Greetings from an overcast and wet day 5 of Braves Spring Training. Rain forced the guys into the covered batting cages to stretch and get loose, but after a quick 30 minute sprinkle, it was time to get on the field.
Melky Cabrera faced live hitters and like most everyone else, had trouble making solid contact. Cabrera was drafted by the New York Yankees when he was 17 and four years later, was playing centerfield in the Bronx. During the off-season, Melky was traded to Atlanta in part of a 5-player deal that sent Braves pitcher Javier Vazquez to New York. For the first time in his professional career, Cabrera is in a new league with a new team. "I like to play everyday" Cabrera said. "Maybe play left, right, center. I like the opportunity." Cabrera will get the opportunity to play all 3 outfield positions and has already won over the respect of his new teammates. "He's coming from a team where everybody expect great things from everybody there" said Braves second baseman Martin Prado. "I think he got the confidence, he won a world series last year so he knows what he can do. He plays hard all the time and is one of those guys you need on your team."
Other news and notes:
• Kenshin Kawakami threw off the mound and had a little trouble with movement on his slider.
• Jair Jurrjens had a long toss session in the outfield and afterwards said he is "feeling much better today."
• Chipper Jones told me his father was the one who told him to switch hit because he was a huge Mickey Mantle fan. He is more comfortable right now hitting right and it takes a few months before his "lefty" swing catches up with his natural right handed swing.
• Former WSB-TV Sports Director Chuck Dowdle is the newest addition to the Braves Radio Network. He will contribute during their post-game show and other sports features on 680 The Fan. Congrats CD!
Cheers from Orlando…
Greetings from Orlando where for the first time in his 20 years in the Braves organization, Chipper Jones said he saw Bobby Cox get emotional. It's easy to understand why.
At 9:30 Tuesday morning, Cox stood in front of 58-players and a few dozen other front office personnel and gave his final start of the season speech.
"It was a little different this morning. The last time you'll address a team at spring training. It was fun. No tears, but a little emotional" Cox said. "I told the players this is it for me and the last time I'll be talking to them at spring training, but I'll still be the same old grumpy guy that gets mad once in a while."
David Ross told me "Bobby said ‘give me a minute as I am a little nervous as this is my last time'".
"It was pretty cool. I was just taking it in as there is a hall-of-fame manager and you're able to be a part of it was really cool for me. When he was done I wanted to clap, but nobody did. I wanted to do one of those things." Don't worry Rossy.. there will be plenty of clapping and standing ovations over the next few months for Bobby.
A little after 10 a.m., it was time to play ball. Well, actually it was time to stretch and warm up as a full squad for the first time this spring. Chipper and the other infielders were on the back field behind the stadium fielding grounders for close to 30 minutes. One of the newest Braves was getting used to his new position. "I think I have played 1st base all of six times since I was a sophomore in high school" said Troy Glaus. "It will take some time getting used to, but that is why we are here." Added Chipper, "If I throw the ball over his head, I deserve the error. He's 6-foot-6!"
Now, I know it's only batting practice, but in just a few swings, Glaus showed why the Braves picked him up.. his bat. He sent bomb after bomb into the green grass hill behind the left field fence.
News and Notes:
• If there is a Coca-Cola truck driver in Orlando looking for the individual who put a dent on the top of his ride, that would be one Mr. Jason Heyward. He hit a 420-foot blast to right center that hit the top of the truck as it drove by.
• Matt Diaz was told he was hitting in the first group and going to face "Wags" (Billy Wagner) and said "..na.. that's ok"
• No golf for David Ross today. He's Mr. Mom going home to help out his wife take care of their two kids under the age of 3. Good luck with that!
Cheers from Central Florida.
Feb. 22 (5:57 EST)
Day 3: Greetings for an overcast 3rd day of Braves Spring Training. We pulled into Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex at 8 am this morning and the batting cages were buzzing with activity. 20-year-old Jason Heyward was in there taking cuts and if this baseball thing does not work out, I think Mike Smith and the Falcons should give him a shot at tight end. He is a jacked up 6-4, 245-pounds and is all muscle. I saw him take about 20 cuts in the cage and everyone was dead center of the bat. About the expectations, he said "no one has higher expectations for me then me. I know I will be here eventually (in the big leagues) and would rather come up late and stay for good then make the team and be sent down." Chipper Jones showed up this morning just after 8am and was pumped up about seeing his teammates "It's like the first day of school." Chipper told me feels confident Troy Glaus will make the smooth transition from 3rd base to first and says if anything gets past him it's his fault. "The guy is one of the best athletes I have seen and is 6-6. Talk about a great target" Speaking of Glaus, we interviewed him 1-on-1 on the dugout steps along the 3rd base side and he will not put a number on his goals for the 2010 season. "Let's say my goal is to hit 30 home runs and I do it with one month left in the regular season, should I stop? The only thing I am concerned with his making the playoffs. That is why I came to Atlanta."
Now, while Chipper is a 6-time All-Star and a future Hall-of-Famer, he was the 2nd most popular person in camp today. The most popular? Hall-of-Famer Hank Aaron who walked into a spring training locker room for the first time in 20-years today. The people's home run king was the king here at Disney and he was not only signing autographs for the fans, but a few of the players as well. Yes, Jesse Chavez got a ball signed by Aaron in the dugout. The baseball legend loves seeing the future of the organization on display, but it was days like today that let his mind drift in the past. "I remember going through the clubhouse and my hands were bleeding and tired and everything was sore. But I kept right on going,"
Some news and notes from Day 3:
-Braves GM Frank Wren told me he will not have a "Manager in waiting" and will not discuss any names to replace Bobby Cox until after the season.
-Brian McCann said it takes him a good 60 Spring Training at-bats until he feels 100% ready for the season
-Troy Glaus and Wren said their favorite ballpark was San Francisco's AT&T Park
-Derek Lowe spent part of the morning with Bert from Atlanta's Q-100 signing autographs and taking pictures with chronic ill and physically challenged children.
Tomorrow the real fun begins as camp nearly doubles. Starting at 10am, 58-players begin the first full squad practice.
Feb. 21 (3:24 EST)
Day 2: Spring Training Day 2 and Braves starter Tim Hudson was easily the best pitcher today. The 34-year-old right hander, who ranks 11th among active pitchers in wins, is feeling great and impressing manager Bobby Cox. "Huddy is throwing the ball real well", said Cox. "He's ready to go and I think the few games he got in late last year really helped. He's been an ace and will be an ace again. Huddy has the stuff to be a big time winner"
I sat down for a 1-on-1 interview with all-star catcher Brian McCann this morning (it will air at 11:35 on Sports Zone Sunday)and asked him a few fun questions:
The one player he never wants to see rounding 3rd and coming home for a play at the plate... Prince Fielder (listed at 5-11, 270) The one player who he's in awe of every time he steps to the plate... Albert Pujouls Best Stadium.. AT&T Park in San Francisco Worst Stadium.. Wrigley Field in Chicago The one pitcher that owns him.. Ryan Dempster
I also sent some time in the dougout with Jordan Schafer who is recovering from left wrist surgery. He told me he's doing better, but still very timid in the batting cage. He knows it's a long spring training (6 weeks) and does not want to push it.
Tomorrow, the final day for exclusivity for pitchers and catchers as the first full squad workout is on Tuesday. Cheers from Orlando.
Feb. 20 (3:53 EST)
Day 1: Greetings from Orlando where the sun is out, it's 60 degrees and I'm wearing shorts. Oh Yeah, It's Spring Training Day 1! It is also the beginning of the end for Bobby Cox. The 68-year-old has spent 51-years in professional baseball and this season will mark his 25th and final season as Braves Manager. At 9:30 this morning, he held his final "Welcome to Spring Training" address. "I told them there is a chance for something special to happen here. A lot of Cy Young Award winners have come through those doors" Cox told me that fact that this is his final spring training has not set in. "It doesn't effect me. I won't until the final out of the final inning of the final game."
36 of the 36 pitchers and catchers invited to camp are here at Disney with the lone exception being Luis Valdez. The right hander went 5-4 last year in Triple-A Gwinnett and is stuck in the Dominican Republic with visa issues.
The players were on the field for 2-hours beginning at 10am with newly acquired closer Billy Wagner looking sharp. Wagner, who is 15 saves away from becoming just the 5th player in Major League Baseball history with 400 saves, made a great first impression.
Same drill tomorrow, with the full squad set to have their first workout in Orlando on Tuesday.
Cheers from sunny Florida.