Tim said. “My brother kept telling me how good I could be. He said that’s my meal ticket out of Griffin. So I gotta take it.”

As a player, Tim is widely regarded as a bona fide five tooler and, depending upon which scout is talking, is often compared to Barry Larkin, Derek Jeter, Brandon Phillips, Edgar Renteria and each of the Brothers Upton. Recent scouting reports have said of him:
“He’s got tools galore… he’s got the ability and potential to hit, hit for power, steal bases and stay at shortstop at the big-league level…… the type of athlete that makes everything he does look easy. He glides to balls hit deep in the hole to either side of him, and runs the bases gracefully, stretching singles into doubles and doubles into triples. He has good arm strength, soft hands and good instincts that should allow him to star at shortstop for years to come. While his defense draws more raves that his bat, he has improved at the plate over the last year and is now considered a legitimate threat, as he stings the ball to all parts of the field and has also shown the ability to hit the ball out as his body continues to mature and add strength….. Of the past ultra toolsy high school players selected in the top 5, Beckham has the best chance of remaining at shortstop with a fluid movement and powerful arm. He is blessed with excellent speed that translates to the basepaths as well. His hands are extremely smooth and he’s able to break in on the ball with rapid movement, while bringing the ball from his glove to his throwing hand faster than any shortstop in recent memory…… profiles as a number two hitter with excellent contact skills and extra base power. Easily could become a perennial 30/30 threat. Beckham’s best asset at the plate is his uncanny patience, unafraid to take a walk and allow the player behind him to drive him in.”

His high school coach recently said of him, “He understands you are going to strike out, he understands you are going to make errors, and if that ever happens, he keeps playing right through it. That’s going to help him get to where he wants to go. He is good about keeping his temperament; he never gets way up, he never gets way down.”

Similar praise and expectations have been known to overwhelm many seventeen year olds. Tim, however, seems to have incredible poise. “Griffin, Ga., is a small town where everyone knows everyone and it’s easy to get caught up in the wrong things sometimes. He’s done a good job of keeping his head on the prize and focused on his future. For him to take this route means a great deal,” Clarence Johns, a Houston Astros cross checker recently said of Tim.

Tim’s ability to stay levelheaded seems to have been aided by the great family support network surrounding him. His father is a GM union representative who makes the 90 minute roundtrip trek everyday from Griffin to the Doraville GM plant to provide the financial means for his family and the baseball dreams of his son. “Tim has been kind of expensive,” his father recently told the AJC. “I paid for him to play AAU baseball.” His father estimates that he has had to annually spend $3000 for Tim to chase his baseball dreams. “We’ve paid for him to be comfortable that way,” his father said. The sacrifices made by his father have not been lost on Tim. “I don’t know how much I’m going to get, but if I do get a lot, [I’ll] be able to take care of my family. I’d move my dad out of an apartment, and I’d move my mom out of an apartment, too,” Tim recently told the AJC of his divorced parents. Being the recipient of a lucrative contract as a top 5 pick would certainly benefit his family. His father’s Doraville GM plant is scheduled to close in September three years before his father can retire from GM.

Gordon BeckhamGordon Beckham plays in Athens, Georgia on the collegiate level for the University of Georgia. Gordon is widely regarded as the premier college middle infielder in the upcoming draft. The earliest Gordon is projected to be drafted is with the number 5 pick by the San Francisco Giants. That’s quite a remarkable leap for a player who was not drafted by any MLB team after his senior year of high school. “I could’ve gone and played football at some smaller schools like Air Force, Ohio and Wake Forest and I could’ve played and been a contributor, or gone to some SEC schools and been a low-key player,” said Gordon. “I figured my future was probably in baseball, even though I wasn’t really looked at as a big talent.”

Gordon recently explained his growth as a baseball player to ESPN, saying: “It’s just getting older and understanding what it takes to be successful. It’s almost learning to fail, I guess is the best way to say it. This is a game of failure. When you finally understand you’re not going to be perfect, the game gets easier.” David Perno, Gordon’s coach at UGA recently explained Gordon’s progress: “He always had the tools and skills, but he always got off to a bad start. He was trying to do too much too soon. Now, he’s letting the game come to him. He’s not having to carry bad at-bats out to the field. I think that’s all it was — him understanding what kind of talent he has and slowing it down.”

Those who have seen him play say the 6’0”, 185 pound Gordon is a good wiry athlete and a solid all around prospect. His speed, range and arm force many to project him as an All Star caliber second baseman instead of a shortstop. He has been praised for being a line drive hitter who possesses quick wrists and surprising power. Although a home run hitter in college, it is expected that he will be more of a gap power hitter with a wood bat in the pros. “I don’t believe that I am a per se “power hitter.” In my opinion, I hit long line drives that sometimes leave the park. I think it used to be a big deal to me. But, as I have matured as a player I have begun to realize that it’s more important to constantly put pressure on the defense, to fight and claw for every hit to help the team. That is more important to me.”

Many project Gordon to be a Michael Young type. Gordon refuses to compare his skills to current or past major leaguers, saying: “Every player is inherently different, therefore in my opinion it makes no sense to model your game after someone. I believe you need to watch major leaguers, see how they carry themselves, and see how they handle their business. I would love to lead my team the way Derek Jeter does, but other than that, I don’t model my game after anyone.”

Gordon plays the game with a hardnosed passion. He recently explained what caused him to hit a homer against a trashtalking opponent. “It’s very frustrating to play a baseball game when you have guys on the other team constantly just chirping like a softball team. This is not softball it’s baseball. I was very frustrated with it because that’s not the way you play baseball in my opinion. Some people believe that that’s the way you play but I was just very frustrated. When Michael (Demperio) got on that inning I was like if he throws it anywhere near the plate I’m gonna hit it as hard as I can, and that’s what happened. He left a fastball right down the middle and I crushed it. It’s very frustrating playing baseball teams that act like that because it’s Mickey Mouse stuff.”

Because he comes from a great, stable family, Gordon has remained level headed. His mother recently said of him, “Gordon does a good job of keeping things in perspective. He’s always been that way. It’s a win-win situation with the draft. If it’s not the right time, he’ll come back for his final year at Georgia. If it’s time for him to move on, then he will.’’

Timothy and Gordon Beckham will never become as famous as David Beckham because that’s almost impossible to do. Timothy and Gordon Beckham, however, may have the ability to be better in baseball than David Beckham ever was in soccer. It’s too bad these Beckham boys will no longer be around by the time the Braves start picking players.


42: Confessions of a Baseball Convert

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by FLBravesGirl

Bradenton, FL. – I never liked baseball as a kid. It was just that game my dad watched incessantly every summer. I think he got cable just so he could see the Braves, terrible as they were, on TBS. The game would start and I would stick my nose in a book. More often than not, he would start yelling and cussing at the TV and I would take my book and myself off to my room. Why did he watch this if it made him so mad?!

Then in ’91… something happened. He stopped yelling at the TV and started cheering. I had to see what had brought about this miraculous change. And just when I started paying attention those sneaky Braves grabbed hold of my heart. Suddenly I was watching every game with him while he explained what was going on. I was staying up for West Coast games and taking notes so he would know what had happened before he went to work in the morning. I nearly died of nerves during the ’91 Series. I was a FAN now.

Now came the first test of my fanhood: the offseason. Would this last or was it just a summer fling? But there I was, checking out spring training reports and counting down to Opening Day. This was the real thing. This was love. And they repaid that love in October with the single most exciting moment I have ever seen in a ballgame. I think I achieved human flight leaping off the couch when Sid slid.

Since then there have been times when the Braves have frustrated me, ticked me off and broken my heart. But it’s all been worth it for all the times they’ve made me so happy. They’ve given me something special to share with my dad and brought me many friends I would never have known otherwise. I’m so grateful I looked up from my book that day in ’91 and started this love affair that I hope lasts the rest of my life.



41: Seeing the future of the franchise

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by Chrisklob

CHARLESTON, SC – I’ve been a baseball fan since I was a kid and a Braves fan since the mid-80’s. I probably would have been a Braves fan sooner but my parents would never buy cable so I never got to see them play, at least with any regularity, until I was in college and bought cable on my own. Man, I miss Skip and Pete and TBS!

That being said, I did not become a fan of minor league baseball until 2000. Josh Hamilton, who was heralded as “The Next Big Thing”, was assigned to the Charleston RiverDogs and the local media was in full lather as they covered him. I decided to attend a few games and I became hooked. I don’t know exactly when I decided to collect autographs, but once I did, I couldn’t be kept away from the ballpark when the home town team is playing. I even started traveling to cities such as Columbia, Greenville, Myrtle Beach, Charlotte, Zebulon and Jacksonville to see certain teams and players on their stage.

Don’t be mistaken. I’m not one of those sick autograph chasers that stalk players at their hotel or, even worse, at their homes. Ball players are people too, and I am very careful to not impede upon anyone’s personal time. Also, in the nine seasons that I have been collecting, I have never bought or sold an uncertified autograph. I don’t believe in it. At the minor league level, players work hard for little pay. To sell one of their autographs might literally take money out of someone’s pocket. I take this very seriously.

What attracted me to collecting minor league autographs is the fact that it’s fairly easy (as I am inherently lazy) plus the fact that at the same time you get to see tomorrow’s superstars. I have had the opportunity to see some of today’s biggest stars play while they were still “kids”. It’s a real thrill too look at the “crawl” on the bottom of the ESPN screen and see the name of a kid you knew just a couple of years ago.

As a Braves fan, I have had the opportunity to see their minor league teams through four levels of play: Low A, High A, AA, and AAA. I’ve also gotten a lot of their autographs, many of which currently occupy prominent places in my study and in my son’s bedroom.

Last weekend was a particularly fun one for me. On Saturday I had the chance to see the Rome Braves in Charleston and then on Sunday I traveled to Myrtle Beach to see the Pelicans. Along the way I saw some of our future and got a bunch of pictures (for future autographs) and got a bunch of good stuff signed.

I won’t lie to you. I don’t consider myself to be an expert talent evaluator. At the levels that I see, the top prospects are generally so far and away superior to the others it’s kind of funny to watch the other players try to keep up. I’ll leave the real talent evaluation to Gil. He gets to see many of the Braves top prospects play amongst the crème de la crème and against former major leaguers. Because of that simple fact, and the fact that he’s been watching prospects longer than I have I will defer to him in this regard.

What I can offer though is a basic evaluation of a player’s personality. One benefit to seeing young players is that many of them still enjoy signing autographs and talking with the fans. Over the weekend of April 11-13 I had the opportunity to see both the Rome Braves and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Those teams are the Braves Low A and High A affiliates, respectively.

Rome’s roster has a ton of up and coming prospects. Jason Heyward is the most talked about, but Cody Johnson and Jeff Locke are both on that team and are currently listed in Baseball America’s Braves Top 10 Prospects List.

I had a chance to chat with Jason Heyward for a few minutes. He is listed at 6’4″ and 220 lbs. I don’t believe he actually weighs that much but let me tell you, while he’s not exactly skinny, this kid has a frame that was meant for hanging meat on! He’s still quite young and when he fills out, he’s going to be a monster! Kind of reminds me of a young Derrick Lee. He’s playing in the outfield now but frankly, I suspect the move to first base will come sooner, rather than later. Oh, he’s got a laser beam for an arm too! Through the first 22 games of this young season, he’s got a .310 BA, .358 OBP, .405 SLG, and .763 OPS. Only one home run so far, but the power numbers don’t generally develop until they are a little older.

I didn’t get the chance to speak with Jeff Locke, but I did chat with Cody Johnson very briefly, he was “okay” to talk with. He struck me as one of those kids that has been told how great he was ever since he started playing t-ball. I won’t hold that attitude against him until I see him a few more times though. Gotta give the kid the benefit of the doubt! He was also very impressive in the outfield. Strong armed, like Heyward, and pretty fast. So far his numbers look like this: .259 BA, .330 OBP, .506 SLG, and .836 OPS. One thing that concerns me is the fact that he has 34 K’s (against only 9BB) in 85 AB’s. However, one thing I’ve learned watching baseball at this level is that these numbers are seldom indicative of what a player will do in the higher minor leagues or the majors. There is plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments.

On Sunday, a couple of friends and I drove up to Myrtle Beach. The Pelicans were hosting the Frederick Keys, Baltimore’s High A affiliate. Now THAT team is loaded with prospects. Six of Baseball America’s Baltimore Top Prospect top 10 were there, including Matt Weiters. Weiters went to Georgia Tech, but grew up in the Charleston area. He was picked 6th overall by the Orioles last June and it is safe to say that he’s on the fast track to the bigs. Anyway, aside from Weiters, we wanted to see Gorkys Hernandez and Tyler Flowers. Those guys got so much press during the spring that we wanted to see if the were the real deal. Flowers is another monster of a man. At 6’4″ and 245 lbs., he seems awfully big to be a catcher but he did a good job behind the plate.

Gorkys Hernandez was very impressive in the field. He got very good jumps on just about every ball hit his way (and Frederick hit the Pelicans hard that day). What really impressed me is his speed and the fluid nature of his motion as it seems effortless. He is putting up some rather impressive numbers so far: .309 BA, .378 OBP, .568 SLG, and .946 OPS. Even more impressive are the FIVE triples he has in only 81 AB’s! Hey, I told you the kid has good wheels. Between Schaffer’s “issue” and Hernandez’s performance, it might create some real issues for Homeboy Upstairs. Some tough decisions will have to be made. Seems to be a good problem to have though, don’t you think?

I’ve asked our blog hostess to post a few of the photos that I took that day so you can get a look at the boys in action. Hope you enjoy the seeing the future of the franchise!


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