We spent the afternoon at The Ballpark (formerly known as Cracker Jack Stadium) at Disney, the Spring Training home of the Atlanta Braves. This year is the 10th anniversary of that beautiful stadium. With a capacity of some 9,500, the stadium is intimate and very fan-friendly. The customer service is outstanding. The weather was warm when the sun was out but comfortable when we had cloud cover, which happened for about a third of the game. I had a foot long hot dog (a note in the program said that since Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex opened in 1997, 300,000 foot long hotdogs have been eaten there and that if they were laid end-to-end they would stretch for 57 miles—I’d like to see that) and a waffle cone. The experience was altogether a good one.
The Braves had a good game, as the score would indicate. This is the next-to-last week of Spring Training, so the players that we saw are for the most part going to be on the major league roster or are considered to be top prospects. Most of the younger or marginal players have already been sent to the minor league camp.
The Braves’ pitching was very sound. Chuck James, who had an 11-4 rookie campaign last season, appears poised enough to avoid the sophomore jinx. He is a left-handed finesse pitcher out of the Tom Glavine mold. He had one rough inning in which he struggled with his control but got out of a bases-loaded jam. After that he settled down and pitched five innings.
The team is banking on having an improved bullpen this year. From what I saw, Braves fans should have high hopes in that area. Bob Wickman, Rafael Soriano (whom they acquired from Seattle for Horacio Ramirez), Mike Gonzalez (whom they get from Pittsburgh in the Adam LaRoche trade), and Chad Paronto each pitched a very effective inning. I had never seen Soriano or Gonzalez pitch in person before; they looked as good as advertised.
There were some hitting highlights as well. Brian McCann had as impressive a one for three day as a hitter can have. In his first two at-bats he hit drives to the left-center and center-field walls that were caught; he displayed impressive opposite-field power. In his third at-bat he hit an RBI triple to the right-center field wall. Scott Thorman, the big Canadian who has the task of replacing LaRoche at first base, hit a home run over the right-center field wall. Non-roster invitee Doug Clark had two hits. Another non-roster invitee, Willie Harris of Cairo, Georgia, had an outstanding day playing centerfield. He made a diving catch and he went one for two with a walk.
The only negative I saw was with the defense. While the Braves were not charged with any errors, both second baseman Kelly Johnson and shortstop Edgar Renteria failed to make a play that looked makeable. On the other hand, Scott Thorman started a smooth first-second-first double play.
All-in-all, it was a very well-played game by the Braves.