Spring Has Come

RALEIGH— Pitchers and catchers reported today for one of the best sports franchises in history. The oldest sports franchise in America. The longest continuously running sports franchise in America. The Atlanta Braves.

According to Dennis Purdy’s Team-by-Team Baseball Encyclopedia the Atlanta Braves were first formed as a professional club in Cincinatti as the Red Stockings. The Red Stockings were the first professional baseball club in America and went on to dominate local baseball clubs for several years until the owner played a bluff. He attempted to hold out on paying the players any raises. And from here the group of players known as the Red Stockings moved to greener pastures and better pay in Boston.

In Boston the Atlanta Braves, known as the Boston Red Stockings, joined the National Association.  From 1872 through 1875 the Boston Red Stockings dominated the NA winning every championship while maintaining the best records in the association.

In 1876 the Boston Red Stockings joined the National League as a charter member. The Boston Red Stockings were the Yankees of the 19th century, winning eight pennants, one pre-American League World Series and setting the single season wins record at 102, which stood for nearly a century.

In the 20th Centrury the Boston Red Stockings underwent many changes. Changes in names; Red Stockings, Russlers, Doves, Beaneaters, Bees, Red Caps and finally the Braves. Many changes in ownership. And changes in location from Boston to Milwaukee to Atlanta. In that time the Braves have become the only team to win a World Series in three different cities. The Braves added nine more National League pennants and sixteen division titles, fourteen in consecutive complete seasons, an American sports franchise record.

In 1991 and 1992 the Atlanta Braves became the first back-to-back National League champions since the 1977-78 Los Angeles Dodgers. The feat was repeated in 1995 and 1996 and stood until the 2008-2009 Philadelphia Phillies.

Today the Braves pitchers and catcher reported to spring training for the beginning of the 2010 season and the end of Manager Box Cox’s career. Mr. Cox has pledged to retire at seasons end, though it will only be believed when it actually occurs.

To send off Mr. Cox in style the General Manager, Frank Wren, has assembled a team of impressive starting pitching and underwhelming offense. For the past decade the Braves have lacked a steady producer at first base. This has been crippling the team when it comes to scoring runs. Sure there has been the occuasional producer, but he has not been a steady presence in the line up. The Braves have fielded twelve different starting day first basemen over the last thirteen years. And first base is the biggest offensive position in baseball. Over the last five years first basemen in the National League have out hit the rest of the positions on the field by a wide margin. And unfortunately the Braves have not been part of the party.

Troy Glaus will be the thirteenth first basemen for the Braves in fourteen seasons this year. But as eye popping as Mr. Glaus’s home run totals can be, his over all hitting falls below that of the National League average first basemen. And that only happens when he is healthy. The Braves were able to sign Mr. Glaus on the cheap because he missed almost the entire 2009 season with an injury. There is no guarantee he will be capable of playing the entire season without a rest on the Disable List.

Usually a club can make up for loss of production at one position with above average production at other positions. In the past the Atlanta Braves were able to rely on Chipper Jones to fill in this void. While Chipper Jones is still an above average third basemen and a future hall of famer, he is near the end of his career and can no longer be viewed as the MVP caliber player he was a decade ago.

Brian McCann is the next best option. He stands as the most productive National League catcher over the last five seasons. Basically McCain has been the best catcher in the NL since he first stepped on to a major league field. Unfortunately for the Braves, the outfield, once patrolled by the likes of David Justice, Gary Sheffield or Andruw Jones now is home to one of the worst group of bats in the majors. Individually speaking each player is fine and a great complement to a championship caliber team. But these players, Matt Diaz, Melky Cabrera, and Nate McLouth are not, as a unit, a championship caliber outfield. The Braves stand to have yet again one of the least productive outfields in the League.

That brings us to the top prospect in Baseball. The Atlanta Braves have two of the best young pitchers in the game in righties Jair Jurrjens and last years rookie sensation Tommy Hanson. This season will see the emergence of one Jason Heyward. Mr. Heyward is highly regarded in the sport as being the real deal. A true five tool player. A good looking Atlanta native, son of Ivy League graduates, baseball phenom who, if you believe some reports, is the key to the entire Braves season. According to some the twenty year old Jason Heyward is to take the Braves from also ran to World Series contender despite having less than 210 at bats above A-ball.

As a Braves fan I am thrilled to see Heyward play. He is supposed to be amazing. But as a baseball fan I am fully aware of all the other can’t-miss-prospects that have been spit out the bottom of the game after a lack luster career as a pinch hit specialist. So I try to reserve my excitement. I’ll wait and see what Mr. Heyward can do in the Majors before I crown him the Next-Albert-Pujols.

What ever the outcome is for my Atlanta Braves, I am truly thrilled that Baseball is back in season.

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