How Chipper Jones Taught Me That There’s No Tooth Fairy

Recently I posted on my twitter (@JakesBravesBlog) that I haven’t posted from my blog in so long that I shouldn’t even consider myself a blogger anymore. As my life got busier and I developed more responsibilities my blog has sadly been something that I have neglected the most. However, with Chipper Jones announcing his retirement at the end of the 2012 season I decided to make time to share a story from my childhood that involved him. Here goes:

I have been a Braves fan literally my entire life. Being born the son of Tony Tilley meant that I would inherently love four things: 1. God. 2. Family. 3. Waylon Jennings’ music. 4. Atlanta Braves baseball. When most families sat at the kitchen table to have supper, mine was in front of the TV watching the Braves on WTBS. I had fortunately come along in a time when loving the Braves was easy. I didn’t have to live through those dreadful years like my father and his father before him.

In the year 1995 I was eight years old. Like most people who followed the Braves I was very impressed with the rookie named Chipper Jones. I remember wearing the high socks in little league, just like Chipper. There was one night though where Larry Wayne Jones Jr taught me a lesson that I’ll never forget. My mom and I were shopping at the mall and I saw an Atlanta Braves shirt and on the back was the big red “10” with “Jones” right above it. I had to have it! I begged my mom for it and after some thought she looked at me and said “Well I can buy it for you and it can just be your gift from the tooth fairy the next time a tooth falls out”. My face was blank. I guess she could judge my reaction and her response to it was “You did know that there’s no tooth fairy, right?” I had no idea until that moment that there was no tooth fairy. I lied and told Mama that she wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. However, learning that Mama and Daddy were the tooth fairy didn’t really bother me that much. I was going home with a new C. Jones shirt! As an eight year old it was about time I knew anyway.

I wore that shirt to my first braves game in 1996. I wore it again the next season and got to see Chipper hit a 3-run jack in it. I wore it a lot. As time went on I obviously outgrew the shirt. It has since been passed down to my younger brother and my nephew. Every time I see one of them wear it I think about that time in the mall. Growing up a Braves fan in the ’90s meant growing up a Chipper Jones fan. Throughout the years a lot has changed with our team. Fulton County was leveled, Maddux retired, Glavine retired, Smoltz (kinda) retired, even Bobby has moved on. But the one thing that has been constant has been number 10. I for one am going to miss him!

What to do with McLouth

Nate McLouth was eligible to come off the D.L. a week ago, and will soon begin rehab starts. What most Braves fans are wondering is how Fredi Gonzalez will handle the McLouth-Schafer situation. Looking at the surface it doesn’t seem to be a debate. After all McLouth leads Schafer in a lot of statistical categories including AVG, OBP,  and SLG. However, the reality of the situation is much deeper.

Since his call-up Schafer has been a hit with most fans, who like myself, never gave up on him after the potential he showed during his 2009 campaign. He was shown some of the flashes of the lead off hitter that this team has needed since Furcal departed. He has 165 less at-bats than most of the starters, but his seven stolen bases leads the team (Heyward is second with three). It’s more than that for Schafer though. During a pregame radio interview Eric Hinske raved about Schafer’s ability to throw off pitcher’s timing by causing havoc on the base paths. He went as far as saying that Schafer is responsible for the current winning streak the Braves are on. Other players agree and cite his great defense as another factor in his game.

In contrast Nate McLouth has become less than a fan favorite among Braves fans. While his .238 batting average this season has been a huge improvement over last season’s .190, fans are less than thrilled with his ability to hit in the clutch and his tendency to not coming up firing when a ball is hit his way in the field. While I have noticed that McLouth has seemed to have more fun this season, there are still sometimes when I see him and it seems like he would rather be anywhere else.

When Nate does come back there may be a chance for an outfield that consists of both him and Schafer. That is until Martin Prado and/or Jason Heyward return. Then, there will have to be an odd man out and I can assure you that it won’t be Prado or Heyward.

How About Something Positive?

I have an admission to make: I have become a huge twitter junkie (@jakesbravesblog). I have found a close knit group of people who share my love with Braves baseball. Even though I have only met a few of them face to face I feel that I know them personally. To be honest though, getting on twitter lately has been somewhat depressing. People are taking sides in the Chipper-Heyward debate. David O’Brien tweets daily reminders on how bad Uggla has been. Others choose to complain about attendance.

I know what some of you are thinking: “What have the Braves done lately for us to be positive about?” Well I’m glad you asked. Below are three things positive going on with the Braves right now designed to help you relax and step back from the ledge.

Pitching: Remember when some experts predicted the Phillies to have the best pitching staff of all time? Well, we’re in June and they don’t even have the best pitching staff in their division. It truly is unbelievable to think that even with the career season Cole Hamels is having that his 2.83 ERA is higher than two other Braves starters. What Jair Jurrjens has done this year in Atlanta is nothing short of spectacular. His 1.75 ERA trails only Josh Johnson for best in the majors and right handed batters are hitting .215 against JJ. Hanson has certainly found his groove allowing no more than two earned runs in his last three starts. Hudson and Lowe have both been inconsistent, but have shown flashes of brilliance at times this season. Hudson had a one-hitter against the Brewers, and Lowe had a near no-no against the Phillies. But the rotation is only part of the story. My favorite part of this season has been watching Jonny Venters pitch. The guy has been nothing short of phenomenal! I could go all day into his numbers, but here’s some of my favorites: a minuscule .049 ERA including  ZERO ERA at home. He’s allowed just 17 hits in 36.2 IP. Long story short: Everyday Jonny is filthy! I didn’t particular love watching the Braves win with only two hits last night, but a win is a win. The pitching staff has kept this team in games this season and that’s something to be happy about.

Brian McCann: Mac has had a normal Brian McCann season this first half. You know, he’s hitting .302 and driving in runs left and right. Same ol same ol. I think Brian has been so good for so long that we get used to how good he is and don’t appreciate it enough. Brian is finally getting the recognition he deserves as it looks as though he’ll finally get to start this year’s All-Star Game.

Three Games Back: Would I rather be up three games in the East? Of course! However, when you consider what this team has been through this season it feels good to know that we’re still in the hunt. Put it this way: had I told you before the season began that on June 8 Uggla would be well under the mendoza line, Heyward would’ve spent the last two weeks on the DL and Lowe would have an ERA over four. You probably would’ve predicted that there would be more than three games between the mighty Phillies and the Braves. Uggla isn’t going to slump forever, Heyward will come back eventually and this club’s brighter days are still ahead of them.  The Phillies’ offensive woes have proved that they aren’t immune to losing games too.

I hope this helped. I’ve noticed in the blogger community and even in the professional sports writting community that it seems hip to write more negative things, but I don’t mind not being hip. I watch the Braves because I am a fan and I want to see them do well. If I wanted to focus on what this club can’t do I would probably quit watching.

NL East Predictions 2011 Edition

I’ve never been much of the sports prediction person, but last March I was asked to break down the NL East and predict how I thought each club would finish. You can find that entry here . I’m no physic, but I did get every one of those right. So I thought heck why not try again? Once again this is no science. It is just one man’s opinion. You also have to take into account things like trade deadline acquisitions and injuries. Both are things that cannot be predicted.

1. Braves: I know I’m going to catch grief right out of the gate for this one. However, I feel the Braves have the best rounded team in the NL East going into the season. The rotation of Lowe, Hudson, Hanson, Jurrjens, and Beachy is something to be excited about. If one of those guys goes down it is nice to have a guy like Mike Minor in waiting. The bullpen was one of the best in the league last season and will continue to thrive in ’11. The lineup will be a force all season with the addition of Uggla and a Jason Heyward with a full MLB season under his belt. The thing that separates the Braves from other teams in this division is their depth. Frank Wren has done an excellent job of assembling a bench and farm system that can pick up the slack if a starter is slumping or injured. Let’s not forget that the Braves held the first place spot for most of the season. Also, the injures of Chipper, Prado, and Wagner severely hurt this team’s chances in the postseason. Take away one of those injuries and the NLDS could have gone a lot differently. I predict the Braves to have an even better season than ’10 and win somewhere around 95 games.

2. Phillies: The Phillies have far and away the best rotation in the division right now. Putting Cole Hamels up against everyone else’s number four sounds really good to Phillie fans. Halladay and Lee can account for 40 wins alone. The bottom line is that the Phillie rotation is really good. The Phillies bullpen has a lot to be desired though. The news that Brad Lidge may miss the entire season doesn’t help. The lineup has HUGE question marks. Utley hasn’t been healthy in awhile. Rollins is coming off one of the worst statistical season of his career. Ibanez isn’t getting any younger. Also, I have to laugh when Phillie fans downplay the loss of Jayson Werth from this lineup. I’m not sold on Ben Fransisco as an everyday right fielder. I don’t think that the Phillies are going to be a lot worse than last season, but I also don’t see them winning 97 games again this season. The rotation will keep them in it all season. I think the Phillies will run away with the wildcard and win around 92 games.

3. Marlins: The Marlins rotation is solid. I predict that the move back to NL will be good for our old friend Javier Vazquez. The Marlins also boast one of the best pitchers in the game in Josh Johnson. The bullpen is decent, but not great. The lineup took a huge hit with the trade of Uggla. Infante was a good piece for Atlanta last season, but he has nowhere near the power that Uggla provides. The lineup is still pretty solid with Hanley Ramirez, Chris Coghlan, and Mike Stanton. This team is not short on young talent. Overall the Marlins are pretty well equipped team. The problem is that they’re just not as good as the Braves and Phillies. I think the Marlins will have a decent season and win around 86 games.

4. Nationals: This will finally be the season the Nationals will climb their way out of the NL East cellar. The rotation will not be one of their strong suits though. Zimmerman is a good young talent, but they basically have no depth in the starting pitching department. The bullpen isn’t much better. They’re depending on Drew Storen as their closer, and that’s something I’m not sure he can handle. The shining part of this team in ’11 will be the lineup. This lineup was given a huge upgrade with additions of Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche. I still believe they over payed heavily for Werth. However, I think that Adam LaRoche is one of the most underrated players in the league right now. All he does is hit 25 bombs and drive in 100 runs every year. Werth, LaRoche, and Ryan Zimmerman are all pieces that most teams would love to have. I think the Nationals will be better than last season and win around 73 games.

5. Mets: What can I say about the Mets that hasn’t already been said this offseason? This franchise is in complete disarray at this point. The Madoff scheme dried up the money fountain and left the Mets will a bunch of old overpaid ball players. The rotation is in a world of hurt. Santana has been hurt and will be sidelined for most of the season. Dickey and Pelfrey had a good seasons last year, but neither are aces who you can build a rotation around. The bullpen isn’t terrible, but it’s not great either. K-Rod has been involved with legal trouble. You have to believe that it will affect his on field performance. The lineup on paper looks decent. Ike Davis turned out to be the real deal last season. David Wright is always going to put up big numbers every season. But injuries have plagued Beltran, Reyes, and Bay. I just don’t see the Mets making any kind of noise in this division. I predict them to stay under .500 most of the season and win about 70 games.

3 Cheers and 3 Jeers for Offseason Activity

It has been a busy offseason for Major League Baseball this year. I’ve been taking some time off from this blog recently and since my last post there has been a lot a things going on. So here are my three cheers to the stories that I think deserve them and three jeers for the stories that deserved to be pooped on.

Cheers to Frank Wren: Did you really think I would pick anyone else to open up this section? Wren’s goal this offseason was to add a power bat and to solidify the bullpen. He’s done both and did so without breaking the farm system or the bank. The Uggla for Infante and Dunn trade was a bigger act of theft than Cam Newton’s heisman trophy. Yeah that’s right, as a Gamecock fan I’m still a little bitter. But back to the Braves. Wren also did an excellent job bringing back Hinske and getting Linebrink and Sherrill as voices of experience for guys like Kimbrel and Venters. Here’s to you Frankie!

Cheers to Cliff Lee: Yeah I know I’m a Braves fan and I’m supposed to hate all things Philly, but I got to tip my cap to the Phillies and Lee. They have assembled an elite rotation and while it still isn’t better than the one the Braves had in the nineties, it is awful close. I’m giving Lee cheers because he turned down a higher offer from the Yankees and chose a place that him a his family felt comfortable being. So cheers to you Cliff Lee because the next taste you experience will the be taste of defeat when Uggla takes you deep. 

Cheers to the Red Sox: The Red Sox have had a heck of an offseason. They started it off with a bang by signing Carl Crawford, then just days later officially trading for Adrian Gonzalez. They also added solid pieces to their bullpen by signing Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler. It all adds up to a hard time for the Yankees, which always makes me feel warm and cozy. Here’s to you Red Sox Nation!

Jeers to the Nationals: Can someone tell me exactly what was going through the Nationals’ front office staff’s heads when they decided that it would be a good idea to sign Jayson Werth to a $126 million, seven-year deal? The Nationals will be paying a guy who has never hit .300 when he is THIRTY-EIGHT years old. Let’s not forget that Werth’s power has always been while in the little league field known as Citizen’s Bank Park. If that weren’t enough, they traded Josh Willingham away and re-sign Chien-Ming Wang. Spend money on player development and scouting? Heck no! Let’s pay Jayson Werth until he’s 40! Good call Nationals!

Jeers to Barry Stanton: You might be asking yourself: “Who the heck is Barry Stanton?” He’s the news editor for ESPN and he is also the moron who did NOT vote for Bert Blyleven, Roberto Alomar, or Barry Larkin for the Hall of Fame. He instead felt that Tino Martinez, Don Mattingly, and wait for it…B.J. Surhoff were more qualified! It’s guys like you Mr. Stanton who make a mockery of the H.O.F. You obviously aren’t taking this awesome privilege seriously. Jeers to you ****** bag!

Jeers to the Rangers: I really hate to do this because the Rangers is an organization that I have admired for several years now. I love the new-old approach that Nolan Ryan has taken to their pitching staff. Yet, I have to give jeers to the Rangers for the signing of Adrian Beltre. I’m jeering you because Beltre isn’t worth the $96 million, six-year contract (he’s not by the way). No, I’m jeering you because you are asking the face of your franchise to change positions for the second time in two years. Michael Young has already done so much for the Rangers over his time there and again they’re pushing him aside for someone younger. Most guys would be angry, but not Michael Young. He told the Rangers he would be happy to move to DH or “Super Utility” if they wanted to sign Beltre. That in itself makes this even more sad. Young is a team player who is letting his legacy and H.O.F. credentials take a hit to benefit the team. That a way to take advantage of a good guy Rangers! Jeers to you!

So Much to Talk About

The Bobby Cox era is complete and the Braves are heading home after four LONG games in the NLDS, but that’s not all that needs to be talked about right now with Braves baseball. Here are some of the other story lines that I think are important going into the ’11 season.

Welcome back Fredi: So the fact that Fredi Gonzalez was named new manager of the Braves on Wednesday wasn’t exactly a surprise. As a matter of fact if you’re a loyal reader of Bowman’s Blog like myself you would have known on July 2nd that this would be a huge possibility by reading this post. With all that being said let me say that I love the hiring of Fredi Gonzalez in Atlanta. He is a Bobby Cox-like manager and there is no doubt in my mind that he will do well again in a Braves uniform.

Broken record:
This will be my third offseason covering the Braves and it seems like the objective for the next season has remained the same: add a power bat. I get a little frustrated when I read articles like this one from Braves.com. In the article it talks about how money will once again get in the way of the Braves signing a top outfielder. I can’t blame Wren for signing within his budget, but I do blame Braves ownership for not putting more money into this team. So, that puts us in the hunt for second tier free agents. In the coming months of the offseason I will go through potentially affordable free agents for the Braves and who I think they should go after.

Saving it for Chipper?: Adam over at The Truth About the Phillies talked me into addressing this one. I can’t help but notice that the Braves are taking their time announcing who the new hitting coach will be. And I know Chipper has stated in several interviews that he is working to come back next season, but am I the only one who thinks that he would be a perfect fit as Braves hitting coach? Terry Pendleton caught a lot of crap from Braves fans over the years. In some cases I think that it is unfair to blame all of the Braves offensive offense on Pendleton (see above). However, it was a little frustrating that when guys were slumping they always credited other people for getting them out of that slump. One of the people that was credited the most was Chipper Jones. He even said himself that during the playoffs he really got a chance to see what it’s like to be a coach and he liked that. When guys are coming to you for hitting advise, than you are a hitting coach. You might as well have to title!

Rays-Rangers: What We Can Learn

As we Braves fans sit patiently waiting for the playoffs to start for our club, the Tampa Bay Rays already find themselves one loss away from elimination. I’ll be honest with you when I say that all this baseball watching I have done in the past two days has gotten me both nervous and excited about our boys taking the field tonight.

I can’t decide to be encouraged or let down by the example of the Rays-Rangers series. The series has on one hand really shown how you cannot predict what will happen in the postseason. I mean if you predicted that the team with the AL’s best record would find themselves in a 0-2 hole at home then more power to you. So, in that case us Braves fans (being the somewhat underdog Wildcarders) can be encouraged by how the Rangers have put away all the talk and got down to business.

On the other hand this series can show how short this short series can truly be. Like I stated before, the Braves and Giants haven’t even thrown a pitch yet. But Rays fans feel like their season is over.To me it would seem like such a shame to make it this far on what has been such a historic season for Atlanta only to be swept out of the NLDS.

No matter how you look at it I think one thing is clear: we’re all ready for baseball. So whether this NLDS series is encouraging or a warning for the Braves, I say “Let’s go get em boys”. Let playoff baseball for the Braves begin! 

A Farewell to the Player’s Manager

bobby.jpg

As the
Braves try to nail down a playoff spot via the NL Wildcard, equally
important is the last regular season series managed by one of the best
managers the game has ever seen. At 3:30 today you can catch Bobby’s
farewell ceremony on Fox Sports South.
You can believe there
will be plenty of former players showing some emotion during that
ceremony. So as we finish these last two games of the regular season I
wanted to go through some of the reasons Bobby Cox is such a good
manager.

He loves to win: Cox’s 2503 wins is good enough for fourth on the list of MLB all-time managers. His .556 win percentage ranks 14th with all managers with at least 1000 games managed. He won Manager of the Year four times throughout his career and has been to the playoffs a record 15 (hopefully 16 after today) times.

He loves the game: Cox spent eight seasons in the minor leagues before getting called up to the majors. Although he had two bad knees he played his heart out as the third baseman for the Yankees. As a manager he still wears spikes. It has been reported that he arrives to the park at 5:30 am during spring training and 10 am for a regular season night game.

He loves his players: Cox’s record that is most promoted by the media is his ejection record. He’s been thrown out 158 times. He is the only person (player or manager) to be ejected from two World Series games. He has been known to go to any lengths to protect a player from being ejected. This was most evident during his 31st ejection. Cox was managing the Blue Jays at the time. His second baseman Damaso Garcia got into an argument with the umpire during a RAIN DELAY, and Cox once again came to the rescue of his player and was ejected with the tarp on the field. The ejections aren’t the only evidence that he is a player’s manager. Throughout the games you can hear Bobby cheering on his players almost like a little league coach. He has also been voted on by MLB players as the manager they would most like to play for. In that poll Bobby received 25% of the votes.
 
So as we the fans watch these last two regular season games and hopefully more postseason games let’s take a few minutes to admire the man that put Atlanta professional sports on the map. Thanks Bobby!

*I wanted to give Curtis Compton at the Atlanta Journal Constitution credit for the photo on this entry. 

Life is Changing for Me and My Braves

Abby Braves2.jpg
Before I say anything about the potential implosion by the Braves here at the end of the season I first need to update you guys on why you haven’t heard from me in awhile. Pictured to the left is one of the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. Her name is Abby she is the first born to my wife Kristy and me. She has been a Braves fan since birth and she has made me a very happy man. I can’t say that I have done a lot right in my life, but Abby is definitely one of them. Abby, Daddy loves you like mad crazy!
Okay, now on to baseball. Who would have guessed at the first of this month when the Braves were three games up on the Phillies that by this point in the season they would be all but mathematically eliminated from division play? It truly has been a very disappointing three weeks. Still, as we approach the last homestand of the season I can’t help but feel a little optimistic about the chances of a Wild Card berth. The Braves still own one of the best home records in baseball, and the Giants and Padres are both locked in battles with tough teams down the stretch. I know the Braves will see the Phillies the last three games of the season, but I have to think that the Phillies will have already clinched the East by that point. The reason that will be important is because I think Charlie Manuel will restructure his rotation to give at least one Roy the series off to get ready for the postseason. So, Braves fans: take your finger off the panic button. Postseason play is still in play for the Bravos.  

A Braves Rookie of the Year Candidate not Named Heyward

We’re into August and the Braves find themselves holding
on to a thin lead in the NL East. As of today the Braves have a two and a half
game lead over the Phillies. This is rather disturbing considering the
lead was at seven last month.

But that’s not what
this blog entry is about. Today I want to discuss one of the most phenomenal rookies that most people outside of the Braves fanbase has
barely heard of. I’m talking of course about Jonny Venters. Venters has
been nothing short of excellent this year in the Braves bullpen. On July 30th when Joey Votto hit a game-tying homer off Venters in the eighth
it was the first big fly Jonny has given up all season. That’s pretty
impressive for a guy who barely made the roster out of spring training.

The
numbers confirm Jonny’s dominance among rookie pitchers this season. He
has the best ERA and WHIP of all NL rookies with at least 50 IP (yes
even better than Strasburg). His 65 strikeouts rank seventh among NL
rookies. He also leads the league in holds by a rookie. No matter which way you look at it Venters has been nothing short of phenomenal.

Derrek Lee Reaction: I promised you guys today on my twitter account that I would react to today’s trade of Derrek Lee. I’ve noticed a lot in the blog community that when a transaction goes down many people try to claim that they were either in favor or not favor of the transaction “from the beginning” based on how the player does. Most of the time bloggers have no evidence of how they really felt about the trade, but they still boast that they were right all alone.

To prevent that from happening here, I want to go ahead and tell you exactly how I feel about this trade before Lee even plays one game for the Braves. In four words: I love this trade! Lee is a great clubhouse guy who is more than capable of going long on occasion. There has been some concern about his back, but it can’t be any worse than Glaus’s knees. This is a high-gain, low-risk trade in my opinion. Lee’s production will certainly be better than Troy’s and the prospects the Braves gave up were not top prospects. So there you have it! If Lee ends up being a bust in Atlanta then I will eat crow, but at least I put it in writing.

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