Rookies, Colt Ford entertain Braves, team officials

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Braves officials put an increased emphasis this winter on leadership and clubhouse camaraderie, efforts to build the latter component continued Monday night with a private function unlike any the team had in recent memory.

Colt Ford, countrified rapper and singer/songwriter, performed a private concert for Braves players and their wives and girlfriends, as well as coaches and team officials, in a small arena adjacent to the team’s spring-training stadium at ESPN Wide World of Sports.

The concert was preceded by a rookie initiation/talent show of sorts, with groups of Braves prospects and rookies divided into four teams that each performed a song, including choreography.

“That was fun,” shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. “I didn’t expect it to be that big or that fun. Everybody was saying hi to each other, girlfriends, wives … it just felt like a family. Coaches, everybody was having a good time.”

Veteran reliever Jason Grilli, a first-year Brave, also gave a good review to the event. “Team bonding, man,” he said.

Rookie second baseman Jace Peterson was part of the winning group that sang “My Girl,” with outfield prospect Mallex Smith on lead vocals. There was good-natured disagreement over whether another group was more deserving, the Todd Cunningham-led group that did the dance-club anthem “What is Love,” complete with well-rehearsed dance moves.

“We had a good group,” Cunningham said. “It was me, (Brandon) Cuniff, Ian Thomas, Shae Simmons, Rio Ruiz, Tyrell Jenkins, Jason Hursh, Chris O’Dowd…. We had a good time. We had a couple of meetings, rehearsed, tried to have it organized.”

Cunningham said the event “turned out very nice. It’s kind of like, it’s a mandatory thing, so you never know. But people got into it. Colt Ford put on a good show and he loves the Braves, so he came out and talked to a bunch of the guys. It was a good deal.”

Ford performed at an Orlando-area golf benefit during the offseason, where he struck up a friendship with John Hart, Braves president of baseball operations.

“He calls him Johnny — Johnny Hart,” Cunningham said, smiling.