McLouth says joining Braves a 'breath of fresh air'

As shocked as fans were by Wednesday's news the Braves had traded for a center fielder, and Braves players who learned of it on the Jumbotron during the game, imagine the jolt for Nate McLouth.

McLouth, 27, signed a three-year contract with the Pirates in February. He was leading the Pirates in homers and RBIs. He's an All-Star, a Gold Glover, a gregarious clubhouse guy, and poised to become the face of that franchise.

"It was shocking," McLouth said before, barring a rainout, he made his debut with the Braves on Thursday night. "It was the last thing on my mind, to be honest with you."

Not that trading outfielders is anything new for the Pirates. McLouth watched the other two members of the most productive outfield in baseball at that point last year get traded away — Jason Bay to the Red Sox and Xavier Nady to the Yankees.

But that was in July, right at the trading deadline, to much rumor and speculation.

McLouth hadn't heard a word until Wednesday night around 6:30 p.m. The Pirates had been rained out, so he and a couple of friends in from out of town, were about to head out to dinner.

That's when the call came from Pirates general manager Neal Huntington.

"A hundred emotions hit me at once," McLouth said. "Pittsburgh is the only organization I'd ever been with. They drafted me out of high school almost 10 years ago. I got to know a lot of great people. That's going to be the hard part about leaving."

The emotions were fresh Thursday morning when he went by the Pirates clubhouse to say goodbye to teammates and pick up his bats. He fought back tears as he talked to Pittsburgh reporters.

By the time his bag of bats was leaning a excigainst his new locker at Turner Field on Thursday afternoon — the locker just vacated by Tom Glavine — McLouth was much more composed.

"The transition from a baseball standpoint — it's still the same thing, it's still the same level," McLouth said. "Just moved up a couple spots in the standings now, and that's definitely a good thing."

The Pirates haven't had a winning season since Sid Bream slid home to beat them in Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series. They've got a major-league record streak going of 16 straight losing seasons.

"You want to win when you're an athlete, not a lot of that went on there when I was over there," McLouth said. "It's unfortunate because there are a lot of people over there who work hard and deserve it. But to come into a situation like this where winning is expected, winning happens, it's a breath of fresh air."

As he said it, he was wearing a cursive "A" on his undershirt, just about to put on his new No. 13 jersey. There was no nameplate on his locker yet and a black bag with yellow Pirates "P" sat in his locker.

The only really familiar faces in the Braves clubhouse to him were relievers Mike Gonzalez and Jeff Bennett, who played with McLouth in the minor leagues, and Chipper Jones, who went to a Penguins-Flyers playoff game with McLouth and a group of players last May and played with him in last year's All-Star game.

"It's nice to have a guy out there [in center] who's been around the block a few times, who's coming into his prime," Jones said.

McLouth is fluent in Spanish after taking it in high school and paying attention in baseball clubhouses. That should endear him to his new teammates, right along with his combination of power (26 homers last year) and speed (he was 23-for-26 in stolen bases last season).

The Braves should also be happy about the scouting report he can give them for the series they have coming up next week. The Pirates come to town Monday.

"That'll be strange," McLouth said.