Hope springs eternal.
For the Atlanta Braves, it has meant renewed hope every February and March when the boys of summer gather to prepare for a new season. Baseball’s oldest continuously operating professional sports franchise has seen many springs. Here are just five memorable spring moments:
Aaron enters the lineup
On March 13, 1954, outfielder Bobby Thomson — he of the “Shot Heard ’Round the World” fame — was playing in his first spring training game with the Milwaukee Braves. In the eighth inning, Thomson’s cleats got caught in the loose turf while trying to break up a double play versus the Yankees.
He broke an ankle. Thomson finished out the inning and was replaced in the lineup by a 20-year-old rookie from Mobile, Ala.: Henry Aaron.
The next day Aaron made his first spring training start, playing in left field and hitting a home run. Aaron went on to hit numerous more home runs (733) in a 22-year Hall of Fame career with the Braves franchise. (He hit 755 for his career.)
A cursed left field
In March 1994, Chipper Jones was a top-rated rookie, looking to earn a spot on the field.
Jones was expected to compete for the starting left field job after veteran Ron Gant broke his leg during an offseason dirt bike accident.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Jones suffered an ACL tear in his left knee and spent the entire strike shortened 1994 season on the disabled list.
Two days later, Ryan Klesko jammed his right thumb on the outfield wall, playing left.
“Who’s left will play left,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said at the time when asked about his injury-ridden left-field spot.
Jones played two decades in Atlanta, winning an MVP award in 1999 and retiring in 2012. He entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018.
Heyward smashes ... cars
Rookie phenom Jason Heyward inflicted tremendous vehicular damage with his batting-practice power in spring 2010.
The Braves resorted to installing nets bordering their Lake Buena Vista, Fla., training site to protect cars in a parking lot beyond the 335-foot wall. Heyward’s swing shattered windshields and dented a half-dozen cars.
“It’s like the Grim Reaper,” media-relations director Brad Hainje — a victim of Heyward’s homers — said at the time. “You know he’s going to get you, you just don’t know where or when.”
Heyward earned an Opening Day roster spot and hit a three-run blast with the first swing.
Pitcher Pascual Perez was infamously known in Atlanta for missing a start in 1982 after bypassing the stadium exit and looping all 64 miles of I-285 — legend has it more than once — until nearly running out of gas. (He earned the nickname “Perimeter Pascual.”)
Two springs later, Perez missed an entire spring camp while he spent time in a Dominican Republic jail, charged with cocaine trafficking.
Perez was arrested Jan. 9 with a gram of cocaine in his wallet after a night out with a friend. The Braves All-Star was convicted on March 23 of a reduced charge of cocaine possession, fined 1,000 pesos ($333) and released from jail.
Perez, 26, rejoined the Braves’ rotation in May, making 30 starts. He we 14-8 with a 3.74 ERA in a season in which the Braves went 80-82, finishing 2nd in N.L. West.
Worst-to-first fresh start
The 1990 Braves’ 65-97 season was all but forgotten when spring training arrived in 1991.
The Braves, who had finished in the National League West cellar in four of the last five seasons, arrived at West Palm Beach, Fla., with a fresh attitude brought on by new general manager John Schuerholz, who went on a spending spree in the offseason, signing eight free agents.
But there were questions. Who would play shortstop? Could Juan Berenguer, brought in from Minnesota, handle the closer job? Would the addition of first baseman Sid Bream and third baseman Terry Pendleton make the Braves’ defense that much better?
“There is a lot to do, a lot of decisions to be made,” Bobby Cox said at the start of camp. “And I'm sure with those big names, there will be a few guys you never heard of that play great down here.”
The Braves responded: Pendleton led the league in hitting; Otis Nixon stole 72 bases; Tom Glavine won 20 games for the first time; and, with a 94-68 record, the Braves captured their first of 14-straight Division titles.
A World Series title would soon follow, too.
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