The space belonged to Chipper Jones for the past four years, and to John Smoltz before him. So with Jones retired, there was anticipation as to whom would be assigned the Braves locker stall for 2013, the one next to a hallway that leads to the training room and other areas off-limits to media.
The choice seemed appropriate: Jason Heyward.
But before anyone could suggest this was significant, that it underscored this was now “his team” or that it was another sign of a figurative torch being passed from Jones to Heyward, the right fielder explained Sunday after the Braves’ off-day workout at the stadium.
“No, this is kind of… I was kind of pushed into here a little bit,” Heyward said, laughing. “Nobody else really wanted to come into this locker and I was like, ‘What they hey, man, it doesn’t matter.’ (Greg) Maddux had a locker here, (Tom) Glavine had one, Smoltz had one. Other greats have. Somebody was going to have to take it.
“It’s a good spot in the clubhouse, so…”
He also has fellow starting outfielders Justin Upton and B.J. Upton to his immediate right. Those spots were occupied the past couple of years by Eric Hinske and Tim Hudson. Hinske’s gone and Hudson moved down a few lockers.
“That makes it easier, having your outfielders right here,” Heyward said. “We can have a conversation.”
Jones will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Monday night’s season opener against Philadelphia. Someone asked Heyward if it would seem odd having the former third baseman in street clothes throwing out a first pitch, rather than suited up in the dugout.
“Little bit,” Heyward said. “We’re all going to be happy for him more than anything, that he was able to leave the game on his own (terms). He’s done everything there is to do in this game. We’re going to miss him, friend and family member. But at the same time, we’ve got a good group right here.
“We’ve got a young team but we’ve got an experienced team, some guys that have been through playoffs, guys who are hungry. We still have some veterans in this clubhouse who are really experienced and know what it takes to get the job done day in and day out.”
This is Heyward’s fourth season and the Braves’ first opening-day game at home since 2010, when he homered in his first major league at-bat – after catching the ceremonial first pitch from Braves legend Hank Aaron.
Heyward also homered in his first at-bat of the 2011 season opener at Nationals Park. So he knows something about channeling the energy and excitement of opening day. And he was feeling good Sunday, a day before facing the Phillies.
“I’m not too antsy, not too laid back,” he said. “I’m ready to go. I know it’s go time. I know it’s time to go have some fun. This is what we’ve all been waiting for. The offseason work, spring training. Now let’s go play some games that count.”
Gattis in lineup Wednesday? Veteran Gerald Laird will catch Tim Hudson on opening day, but manager Fredi Gonzalez said he might give start rookie catcher Evan Gattis in the second game.
“I was thinking about running him in there on Wednesday right off the bat,” Gonzalez said. “He’ll be fine.”
Gattis, 26, was a non-roster spring-training invitee whose unusual background and spring power-hitting displays made him the most talked-about Brave other than perhaps Justin Upton. He hasn’t played above Double-A.
Gattis didn’t catch any of Hudson’s starts this spring. He could be in the lineup Wednesday (the teams are off Tuesday) when Braves left-hander Paul Maholm faces Phillies veteran Roy Halladay.
At third base, Chris Johnson starts the opener and Juan Francisco starts Wednesday. Gonzalez said he plans to start the season using a straight platoon of Johnson against lefties and Francisco against righties, which could change at any time.
Venters to doctor Monday: The Braves should know the severity of Jonny Venters’ left elbow injury after the reliever visits Dr. James Andrews on Monday morning in Pensacola. Fla. Venters left a game against Detroit Tuesday with what was diagnosed as a sprain, and the Braves hope it’s not a damaged ligament.
Andrews did Tommy John surgery to repair the torn ulnar collateral ligament in Venters’ left elbow in 2005.
Roster finalized: There were no surprises on the Braves’ 25-man opening day roster announced Sunday. With Venters opening the season on the DL, the Braves were able to keep reliever Anthony Varvaro, who was out of minor-league options and would’ve had to go through waivers before he could be sent down.
The roster includes starting pitchers Hudson, Kris Medlen, Maholm, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran; relievers Craig Kimbrel, Eric O’Flaherty, Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden, Cristhian Martinez, Cory Gearrin and Varvaro; infielders Andrelton Simmons, Freddie Freeman, Dan Uggla, Francisco, Johnson and Ramiro Pena; outfielders Heyward, the Uptons, Reed Johnson and Jordan Schafer, and catchers Laird and Gattis.
Joining Venters on the DL to begin ths seaon: catcher Brian McCann and infielder Paul Janish, each recovering from shoulder surgery, and pitcher Brandon Beachy, recovering from elbow surgery.