Braves' outfielder Jeff Francoeur had one heck of a debut last Thursday night. BravesCenter's Bill…
‘Georgia Boys' inspired with Francoeur on board
That's every kid's dream, isn't it - to play for your hometown team?
The trend started five years ago, when Braves' Scouting Director Roy Clark chose Brunswick's Adam Wainwright in the first round of the 2000 draft. Clark took several more Georgia boys in that draft, then one again in the first round in both of the next two drafts. The philosophy was simple: draft kids that have been Braves' fans all their life and you'll probably get a kid that will take even more pride in wearing that Atlanta uniform.
This year the Braves are finally reaping the rewards from that philosophy. Four kids from the state of Georgia have made their debut with the Braves, with the latest being outfielder Jeff Francoeur last Thursday night.
"It was fun," Francoeur said. "It was a blast."
Any 21-year old making his big league debut would say that, but it was a bit more special for Francoeur. He grew up just ten miles north of Turner Field, and for years came to the stadium as a Braves' fan. But this week he walked out on that same field as a member of the Braves' 25-man roster.
Kyle Davies, from Stockbridge, twenty miles south of Atlanta, did it first, back in late May. Then it was Brian McCann, from Duluth, fifteen miles northeast of Turner Field. Then it was Blaine Boyer, a kid from Marietta.
"Not even a year ago we were all in A-ball," Boyer, the eldest of the four, reminds everyone. "Now we are on the Atlanta Braves."
Francoeur's friends realized how special Thursday night was for him and for everyone.
"It was unbelievable," said Davies. "He deserved every bit of it. He's earned every inch he's got. Great person. Great guy. He's going to be here for a long time. He's going to be a great ballplayer."
"I was absolutely, ridiculously, stupid fired up out there," said Boyer. "I was going nuts."
The energy and excitement the young kids have injected into this Atlanta roster is apparent. Not since the 1991 season, when the current streak of winning seasons began, have the Braves generated this much enthusiasm. But even one of the ‘Young Guns' says it's a totally different situation.
"Well they've all played together," said John Smoltz. "You don't really see a team that has this many roommates on one team. It's pretty awesome to watch. For an old fart like me, I draw from it. You can't write scripts up better that the way it's started. You just can't imagine 10 or 11 rookies in one season at some point helping a team."
But with the injuries to Tim Hudson, Mike Hampton, John Thomson, Chipper Jones, and Brian Jordan, along with the ineffectiveness of Raul Mondesi, the kids have gotten a chance to play. If you had told Smoltz back in March that 60% of the starting rotation would be on the shelf and that 40% of the team would be rookies, he would have known for sure where the team would be in the standings.
"No way we could think about competing," Smoltz said. "It would be, ‘here's the future and let's try to win baseball games.' But we're competing and we're in the thick of it. The worse I was hoping we could be was five or six games out going into the All Star break. It's pretty amazing when you think about it. We've just got to keep it going."
And in the minds of the Georgia boys, that's exactly what's going to happen. While young, these are confident kids who realize the opportunity they've been given. They now feel it's incumbent upon them to keep this team in the race and to possibly give their hometown team its second World Series title.
"I think we've really lifted up the Braves – not just the hometown guys, but the young guys in general," Davies said. "We're playing as hard as we can play. Sometimes we're going to go 0-for-4 and get killed all over the place, but we're going to play hard. I think it's neat, especially with four of us being from the Atlanta area."
"Like I've told you from the get go, let the frenzy begin," Boyer said. "We're coming in to kick some butt and take some names. That's what we're doing so far. I'm fine with how I'm pitching, just as long as we keep winning and I keep gaining Bobby's confidence. We've got Jeff coming in here hitting bombs, McCann catching Smoltzie, and Kyle doing so well. It's unbelievable what's going on."
McCann said, "It's neat to look out there and see guys you've played with for years. It's going to be special. It's going to be fun."
And that's just what Braves fans are counting on for the second half – a whole lot of fun.
Bill Shanks has a new book out on baseball scouting and player development with a chapter on ‘the Georgia boys.' "Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team" is on bookshelves now. Bill can be reached at email@example.com
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