“Look, we understand why we were doing road games from the studio, but … we’re grateful that the worst of that experience is over for us,” Caray said. “Make no mistake about it, the broadcast is better when you have eyes and ears on the ground at the site. That is so much better than doing it off a TV monitor.
“I’m really proud of the work we as a group did (under challenging circumstances in 2020 and 2021). But all of us who kept banging the drum that ‘we’ve got to get back on the road,’ it wasn’t to be difficult; it wasn’t to overlook the pandemic or our safety. It was just because we wanted to do it right. I think think all of us, from top to bottom in the industry, understand that doing it right requires being on site.”
Jeff Francoeur, the lead analyst on the Braves’ telecasts, agrees – despite a personal tradeoff.
“For me, I’ve got four kids at home, so (resuming travel) is a little bittersweet,” Francoeur said. “But there is no doubt announcers need to get back on the road. There were numerous times last year when (a batted ball viewed on a monitor) looked like it was going to be a bomb to left field and ended up being just a popup.”
(The Braves’ radio broadcasters went back on the road starting last August.)
While Caray and Francoeur called the home games on site the past two seasons, they did even that without normal access to the team.
“I’m looking forward to having conversations with the players in person again,” Caray said, “because those stories make the broadcasts a lot better, I think.”
Caray plans to be the play-by-play announcer for all 154 Braves regular-season games that Bally Sports South and Southeast are scheduled to televise this year. He’ll be joined on about 105 of them by Francoeur, who said he’ll work roughly 60 home games and 45 road games. Their first telecast of the season will be Friday’s game at Truist Park against Cincinnati; ESPN2 will air Thursday’s season opener.
Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@
Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@
Caray and Francoeur talked with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about several aspects of the season ahead:
On the new first baseman
Francoeur has known of Matt Olson since the Braves’ new first baseman was in middle school in Gwinnett County.
“My mom actually was his seventh-grade math teacher,” Francoeur said. “I would go in and say hi. My mom always told me, ‘There’s this guy who’s supposed to be really good at baseball in my class.’ It was kind of funny.”
Later, Olson broke some – but not all – of Francoeur’s records at Parkview High School. Francoeur still holds the school’s career home-run record with 55 in 1999-2002, ahead of runner-up Olson’s 45 in 2009-12. Olson holds the school’s career record in RBIs with 168, as well as in pitching wins with 28. Francoeur’s brother-in-law was a high school teammate of Olson’s.
Now, the 38-year-old Francoeur, whose 12-year MLB playing career ended in 2016, will watch from the broadcast booth as the 28-year-old Olson replaces Freddie Freeman in the Braves’ lineup.
“The idea of losing Freddie, that’s tough, there’s no doubt about it,” Francoeur said. “But at the end of the day, if you’re going to lose Freddie, at least you got to me the best guy you could get (to replace him). ... I know this: Matt hits some moon blasts and plays great first base, too.”
On the chances of repeating
No team has won back-to-back World Series in the past 21 years, but their broadcasters believe the Braves have a shot at that feat.
“This is a good club – maybe on paper better than last year,” Caray said. “It has a wide-open window of opportunity to win more than one world championship.”
“I think if this team stays healthy, they’re a lot better than last year’s team (which was hard hit by injuries) – more well-balanced,” Francoeur said.
Caray and Francoeur think the bullpen can be stronger with the additions of Kenley Jansen and Collin McHugh and think the offense, despite the loss of Freeman, will be potent with the addition of Olson and the return to action of Ronald Acuna (expected in early May) and Marcell Ozuna.
“This is going to be a power-packed Braves team,” Caray said. “Their record for homers in a year is 249. Everybody I’ve talked to is going to take the over on that.”
On the rest of the NL East
Francoeur: “I think it’s a three-horse race with the Mets and Phillies. I know the Phillies added (sluggers) Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos. But can the Phillies catch the ball? And, again, what about their bullpen? There may not be a better 1-2-3 punch in baseball than the Mets’ top three pitchers (Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Chris Bassitt), but you have to stay healthy.” (Already, deGrom is sidelined by a shoulder injury.)
Caray: “The Mets loaded up; the Phillies loaded up; the Marlins have improved. Everybody knows the Braves have a target on their back. But as other teams have loaded up to try to knock them off their pedestal, the Braves have done their part, too.”