Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hope 'Springs' Eternal. Bravesville is fired up!!!

There is nothing like it for the incurable baseball fan, and I'm one of them. It's the time of year when every big league club is tied for first place and has legitimate hopes of getting top and winning the World Series. It's the time when wide eyed youngsters get to locker next to grizzled veterans and hear the elder statesmen spin their yarns about glorious seasons past. Bobby Dews hitting fungos and working on a new book. Guys trying to get pants that fit right and find out where the batting cages are, and what time to be there to hit. Legends and would-be legends walking on the same turf. It's called spring training, and there is nothing better in sports.

I just returned from a couple of days with the Atlanta Braves and, despite stinky weather by Orlando standards, it was great. Moving into 2010, the Braves have much to be optimistic about as far as their chances and celebrating the legendary Bobby Cox in his final season as a big league skipper.

I'll be talking about Bobby all season long, and in glowing terms, as this future Hall of Famer is one of my favorite people inside the game and outside it as well. If he can spirit his club to at least 90 wins, it will be the 15th time he's done so in his great career. The only other man to do it? Joe McCarthy. 'Nuf said.

The pitching staff looks strong again. Javier Vasquez is gone, but Tim Hudson is back. Bill Wagner is one of the new old closer with a brand new (Tommy John Surgery) arm, and he looks fine.

Welcome Troy Glaus to first base. His first regular season game at that position will be only the 5th in his career, but don't sweat it. Former rookie of the year Eric Hinske is another new guy who'll gets a lot of outfield work as will Melke Cabrera, late of the Yankees...great clubhouse guy.

Chipper Jones looks great and ready to erase the glitch which was 2009 (264 batting average, down 100 points from his championship total of the year before). Brian McCann set to make the All Star roster, something he's done in each of his first five big league seasons. Martin Prado is THE man at 2nd base, and he is so fired up about the season, it's hard to put into words.

And, the biggest story of them all may be Jason Heyward, the immense rookie who seems to have the right field job to lose. Watching him in batting practice was impressive. LISTENING to him hit was even more amazing. The ball sounds different coming off his stick. Cox said it was like listening to Hank Aaron or Micky Mantle hit the ball. The kid from Henry County Georgia has all the physical tools and the mental makeup to be a real beast in this game. Time will tell.

There are some clubs which, while starting with a clean slate, know somewhere deep down that they have no chance to make the Fall Classic. The Braves are NOT one of them. I like their chances to do some damage and make it back into the post season. But, more important, THEY like their chances.

Yes, hope springs eternal in Bravesville. I'll keep you posted.