Nick Markakis changes mind, returns to Braves before home opener

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Calling his initial decision to opt out of season "rash," Nick Markakis explains why he decided to return and play for Braves.

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Three weeks after opting against playing, outfielder Nick Markakis changed his mind and rejoined the Braves before their home opener Wednesday.

Markakis announced his decision Wednesday afternoon. He spoke with general manager Alex Anthopoulos a couple of days ago and made the “easy” decision to return to playing. Markakis admitted it was difficult watching his teammates over their first five games, saying he felt he “needed to be out there.”

“Sometimes in life you make rash decisions without thinking things through,” Markakis said. “At the time, I thought it was the right decision. It still could be the right decision. But I’m going against my decision. I talked to my teammates. I talked to Alex, Snit (manager Brian Snitker) and all those guys. I’d like to come back.

“It sucks watching baseball when you know you can still go out there and compete on a daily basis. It eats away at you a little bit.”

MLB granted Markakis’ request for reinstatement. It will determine such instances on an individual basis.

The 14-year veteran said he’ll apologize to his teammates for “bailing” on them. Markakis decided against playing for a number of reasons, including the unappealing empty stadiums and health protocols affecting his preparation.

Regarding empty stadiums, Markakis said he recognizes fans will be cheering from home. He added, “Sometimes in life you have to deal with things you don’t necessarily want to deal with.”

As the season started, Markakis struggled with his choice. In between time with his three kids, Markakis watched every game of the Braves’ 2-3 start. It bothered him that he wasn’t fulfilling an obligation.

“All these guys are out here busting their butts day in and day out and taking risks every day being here,” he said. “It didn’t sit well with me. I made a commitment to this team and organization before the season. And I bailed out on them. When I see them, I will apologize to them and hopefully be part of them winning as many ballgames as we can.”

Markakis, who worked out at the team’s alternate site in Gwinnett on Wednesday, reiterated several times that he had second-guessed his decision before speaking with Anthopoulos. His conversation with the GM, which covered his options for returning, “cleared everything up,” leading to his change of heart.

While Markakis is back, the coronavirus concerns certainly haven’t gone away. “It’s probably worse than it was before,” Markakis said. The virus has recently infected over half the Marlins roster, forcing MLB to redo several schedules on the fly.

While explaining his first decision, Markakis referenced a conversation with first baseman Freddie Freeman, who underwent a serious battle with COVID-19. Freeman eventually returned to the team before opening day.

In another change of tune from weeks ago, Markakis, 36, said he realized sometimes you must accept risk.

“It scares you,” he said of the conversation with Freeman. “But I had talked to him several days after it, a couple weeks after that. It’s a risk. Everybody in this world is taking risks on a daily basis. You can’t hide and run from it every single day. My teammates are out there every day taking risks, and me sitting there watching TV, it just didn’t sit well with me.”

Markakis continued, voicing his faith in MLB and the Braves’ safety protocols.

“I have always had confidence in this organization and training staff to make safety a top priority, whether it’s a pandemic or day-to-day basis. Watching it from afar and being part of it at the beginning, it wasn’t fun. The first week of (spring training) 2.0 was not fun at all. Like I said, sometimes we make rash decisions that aren’t necessarily thought out thoroughly. But we all make mistakes. I’m not saying it was a mistake, but I think it was a mistake. We thought about it as a family, and we talked about it. With all the safety protocols going on, you just have to be safe.”

When Markakis is ready – he and Snitker didn’t have a time estimate – he’ll bolster the Braves’ lineup against right-handed pitching. The Braves attempted several moves to replace his void. They almost signed Yasiel Puig, but his positive COVID-19 test halted negotiations.

The Braves acquired Matt Adams and Scott Schebler, both of whom provide legitimate power, to help their offense. Markakis adds further reinforcements to a group that’s been inconsistent so far against high-level pitching in New York and Tampa Bay. The Braves lead the majors with 64 strikeouts through five games.

“If he wants to be back, everyone is happy to have him back,” Snitker said. “This guy is going to hit. It’s going to be more about getting his legs, arm, stuff like that going. I don’t have any timetable at all.”

Markakis, a one-time All-Star, is signed through the 2020 season. This will be his sixth season with the organization.

“The sky is the limit for this team,” Markakis said. “The group of guys they have in here, you have some of the best players in this organization. ... This team is super-talented. We’re really, really good right now. We can do a lot of good things. It’s just a matter of going out there and piecing it together.”

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