With Spring Training just weeks away, I can’t be picked on too much for writing a baseball column.
Some might raise issue since we haven’t gotten the Super Bowl played, but since there are no southern teams involved in that game, I’ll take the liberty of skipping ahead to the diamond.
I don’t know how much our Clay County readers have been paying attention to the offseason, but some pretty special things have happened to one of our southern baseball teams.
That would be the Atlanta Braves.
Mississippi has a pretty healthy St. Louis following and amazingly enough a good Los Angeles Dodgers fan base, but when the Braves started winning in the early 1990s, many from the younger generations switched to watching Atlanta.
The main reason for this was that most of the games were televised on TBS during that decade. This made the Braves popular all over the country.
They were not just America’s team, but they were the team to watch in the South. They were a baseball team the region could be proud of.
Its owner at the time, Ted Turner, for all of his faults did not mind spending money to make the team better.
He had three of the top pitchers in baseball in Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz. An array of fourth and fifth starters bolstered the rotation over the course of the 14-year run where the team won division titles.
Today, the Braves have arguable the best pitching staff in all of baseball, but you don’t hear much about them.
In fact, the trio that will be in Atlanta for at least the next three seasons has nothing to do with pitching.
There will be three outfielders in Braves uniforms who I predict will re-energize Braves fans in the South, and they will sell tickets faster than hotcakes.
Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton and Justin Upton will be patrolling left, center and right for the Braves.
Their combination of speed, power and youth will have every Braves fan excited and anyone who likes watching baseball will buy tickets to see those three running down fly balls this season.
How did this come about?
The Braves already had Heyward, who finally came into his own this season, batting .269 with 27 homeruns and 89 RBI with 21 stolen bases.
B.J. Upton signed with the club in December, and he clubbed 27 homeruns with 78 RBI last season with 31 stolen bases.
As soon as he signed, he expressed how happy it would make him to play side-by-side with his little brother Justin, who was under contract with Arizona.
It took a lot of patience on the part of Atlanta GM Frank Wren, but he was able to pull off a trade that sent mid-tier prospects and fan-favorite Martin Prado to the D-Backs last week. Before you cry about losing Prado, he would have left for free-agency at the end of this season anyway.
Justin provides the same jolt in the lineup as his two fellow outfielders. He had a down year due to injury but still hit 17 homeruns with 67 RBI and 18 stolen bases.
The Braves will have rookie phenom Andrelton Simmons (SS) leading off in the lineup, followed likely by Chris Johnson (3B) whom they received also in the Upton trade. He hit 15 homeruns with 71 RBI last season.
Heyward, Upton and Upton will likely factor into the middle of the order, followed by power hitting second baseman Dan Uggla, power hitting first baseman Freddie Freeman and contact and power hitting catcher Brian McCann.
The pitching rotation will be topped by Tim Hudson, Mike Minor, Kris Medlen and Paul Maholm.
The bullpen is simply the best in baseball with Craig Kimbrel closing things out in the ninth behind powerful sixth, seventh and set-up pitchers in Cory Gearin, Johnny Venters and Christian Martinez.
I am not just talking the Braves up because they are my favorite team. These guys are the real deal, and they will win this year. They will do this with no one on the team signed to a $100 million contract.
If you’re a baseball fan, get ready for a fun season in Atlanta.