Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Cubs

06
Apr
10

Heyward steals show on Opening Day

He’s arrived.

The bigger the stage, the higher the expectations, the larger the results.

After smashing a tie-breaking, three-run home run in his first major league at-bat off Chicago Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano, the legend that is Jason Heyward just grew a little bit larger.

In front of a record crowd of 53,081, the fourth-largest crowd in Turner Field history and biggest day crowd in Atlanta Braves history, chanting, “Let’s go Hey-ward!  Let’s go Hey-ward!” the young phenom delivered a bomb, sending an already raucous crowd into an even bigger frenzy.

It was the first swing of Heyward’s major league career and it landed in the Braves bullpen beyond right field at a jaw-dropping distance of 446 feet.

Zeus, is that you sporting No. 22?

The gifted and talented 20-year-old began writing the first page of his legacy yesterday all the while, stealing the show on Opening Day.

Heyward ended the afternoon with two hits and four RBI, aiding in Atlanta’s 16-5 pounding of the Chicago Cubs.

Yunel Escobar powered in 5 runs for the Braves and Nate McLouth made a couple of flashy defensive plays in Atlanta’s victory.

However, much like its been all spring, the day and the spotlight belonged to Heyward.

J-Hey got a huge ovation from the Atlanta faithful as he was circling the bases following his dinger, and another when he trotted to his right field position the next inning.

Turner Field hasn’t been this electric in years, if ever.

While, the outpouring of crowd support is welcoming to a club hoping to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2005, the players only hope the fans will sustain it.

As Heyward’s legend continues to grow larger with each passing day, Atlanta’s rejuvenated fanbase looks to follow suit.

But the fans aren’t the only ones enthralled with the power-hitting rookie.

His teammates and even home run king Hank Aaron’s eyes are on the sensational marvel that is Jason Heyward.

Baseball’s home run king threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Heyward, in what many surmised as the passing of the torch.

It took less time for Heyward’s first blast to travel over the bullpen wall than for the comparisons between the two to pick up steam and hold more merit.

It was a symbolic start to what promises to be a career for the ages for Atlanta’s new superhero.

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05
Apr
10

Jason Heyward: Welcome to the Big Show!

The wait is finally over.

After capping his meteoric rise through the Braves farm system with a monumental spring training performance, 20-year-old rookie sensation Jason Heyward will make his Major League debut in right field for the Atlanta Braves on Opening Day today against the Chicago Cubs at Turner Field.

Atlanta’s latest homegrown talent will open the book on what promises to be a long and illustrious career in front of his family, friends, and giddy new fanbase.

“J-Hey Fever” has reached epic proportions around the Atlanta area as of late, and today fans will finally get to usher in the Braves’ new phenom to the Big Show.

Bobby Cox put to end any potential speculation or suspense when he announced Heyward’s addition to Atlanta’s Opening Day roster early on March 26.

While, the announcement was one of baseball’s worst kept secrets, typically Cox tends to wait until the completion of spring training before making his final roster moves.

The decision to inform Heyward in advance that he made the team just goes to show how strong an impression the youngster had made on Cox and the deep level of respect the skipper already has for his new right fielder.

Heyward took the news in stride— not hooting and hollering like most 20-year-olds would after receiving the news that they’ve been pegged the new starting right fielder for one of the winningest and most successful franchises in baseball history.

That’s just not his way.

His reaction—calm and poised— is much like the way he goes about his business on and off the field.

J-Hey is a gentle giant of sorts. His monstrous 6’5, 245-pound stature and deep voice seem to contrast with his cool demeanor, eloquence, and class.

Heyward will wear No. 22 in honor of his former high school teammate, who was killed in a car accident.

He is just the kind of kid you root for.  He is worthy of being the hero-type figure young fans hope to emulate.

The five-tool talent is every bit the legend on the diamond that he’s been made out to be.

Heyward was named Minor League Player of the Year in 2009 by both Baseball America and USA Today and was dubbed the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball by numerous experts and media outlets.

The towering home runs he smashed this spring, with one traveling 50 feet out of the park and literally into the sunroof of Assistant GM Bruce Manno’s car, only added to his storybook tale.

While Heyward’s power, strength, and size have garnered him the most attention with Chipper Jones comparing his body mass to that of Jevon Kearse he’s proven to be agile enough to cover tremendous ground in the outfield, while possessing a cannon for an arm, making him all the more impressive.

But, what I believe makes J-Hey stand out from the hundreds of other highly touted prospects most notably, Braves former right field “phenom” Jeff Francoeur, who also made an early and much hyped ascent to the Majors is his unparalleled patience at the plate.

Unlike Francoeur, Heyward does not swing for the fences and will gladly take the walk.  His balanced swing is one that many young hitters aren’t yet equipped with, and his approach at the plate is wise beyond his years.

This kid is the total package, which makes it not surprising that he’s already been compared to the likes of Willie McCovey and even Albert Pujols.

While, there is no doubt a great level of pressure and hype surrounding Heyward, his off the charts makeup ease any concerns the Braves might have had regarding their young star’s much-anticipated debut.

I caution Braves fans to not panic when J-Hey looks human or even overmatched at times, because the kid is learning on the fly, and their will be ups and downs over the course of a long and arduous 162-game season.

But, it is Heyward’s maturity and confidence that will help him endure those normal struggles associated with making adjustments at the Major League level and will also prevent him from crashing and burning at the first sign of adversity.

Many anticipate Heyward will succeed Chipper Jones as the anchor of the Braves offense for the next decade while becoming the new face of the franchise when Jones retires.

There is no one more excited about this prospect than Chipper himself.  Jones will mentor Heyward this season and believes J-Hey is the best 20-year-old he has ever seen.

In his opinion, the power-hitting lefty is already leaps and bounds ahead of a young Andruw Jones, who made his debut amidst similar pandemonium at age 19.

Chipper also believes makeup wise, Heyward is better suited to handle the spotlight than even he was when he came on the scene in 1995.

While Jones admits to being “brash and cocky” as a rookie, he sees no signs of that in Heyward.

In fact, his laid-back demeanor and borderline-introverted personality could help serve him quite well in an attempt to ignore the growing circus that surrounds him.

Heyward finished spring training with a .305 batting average, 10 walks, and a 4.23 on base percentage.

The question was never will Jason Heyward be in right field for the Atlanta Braves?  The question was always when?

His time is now.

The Jason Heyward Era is officially upon us…just beware of where you park your car.

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12
Jan
10

Greg Maddux joins Cubs front office

Former Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs pitching icon Greg Maddux will now return to the Cubs in a new role: special assistant to general manager Jim Hendry.

Maddux will provide input in all aspects of baseball operations, including assisting in player development and evaluation, as well as helping with instruction of major and minor leaguers in Spring Training.

Maddux is one of the greatest students of the game; this is a huge move for the Cubs.

Maddux will put his astute knowledge and baseball intellect to good use in this new position, which could serve as a stepping stone for a larger role with the club in the future as an executive, coach, manager, or even general manager.

The Braves were rumored to be one of a few teams interested in bringing Greg Maddux to Spring Training this year as a special instructor.

Many in the organization had hoped to lure both Maddux and Tom Glavine back to camp in an effort to bring two of the franchise’s most storied players back into the fold.

That scenario was squashed when Maddux received a bigger and better offer from the Cubs; his new title holds much more weight and responsibility.

Many in BravesNation wonder why GM Frank Wren didn’t “up the ante” and make Maddux a similar offer to join the Braves’ front office in an effort to compete with the Cubs?

I’m sure, among other things, Wren recognized Maddux’s strong desire to remain out west near his family.

Maddux was in no particular rush to return to baseball; he has only been removed from the game for one year.

A factor that almost certainly sweetened the pot for Maddux is that the Cubs play in Arizona during Spring Training, which is a lot closer to Maddux’s Las Vegas home than the Orlando-based Braves’ complex in Florida.

From a business perspective, while it would have been great for the Braves organization in the short and long-term to get Maddux back, the assumption that Wren could have done more to make it happen is unfounded.

Chicago was just the right fit at the right time for Maddux.

Maddux began his career with the Cubs in 1986, where he won his first Cy Young Award in 1992, before leaving as a free agent to sign with Atlanta that winter.

From ’93 to 2003, Maddux pitched for the Braves where he went on to capture three more consecutive Cy Young’s from 1993-1995 and helped lead Atlanta to the playoffs every season in which he played for them.

The 355-game-winner also won his only World Series ring as a member of the Braves Championship team in ’95.

Maddux later returned to Chicago for his second stint with the club from 2004-2006 and won his 300th game as a member of the Cubs during the 2005 season.

He was traded to the Dodgers at the end of the ’06 year before retiring at the conclusion of the 2008 season with the San Diego Padres.

17
Jul
09

A tribute to an icon… Greg Maddux to be inducted into Braves Hall of Fame.

Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux

Many people have asked me what was the inspiration or driving force behind my choice to pursue a degree and profession in sports journalism?

It began with my love of writing. Journalism was my craft.

My career path’s journey veered toward sports with my passion for Braves baseball, which was due largely to one man… one man so superhuman, so awe-inspiring, so talented and gifted, that I knew his kind did not come around often.

That man was Greg Maddux. Pitching was his craft.

And tonight, before the Braves take on the division rival New York Mets at Turner Field, Maddux is being so rightfully and deservingly inducted into the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame. The team will also retire his jersey number 31.

I’m only 25 years old but today I feel my age.

This is because I remember so vividly the day, December 9, 1992, the Braves shocked the baseball world and announced that they had won the heated pursuit of the free agent reigning National League Cy Young Award Winner.

For the Braves, and former General Manager John Schuerholz, to give a free agent a five-year contract, the significance and magnitude of this signing would resonate for years to come.

Greg Maddux went on to win three more consecutive National League Cy Young Awards with the Braves, becoming the first of only two pitchers, Randy Johnson being the second, in history to ever win the coveted award four years in a row.

I knew I was witnessing history every time Mad Dog stepped on the mound.

One year in the particular is really engrained in my memory.

I was in Philadelphia during the 1995 season, watching Maddux’s pre-game bullpen session, as I always had every time I had seen him pitch live before.

But this time was different.

Maddux had an ungodly ERA and was trying to become one of the select pitchers in history to accomplish the feat of finishing a season with an ERA under the 2.00 mark. (He did, of course, finishing the ’05 season with a 1.63 ERA.)

This moment was significant to me because it was then that it officially clicked in my mind… I was in the presence of greatness.

A greatness that sports fans can only read about in the history books and wish they could have been able to personally witness.

Not only did I get to live in an era that produced arguably the greatest pitcher of our generation in Greg Maddux, but I was afforded the great honor and privilege to see him pitch first-hand every five days for the 11 years he donned an Atlanta Braves uniform.

That’s quite an embarrassment of riches. And, I knew it.

But, I never once took it for granted, which is not something I can say is true of my time as a Braves fan.

During the Braves unprecedented run of fourteen consecutive division titles, I honestly believed it would never end. As sure as the sun would be shining every morning, I was convinced there wouldn’t be an October that didn’t include the Atlanta Braves.

Call it wishful thinking; call it a confident swagger, but playoff baseball and the Braves, to me, were one in the same. Obviously, my thought process was absurd. Everything comes to an end in sports, even the most remarkable of streaks.

But the one thing I knew for certainty that would end was the Greg Maddux Era. That is why I tried to make it a point to never miss one start, one interview, or one chance to see him live and in person.

And, I didn’t.

It is because of Greg Maddux that I will always prefer a good pitcher’s duel to a slugfest.

It is because of Greg Maddux that I will forever respect finesse pitchers and have a deep appreciation for the art of control. He wasn’t flashy. His stuff wasn’t overpowering. But, he was as accurate as any pitcher to ever play the game.

It is because of Greg Maddux that I’ve become thirsty for an even greater knowledge of the game. They called him “The Professor” at times. Not just because of the glasses he would sport off the field but for the great intellect and insight he would provide on the game of baseball. He was more then a teacher and mentor, he was a true strategist, just a fountain of knowledge that one could only hope to begin to tap. Some called him the smartest pitcher they’ve ever seen. I’d have to agree.

It is because of Greg Maddux that my faith in iconic baseball figures is not completely shattered. Growing up in the “Steroid Era” and watching so many big names fall victim to the juice, I take even greater pride knowing that Maddux played the game the right way—cleanly, and with integrity and class. His numbers always spoke for themselves but with the likes of Roger Clemens, whose records are now tarnished with the all too familiar asterisk next to them, it elevates Maddux to an even greater level.

His legacy is now cemented in the history books.

While it was sad for me personally to watch Maddux leave the Braves and go on to win his 300th game in a Chicago Cubs uniform, before then finishing his career out west, I do feel his benchmark years were those spent in Atlanta.

Today’s induction in the Braves Hall of Fame is only the beginning.

The greatest culmination of his career comes later… when he is inducted into Cooperstown.

Greg Maddux, the 4-time Cy Young winner.

Greg Maddux, the 8-time All-Star.

Greg Maddux, the record 18-time Gold Glover.

Greg Maddux, the 300-game winner.

All of those accomplishments are remarkable but can’t compare to the ultimate: Greg Maddux, the World Champion.

That last feat, which came when he was a member of the Braves in 1995, is why I know Greg Maddux will go into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame as an Atlanta Brave.

That would be the final and only fitting ending to an illustrious career.

Greg Maddux was a master of his craft and if I can be half the journalist that he was pitcher, then my career path was indeed the chosen one.

02
Jun
09

Observations of the Braves from my trip to Chase Field…

Kelly, Me, Emily, Erin, and Shannon on the field in AZ after the Braves opening night loss to the D-Backs

Kelly, Me, Emily, Erin, and Shannon on the field in AZ after the Braves opening night loss to the D-Backs

I had my first opportunity to check out the 2009 Atlanta Braves live and in person when they traveled to Arizona to face the Diamondbacks May 28-31st. I have lived in AZ for the past 5 years so Chase Field has become my go-to ballpark to see the Bravos. This season I was fortunate enough to have the Braves in town for a four-game series. Hotlanta split the series 2-2 with the Snakes and I ended up coming away with some positive, negative and suggestions for improvement for the team going forward. Here’s a breakdown of the good, the bad, and the ugly from the desert:

The good: Atlanta’s starting staff continues to impress and keep the team in close games. Derek Lowe gave up 5 runs in the series opening loss, although only 3 of those runs were earned, after Kelly Johnson botched a grounder that allowed for a big inning that ended up deciding the ballgame. Despite the fact that Lowe wasn’t as sharp as he’s been for the majority of the season, he was still able to bear down, gut it out and minimize any further damage after the Johnson error sparked a four-run 4th, which kept the Braves within striking distance.

In Game Two, Jair Jurrjens was the recipient of a rare offensive explosion from the Braves and picked up the “W” in the Braves 10-6 victory. While Jurrjens was handed a 10-1 lead after 3 1/2 innings, he did appear uncomfortable pitching with such a large lead. This happens to many of the game’s best pitchers who often thrive off of pitching in tight situations. But for Jurrjens, who has been coined the Braves hard luck loser this season after putting up some mighty impressive numbers, this win helps balance things out a bit.

In Game Three, Javier Vazquez looked strong putting up zeros for six innings against the D-Backs, keeping a 2-0 lead intact after escaping a sixth inning jam unscathed. However, he finally ran out of gas in the seventh when Chris Young tied the game with a pinch-hit single. While the Braves ended up losing in heartbreaking fashion 3-2 in the 11th, the club couldn’t have asked for anything more from Vazquez. His gutsy outing deserved to be capped with a win.

In the finale of the series, Braves rookie Kris Medlen looked solid, picking up his first major league win, allowing one run on four hits with nine struck outs in six innings of work. Medlen was making his third big league start in the fifth spot of the Braves rotation after Jo-Jo Reyes went down with an injury. Reyes was filling in for a rehabbing Tom Glavine, who after a recent strong five-inning effort for Triple A Gwinnett appears to be close to returning to the Braves rotation. The return of the veteran Glav is sure to make an already deep Braves rotation that much deeper.

The bad: The Braves offense remains inconsistent and spotty. After looking stagnant in the series opener, they exploded for 10 runs in game two to illicit hope amongst the frustrated Braves faithful. However, true to form they followed up that offensive outburst with only two early runs in their eventual 3-2 extra inning loss. To make things even more disconcerning, they scored the 10 runs in game two in the first four innings before being blanked the rest of the game. Then, despite jumping out to an early 2-0 lead in game three, the bats were then silenced again for the remainder of the game, wasting Javier Vazquez’s strong effort. The nine runs the Braves accumulated in the series finale against Arizona had fans and management scratching their heads as to why this team can’t consistently put up runs to support their underappreciated starting staff.

The ugly: The Braves lack power, especially in the outfield, which is a large reason why the offense has stumbled.

The culprits: Rookie center fielder Jordan Schafer and right fielder Jeff Francoeur. On Monday, before the Braves opened a homestand at Turner Field against the Chicago Cubs, Atlanta sent Schafer down to Triple A Gwinnett. Schafer is hitting only .206 on the season, but what is more alarming is his 63 strikeouts, which rank as the fourth highest in Major League Baseball. The Braves recalled Gregor Blanco from the minors to take Schafer’s place for the time being and hope he will be able to provide a lift to Atlanta’s sagging offense. As for Francoeur, he has been hovering around .250 for the past month and still appears lost and often overmatched at the plate. Frenchy has only gone deep four times this season, which has contributed largely to the Braves power drought. Braves GM Frank Wren must be listening to trade offers for Francoeur but whether the team deals him or not depends largely on what they could garner in return. Francoeur is still young and talented and for a team that is struggling to find offensive production, it wouldn’t be wise to subtract a bat without replacing it with an upgraded one.

Suggestions for improvement: I think the Braves absolutely, positively HAVE to add a power bat to the outfield before the July 31st trade deadline. There are rumors circulating that the team is looking at bringing Mark DeRosa back to Atlanta. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the right move, but it is encouraging to know that the team is looking for ways to bolster their offense. Pitching keeps teams in the race and the Braves have the arms to continue to do so. But, if Atlanta hopes to make a legitimate run at what appears to be a wide open NL East, they need to greatly improve their offense.

For those frustrated fans who have already thrown in the towel, I offer these words of hope. Before June 2nd’s game against Chicago, the Braves find themselves in third place only 4 1/2 games behind first place Philadelphia. We aren’t even at the All-Star Break folks. There is A LOT of baseball to be played. The Braves benefited greatly over their run of fourteen consecutive division titles from a strong starting rotation and a deep pitching staff. In the playoffs, pitching is often what carries a team far and if a staff gets hot at the right time, anything is possible. If the Braves can find enough offense to at least supplement their staff, they have just as good a chance as any team of playing October baseball.




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