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Tag:Jason Heyward
Posted on: October 13, 2010 3:40 pm
 

Ready, Fredi? Braves make Gonzalez official

Fredi Gonzalez is smart, he's coached under Bobby Cox, the Braves love him (front office and players alike) and he's got a veteran manager's pedigree.

There's only one thing not working in his favor, and it will be no small obstacle for Gonzalez to overcome: That old maxim, you never want to be the man who follows The Man.

Following Cox in Atlanta? It will be like following John Wooden at UCLA (poor Gene Bartow), Don Shula with the Miami Dolphins (Jimmy Johnson couldn't replicate the success), Tommy Lasorda with the Dodgers (hello Bill Russell, sacrificial lamb).

Not only did Cox guide the Braves to those 14 consecutive NL East titles (discounting the strike-shortened 1994 season) and the 1995 World Series title, but his greater legacy while moving to fourth on the all-time managerial wins list might be this: You never heard any player who passed through the Braves clubhouse over the years utter a negative word about Cox. None. Ever.

What a testament to Cox in the immediate aftermath of Game 4 of the NL Division Series: The Turner Field crowd giving him a prolonged standing ovation, and the San Francisco Giants hitting the "pause" button on their on-field celebration long enough to stop, face the Braves dugout and give Cox a standing ovation of their own. What a show of spontaneity and class.

Into this Grand Canyon-sized opening steps Gonzalez, who was unceremoniously dumped by the Marlins last summer when owner Jeffrey Loria's lust for Bobby Valentine apparently got the best of him.

Gonzalez was the Braves' third-base coach from 2003-2006 and, before that, in 2002, he managed their Triple-A Richmond club.

This is a man with intimate knowledge of the Braves' system -- the players, the way they do things, the culture. Even after leaving to manage the Marlins in 2007, Gonzalez lived in the Atlanta area in the winters and several times a week would meet Cox and other Braves coaches for breakfast.

So, the transition from Cox and Gonzalez should be seamless. Part of that will be because the Braves, as you would expect, handled the entire transition with class. From Cox's retirement to refusing to discuss Gonzalez until after one last, final Cox news conference on Wednesday, the Braves hit all the right notes.

Now, it's up to Gonzalez. We don't know whether Chipper Jones will make it back next year from his knee injury, but we do know the cupboard is fairly well stocked for the new manager, from pitchers Tim Hudson, Derek Lowe and Tommy Hanson to everyday players such as Martin Prado, Jason Heyward and Brian McCann.

In Atlanta, the prima donnas are at a minimum. Presumably, Gonzalez will not have a petulant Hanley Ramirez problem on his hands. And if he does, we know how he'll respond: In one of his finest moments as Marlins manager, he benched Ramirez when the shortstop resorted to dogging it.

In two of Gonzalez's three full seasons in Florida -- 2008 and 2009 -- he got more out of the Marlins than they had a right to expect. He'll have more resources in Atlanta -- bigger payroll, more tradition and established veteran players.

Replacing Cox will be no easy task, but in so many ways, Gonzalez is inheriting an ideal situation. Let's see what the man can do.

Posted on: April 5, 2010 5:13 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2010 7:30 pm
 

The legend of Jason Heyward. ...

... started immediately on Monday in his first major-league at-bat when he ripped a three-run, first-inning homer over the right-field fence to send Atlanta's Turner Field into a frenzy.

Or, wait.

Did it start when he received the ceremonial first-pitch before Monday's game from Hall of Famer Hank Aaron?

Or, wait.

Did it start this spring, when he drilled a distant Coke truck and smashed the sunroof of assistant general manager Bruce Manno's car during one round of batting practice?

Don't look now, but it may be time to start scripting The Natural II.

"I'm not trying to do anything other than get ready for the season," Heyward, 20, told me this spring as the buzz around him grew. "I've been trying to win a job ever since I've been in the organization."

That would be all of, oh, one full professional season.

Heyward's was the most anticipated rookie debut of 2010 -- at least, until Washington recalls pitcher Stephen Strasburg -- and all he did was jack expectations even higher, if that's even possible. The Braves measured the homer at a monstrous 446 feet.

After the Aaron moment, and after outfielder Marlon Byrd had staked the Cubs to an early 3-0 lead, the kid stepped to the plate with the score 3-3 amid chants of "Let's Go, Hey-ward!" His parents, Dartmouth College graduates, were in the crowd -- on television, the Braves broadcasters said that Heyward told them he was leaving tickets for about 50 people today.

The pitch Heyward crushed wasn't a bad pitch. Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano left it over the plate, but it was down toward Heyward's knees. It wasn't like Zambrano left it up. Didn't matter, the 20-year-old phenom crushed it. Paul Sullivan, long-time Cubs beat writer for the Chicago Tribune, tweeted that Turner Field was louder than he's ever heard it as Heyward's ball went out.

Had Heyward not signed with the Braves after they made him their first-round pick (14th overall) in the 2007 draft, he would be a junior at UCLA today.

Instead, he's climbing the charts with a bullet.

Scouts this spring already were comparing him to Dave Parker and Darryl Strawberry. One former manager who knows both Parker and Strawberry told me that Heyward is far more mature at his age than Parker or Strawberry were at 20 -- another indication of impending greatness for Heyward.

"If you put in the hard work, it's reflected in the results on the field, in how everybody sees you and in you as a person," Heyward, who went 2 for 5 with four RBIs in his debut, a 16-5 Atlanta win, told me this spring. "It pays off."

One major-league at-bat in, it already is.

Posted on: April 5, 2010 12:24 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2010 4:09 pm
 

Opening Day: Ceremonial first blog pitch

Welcome to the last day of the best sports weekend of the year: Opening Day, and Final Four weekend. And yes, we count the Monday of the NCAA championship game and 13 baseball openers as part of the weekend.

If you haven't called in sick today, I have just one question: What's wrong with you?

While we count down to the Butler game (yes, it's the Butler game, not the Duke game, and I'll get to them in a separate blog in a little while), colleague Danny Knobler and I will be blogging throughout the day, sending quick hits regarding today's 13 openers. So check back often.

A couple of quick opening thoughts heading in:

-- Coolest moment: President Obama set to throw out the first pitch before today's Philadelphia-Washington game in D.C. I don't care whether you're Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian or a leftover reguee from the Whig party. You don't see presidents dropping the first puck, making the first handoff or tossing up the first jump ball. Just one more reason why baseball remains the best and most important sport going.

-- Best pitching matchup: Tough to beat the Detroit-Kansas City game at 4 EDT, when Tigers ace Justin Verlander goes against AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke.

-- Most interesting home debut: Let's see what kind of ovation Atlanta right-fielder Jason Heyward gets when the Braves open against the Cubs this afternoon. I'm guessing it will range somewhere from raucous to exceptionally raucous.

-- Most interesting road debut: OK, so we never notice hitting coaches unless one of our favorite players delves into a slump. But when the Cardinals open in Cincinnati today, and they introduce the teams pre-game, let's just see what kind of reaction St. Louis hitting coach Mark McGwire gets as things begin again for real for him.

-- We're still unwrapping the season and: The Red Sox and Yankees already checked in with their first sub-4 hour game! They played Sunday night's opener in 3:46. Now the raging question becomes, can they do it again?

-- Opening day boos to: The Angels and the A's. Two things I know about Opening Day: It should always be a day game, and clubs should never schedule it opposite the NCAA title game. What, you think your fans don't want to watch the basketball championship? Why not just schedule an afternoon game?

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"The Cubs made me a criminal
"Sent me down a wayward path
"They stole my youth from me
"That's the truth
"I'd forsake my teachers
"To go sit in the bleachers
"In flagarant truancy
"And then one thing led to another
"I discovered alcohol, gambling and dope
"Football, hockey, lacrosse, tennis
"What did you expect?
"When you raise a young boy's hopes
"And then just crush 'em
"Like so many paper beer cups
"Year after year after year"

-- Steve Goodman, A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request

Posted on: February 25, 2010 2:22 pm
Edited on: February 25, 2010 2:23 pm
 

Braves only hope to contain Heyward (and cars)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- OK, the legend of Atlanta phenom Jason Heyward is growing to crazy -- and wildly fun -- proportions.

The latest?

"I think we're going to put up some nets over the cars in the parking lot," Braves manager Bobby Cox said following Wednesday's workout. "I'm serious. He's smashing too many.

"He's hitting them off of fenders, bumpers. He hit 'em over the cars today."

Heyward drilled a Coke truck the other day with a liner over the right-field fence. That's the area in which the Braves park their cars as well, and the Coke hit wasn't even close to the most damaging. Heyward also sent a screamer over the fence the other day that smashed the sunroof in the car of Bruce Manno, Atlanta's assistant general manager.

"Cost $3,400 to fix it," Cox said. "It also bent the sunroof frame. We thought it was going to be around $900."

The frame, though, jacked up that bill. And the deductible on the Braves' company car was $2,500.

Oops.

Cox joked that the club should fine Heyward. But in truth, the Braves could not be more thrilled with what they're seeing from their top-round pick in 2007. Heyward, 20, probably is the best position-player prospect in the game and has a very good chance at cracking the Braves' opening-day lineup.

"You know when he's taking batting practice," Cox said.

You sure do. The buzz is electric.

Sunblock Day: Yes, but also a jacket day. The car temp read 42 degrees at 7:30 this morning and the wind chill was in the 30s. Cox wore a jacket during the entire workout. And it's supposed to get worse Friday.

Likes: Braves starter Tim Hudson, back from Tommy John ligament transfer surgery two Augusts ago, says this is the best his arm has felt in eight years. "I feel like I'm 24 again," Hudson says. Catcher Brian McCann says Hudson has impressive bite again on his two-seam fastball. ... Bobby Cox changing uniform pants four times before Wednesday's workout had even begun. The Braves had a lot going on -- yearbook photos, in-house television stuff -- that resulted in different uniforms. Cox ambled onto the field for the workout wearing white pants while the other 50, 60 players and coaches were wearing gray. So after starting with white, changing to gray for photos and then going back to white, he went back inside to change to gray. More costume changes than Cameron Diaz for the decorated skipper. ... Ozzie Guillen on Twitter might be the greatest thing of the spring. Tweet of the day from Ozzie (at least, in my book): "I love what I'm doing now. Followers, don't worry. I will be here for all of you."

Dislikes: Don't get me started on Avatar. Yes, the special effects were groovy. But I cannot begin to tell you how much I absolutely hated the movie. You watch the special effects for 15 minutes, then you've still got two and a half hours to go. Pedestrian plot, way more violent than I thought and the "battle" scenes were endless. Ugh.

Rock 'N' Roll Lyric of the Day:

"Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train
"And I'm feeling nearly as faded as my jeans
"Bobby thumbed a diesel down just before it rained
"It rode us all the way to New Orleans
"I pulled my harpoon out of my dirty red bandanna
"I was playing soft while Bobby sang the blues
"Windshield wipers slapping time, I was holding Bobby's hand in mine
"We sang every song that driver knew"

-- Janis Joplin (Kris Kristofferson), Me and Bobby McGee

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com