Many of Atlanta’s home openers have proven to be special

There was the first one that featured six future Hall of Famers (Joe Torre included) and left Tony Cloninger feeling dejected after pitching 13 strong innings.   Then there was the one played eight years later when Hank Aaron created one of baseball’s most historical moments with a fourth-inning shot that made him baseball’s true home run king.

There was the one played in 1997, when a young third baseman named Chipper Jones collected the first game-winning RBI  in Turner Field history. Three years later, Andres Galarraga returned from a season lost to cancer and teamed with Andruw Jones to hit decisive back-to-back seventh-inning home runs in a 2-1 Opening Day win over the Rockies at The Ted.

Then of course there was that beautiful, sunny afternoon just two years ago, when Jason Heyward added to his legend by electrifying his hometown crowd with a home run on the first swing of his Major League career.

This accounts for just some of the great moments in the history of Atlanta’s home openers.   Another could be created tonight, when Jones experiences the last home opener in his storied career.

Jones’ first home opener back in 1995 proved both memorable and nearly disastrous courtesy of the collision he shared with Greg Maddux while chasing a pop fly near the mound

Maddux was anything but entertained when he was cleated and violently knocked to the ground by a hard-charging Jones, who was beginning his era as Atlanta’s third baseman.

With his flip-down glasses in his mouth, Jones looked over at Maddux and immediately thought, “I killed the $15 million dollar man.”

“He cussed me for four innings,” Jones said. “Every time I threw the ball back at him, he just dogged me. It taught me a lesson to play the game under control and not try to do too much.”

Seventeen years later, Jones enters the final season of his career destined to savor the same Hall of Fame enshrinement that awaits Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and their former manager Bobby Cox.

Cox will be in attendance tonight, 34 years after making his debut as a Major League manager.  So too will the Hall of Fame pitchers — Don Sutton and Phil Niekro  — who opposed each other when the beginning of that legendary managerial career began during the 1978 Opening Day game at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

They say you can see something pretty special during a home opener without knowing it was special at the time.  Just trying to make Yogi Berra proud.

Instead of aiming to do something special, Jair Jurrjens should simply attempt to do something that provides the Braves some confidence they will be able to rely on him over the next few weeks and months.  The concerns he created during his first four Grapefruit League games were slightly minimized when he ended the exhibition season with two strong efforts against a couple less-than-imposing Astros split-squad lineups.

But Jurrjens was less than impressive while lasting just 4 1/3 innings against the Mets during last weekend’s season debut.  He needed 42 pitches to record his final four outs and according to Brooks Baseball, the average velocity of his fastball was below 88 mph.  The 26-year-old vet thought the chilly conditions prevented him from getting a good feel for his secondary pitches.

In fairness, Mets starter R.A. Dickey also said he found difficulty getting a consistent feel for his knuckleball that afternoon.  But regardless the Braves need Jurrjens to start proving that he will not forever be bothered by the bothersome right knee that prevented him from pitching down the stretch both of the past two seasons.

As Spring Training concluded, Jurrjens admitted that his struggles early in the exhibition season were a product of his fear to push off the rubber with normal aggression.  Now, he must prove he truly has overcome those fears.

Jurrjens will be opposed tonight by Randy Wolf, who is 5-12 with a 5.24 ERA in 26 career starts against the Braves.   Jones has batted .377 (20-for-53) with seven doubles and four homers against Wolf.  Other Braves with some success against the veteran southpaw include Brian McCann (5-for-12 with a homer and a double) and Matt Diaz (7-for-19 with seven singles).

It is amazing to think Wolf will be the fifth left-handed pitcher the Braves have seen through the season’s first seven games.  At this rate, they will face 115 left-handed starters this year and Michael Bourn will not have a single hit against any of them.

Bourn has gone hitless with four strikeouts and no walks in his first 15 plate appearances of the season against left-handed pitchers.    It’s far too early to draw any conclusions from this year’s stats.  But this early trend is not too surprising.   The veteran leadoff hitter combined to  bat .254 with a .294 on-base percentage against left-handed pitchers during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Brian McCann (1-for-9 with three strikeouts) and Dan Uggla (1-for-9 with four strikeouts) have also experienced some early trouble against left-handed pitchers.  But Jason Heyward (3-for-9), Martin Prado (3-for-10) and Freddie Freeman (3-for-13) have allowed the Braves to enjoy some success against southpaws.

That will do it for today.  Get down to the stadium early tonight to enjoy all of the pregame festivities.  And if you don’t have a parking pass, take MARTA…It’s Smarta.

 

14 Comments

I believe that Tony Cloninger also hit two HR’s that night.

I was there. I was seven. Joe Torre hit both solo home runs. Cloninger pitched ALL 13 innings to get the loss. Tony did hit grand slams in one game in San Francisco. That must be what you are thinking about.

But I will never forget that opening night for the Braves’ inaugural season, That night I saw the likes of Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Rico Carty, Willlie Stargell, and Roberto Clemente.

I was hooked on baseball from that point forward.

*2 grand slams in one game

How beautiful was Brian McCann’s night? Brewer’s pitcher steps off, BMac get’s pissed and jumps his delivery. he steals a base to go with a $-4 night, so far.

Got to give Eminem(Mike Minor) a lot of credit tonight. He is dealing, i was one of the 1st to criticize QTip’s draft pick, but MM has been brilliant tonight. Hope he can keep it up.

Told you guys I liked Mike Minor this year.

Your prediction beats bill’s anyway. It was only 3 days ago he was saying schafer was the best! His average is already back below Bourns. Didnt take long. I think the Braves will win the division this year.

Geez Zippy, sometimes you really don’t have a clue. It was a joke.

But if you want a stat, coming into tonight. Shafer OBP .405, Bourn .300. Hmmmm.

For God’s sake, can we get rid of Chad Turban, yet?

Bill you just miss D. Lowe who is 2-0 in two starts with a 1.98 ERA in 13 2/3 innings pitched and the rest of the story has given up 15 hits for the opponents batting ave. of 296

ncbravesfan must have finally gotten to Wren. That is the only thing that could explain this chad durbin deal. I sure hope we don’t see much more of him.

Way to open up the homestand Braves!

Honestly, Scott Proctor at least had upside. Linebrink was serviceable. Durbin is just ridiculous. He also looks like he has no care in the world.

Jesse Chavez, Scott Proctor, Scott Linebrink and now Chad Durbin…The Braves apparently need one useless arm in the pen every year.

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