Jeff Francoeur played for the Braves in parts of five seasons through 2009, but the team opened every season on the road in that period.
So it only made it more special that they opened at Turner Field this year against the Nationals in the well-traveled veteran’s return to Atlanta.
When Francoeur received thunderous applause upon being introduced before the game, then again when he came to bat in the eighth inning and walked to start a rally, it had all the makings for a scripted homecoming.
“That was a pretty humbling experience out there,” Francoeur said of the ovations. “Just wish the ending could have been different for us, man. We had a couple of bad little breaks at the end of the game, but I liked the way everybody played and competed. Guys had some good at-bats off Scherzer, that’s not an easy guy.”
Francoeur drew a one-out walk in the eighth against left-hander Felipe Rivero, and scored the go-ahead run when Adonis Garcia drew a bases-loaded walk from Shawn Kelly.
But the Braves blew the 3-2 lead after catcher A.J. Pierzynski dropped a throw to the plate in the ninth to thwart a potential game-ending double play, and lost 4-3 after Gordon Beckham’s two-base throwing error led to an unearned run in the 10th.
At age 32, after coming to camp as a non-roster invitee and earning a spot on the opening-day roster, Francoeur said before the game that he would appreciate everything about this opening day. It was special for the Atlanta native and Parkview High School graduate.
“Yeah, for sure,” said Francoeur, who had a comeback season with the Phillies in 2015 after spending almost the entire 2014 season at Triple-A El Paso (Padres). “I think last year was exciting just for the sole fact of the year before. But now, to get a chance to be back at home, your home fans and the last opener here at Turner Field, it’ll be pretty special today. I’m excited.”
Now a backup corner outfielder and pinch-hitter, Francoeur wasn’t in the lineup Monday. That didn’t detract from his excitement driving to the ballpark and then getting suited up for the game.
“I woke up this morning and was driving here with zero nerves, just looking forward to playing, getting out there today, maybe getting an at-bat, see what happens,” he said. “But like I’ve said, I’ve taken a whole different approach this year. And it’ll be great to share it with the whole family today. Everybody’s coming out, so it’ll be awesome.”
Francoeur didn’t expect to feel added pressure if he got in the game. He said he’s learned in recent years not to worry so much or get caught up in the moment.
“I’m at that point now, there’s no need to put pressure on yourself,” he said before the game. Then he laughed. “I’m too old for that, to feel like I’ve got to do that. I’ve learned my lesson. And like I said, I’m just thrilled and humbled to be here today. It’s going to be a lot of fun out there today. Hopefully we can play well. It’d be nice to win the final home opener here.”
They had a chance, but couldn’t quite pull off the perfect ending.
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Credit: Jason Getz/AJC