Baby Braves ready for World Series run
Youngsters want to return Atlanta to championship form
ATLANTA -- As the Braves were celebrating their lone World Series title in Atlanta a decade ago, several of their key contributors now were rooting them on in elementary and middle school.
Much has been made of the "Baby Braves," the remarkable group of rookies who made their marks by performing at levels way beyond their years. In all, eight of the 25 players on the postseason roster are rookies.
Several of them are from the Atlanta area, or Georgia, and remember vividly that 1995 squad beating the Indians in the World Series. They also watched the franchise make its record-setting run of 14 straight division titles.
In the words of 24-year-old right-hander Blaine Boyer, being a teammate of legendary Brave John Smoltz is "awesome."
"Smoltzy is just my all-time favorite Brave," said Boyer, who is battling shoulder inflammation and is not on the roster for the National League Division Series with the Astros.
The Braves play host to the Astros on Wednesday at Turner Field in the opener of the best-of-five series.
If Atlanta indeed gets by Houston and progresses toward a World Series title, a number of young players will be called upon to help end a three-year string of being bounced from the postseason in the first round.
"We've run into some teams that had played some hot baseball the past few years," said outfielder Jeff Francoeur, a strong Rookie of the Year candidate. "I think we'll be all right this year. We're going in very confident."
Veterans like Chipper Jones are feeding off the youthful energy in the clubhouse.
"Let's go out and have fun," Jones said. "Let's just play the game with the same vigor and enthusiasm that we've had all year, and let's see what happens. We are young. We're not going to play five games of perfect baseball. We're going to make mistakes, as are they. But let's just have fun, go out, gain some experience. Whatever happens, happens. We've got the talent to win the series, regardless of our age."
Jones and Smoltz are the only Braves remaining from the 1995 championship squad.
In elementary school then, Boyer still remembers "everything about" that World Series.
"I remember the atmosphere, the electricity in the air that night," Boyer said. "I remember everything. That's why I'm so disappointed. I have a chance to pitch in the postseason and my arm goes out."
Backup catcher Brian McCann was born in Athens, Ga., but grew up watching the Braves regularly when his family moved to Huntington, W.V., where his father formerly coached the Marshall University baseball team.
What sticks out to McCann was the strong Braves starting pitching with Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.
"They had one of the best teams," the 21-year-old McCann said. "One of the best pitching staffs. They were fun to watch.
"I've watched this for 10 years and always imagined what this would be like. Even after I was drafted, you never imagine what it would be like in the big leagues. Just to be here is more than I can ever ask for."
Not only are the Braves stacked with rookies, they are winning with them. Groomed in a stellar Minor League system, the organization's prospects are schooled and ready to step into any big league situation.
"The big thing is they treat us like we're an important part of the team," Boyer said. "They don't treat us like we're anything less because we are rookies. They just make us feel like we're useful. That's a big thing. Just being able to see the way Smoltzy acts on and off the field speaks volumes of him. He's always here. If you want to go pick his brain, he's always open. Things like that make him a great dude and a great teammate."
McCann, a left-handed hitting catcher, batted .278 in 180 at-bats. He belted five home runs and drove in 23 while compiling a .400 slugging percentage and .345 on-base percentage.
The advice passed along from the veterans to the rookie hitters?
"To just have a game plan when you're hitting," McCann said. "That's a big thing I learned here. In the Minor Leagues, I might go up there and get a hit in my first at-bat, but then you are thinking about something else. Here is so much different. They tell me to have a game plan every time I go up to the plate. I give it all to the coaching staff. The Minor Leagues, their development -- they are very good about teaching.
"That's what they preach in the Minor Leagues -- what they do up here at a bigger level. Instead of getting a game-winning hit in Single A in front of nobody, you are getting the winning hit in front of 50,000 people. That's the only difference."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.