LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Michael Bourn’s arrival to spring training made it seven of eight projected Braves lineup regulars in camp two days before the official reporting day for the team’s position players. Some have been here since last week.
The only one left is rookie shortstop Tyler Pastornicky. But before any more folks get the wrong idea that he’s some kind of straggler, you should know what he’s been doing.
Pastornicky has been in California the past week working out with Jack Wilson, the veteran shortstop he befriended last year when Pastornicky was called up by the injury-plagued big clulb on the final day of the season.
Wilson was re-signed last month by the Braves as a utility infielder and backup to Pastornicky — and a mentor who can show the kid the ropes.
Braves officials were enthused upon hearing that Pastornicky planned to go to Wilson’s home to work out and get tips from the veteran player, who has a regulation-sized infield in the backyard of his home north of Los Angeles.
If Pastornicky and Wilson had known that so many Braves would be arriving so early to camp, I’m guessing they might have planned their week of mentoring a little earlier in the month. But they couldn’t have known without calling around to check with all the Braves, as it’s unusual to have so many report so far in advance of position-player reporting day, which is Friday.
The Braves’ first-full squad workout is Saturday, which also happens to be the first of back-to-back workouts that starts three hours later than usual, at 1 p.m. That’s because the team will be getting its physical exams Saturday and Sunday mornings.
As for the rash of early arrivers, from what I gather talking to players it’s the result of two things: 1. Spring training started nearly a week later than usual this year, and 2. Some players were eager to get to camp and get rid of the last bit of lingering bad taste from September (as you’ve probably heard, the Braves didn’t do so well in September).
“We’ve got a lot of guys with, I think, a chip on their shoulders this year,” second baseman Dan Uggla said. “Some things happened and they took it upon themselves this offseason to prepare themselves for the season, not just for what happened in September but from an individual standpoint — they’re like, ‘I’m not going to let that happen again. I’m going to do my part, and if I don’t get it done then my teammate will get it done.’
“I think everybody’s ready and has a little bit of a chip on their shoulder.”
By mid-February, players’ body clocks were telling them it was time to head south.
“I got the itch about a week ago,” said veteran backup catcher David Ross, who reported nearly a week early. “You usually start your workout stuff at a certain time; I always start hitting and throwing Jan. 1. And this year I even started a couple days earlier; I was bored.
“By the time I get around this time [of February], I’m ready to go. You’re over working out, you want to get here and compete. A lot of guys are anxious to get started.”
It also helps, Ross said, that the Braves clubhouse is filled with guys who get along.
“One thing about this team, everybody on this team likes each other,” he said. “They like hanging out together, doing some stuff off the field. Let’s get here and get some work in, have some fun too before all the craziness starts
Uggla has acknowledged feeling pressure last season to live up to expectations after the Braves traded for him, pressure to show he was worthy of the big contract he was given before ever playing an inning for his new team. He struggled mightily in the first half of the season, before his 33-game hitting streak began July 5.
That specific pressure he felt is gone now, but it doesn’t mean Uggla and other Braves come into the new year feeling carefree. Far from it.
“There’s always pressure,” Uggla said. “This year the pressure is to make sure [what happened in] September doesn’t happen again. We recognize it. You put it right there, minimize it and just go about your business and do your job.”
♣ Uggs and the Pastor: The fireplug second baseman, Uggla, is looking forward to working all spring to get in synch with Pastornicky, Uggla’s new double-play partner.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez plans to have the two of them in the lineup together as much as possible throughout the Grapefruit League schedule, and will have them work out together daily before the spring-training games begin.
“He’s a great kid,” Uggla said of Pastornicky, who hit .314 with a .359 OBP, 27 stolen bases and seven homers in 117 games last season in Double-A and Triple-A. “I got to know him last year in spring. He works hard. He’s ready.
“I bet he wants to the season to start tomorrow, just so he’s not going to have to go through all the stuff leading up to it…. Having a guy like Jack around is going to make him that much better. The only other guy who might be able to pick it a hair better than Jack is Gonzo. To have those kind of guys around just to see how they do things, that’s going to do nothing but help him.
“I’m really glad that we signed Jack back. If we can’t have Gonzo, then Jack’s a good second choice.”
♣ Murph’s music: There was a lot of response to an interview I did with Dale Murphy in January, when the iconic Brave discussed his career, his continued association with the organization – “I’m definitely a Brave,” he said – and his disappointingly Hall of Fame vote totals.
I also keep getting feedback from baseball fans surprised to hear of his keen interest in alternative rock and Americana bands such as Wilco and The Black Keys.
The emails and Tweets come from Murphy fans, many of them at least two or three decades younger than the 55-year-old two-time National League MVP, who are thrilled to learn he likes a lot of the same music that he does. And I have to say, I had the same reaction the first time I hear him talk about digging many of my favorite bands.
So anyway, I talked to Murphy about music after our baseball chat, and the discussion didn’t make it into the interview that ran in the AJC — because of space reasons and ’cause it just wasn’t related to the tone and primary subject matter of that interview.
Initially, I had no plans to run the music stuff we talked about, but given the level of responses from a lot of our Murphy fans who also have a passion for music, I figured I’d throw it in the ol’ blog someday. Today is the day.
DOB: Dale, how’d you get into listening to so many of these current bands? I don’t run into many other former MVPs from the 1980s – or the ‘90s, or the 2000s — who attend Wilco concerts.
Murphy: “Well, it all started with Wilco. It was like a re-discovery of music, and it’s been a lot of fun. I think sometimes 50-plus-year-olds, a lot of us anyway, think that the music of our youth — and it was great music, don’t get me wrong, and it meant something to us at that time of our lives — like it does with all of us during adolescence, young adulthood, figuring out what we’re going to do with out lives, etc. But with MP3s, the Internet, computers, and ‘growing up’ so to speak, getting new music started to be a little intimidating. So we tune in to an oldies station, or a classic rock station.
“Well, to my surprise the new stuff is just as good, and even better, sometimes. And it can mean something to us, with whatever we have going on now in our lives. My kids help me access the music; there is a lot of good stuff out there. It definitely has helped me to have a 30-year-old or younger, to help mentor me through the maze that the Internet/Itunes/MP3s seems like sometimes.
Is your son Jake the one who influenced your musical tastes and got you into some hip current bands? And it did just sort of mushroomed from there?
“My oldest, Chad, got me listening to Wilco. It’s been really fun to explore this new music and move on from America and Bachman-Turner Overdrive drive and stuff. [Laughter] Not that that’s not good music, but there’s so much new stuff that’s so good and interesting. It’s tough to keep up with it all.
“Bands on my iPod now, that wouldn’t be there without my kids help? Wilco, A.A. Bondy, Arcade Fire, The Black Keys, The Civil Wars, The Decemberists, Fleet Foxes, Ray LaMontagne, Kurt Vile, Rogue Wave, Vampire Weekend… and more. And it’s growing all the time!
“It’s been fun, and I think that’s the fun of Twitter – this intersection or cross-section of diverse people and interests, and you connect in ways . In fact, I did a [Online interview] with [Braves pitcher] Peter Moylan, and he was asking me about music I listen to. And he and Chipper [Jones] were wondering who half the bands were that I named…. [Laughter].
If you only knew how many times I wished more current players listened to the bands and artists I love. I always thought it’d be so refreshing to have a player walk up to the plate to the opening chords of a song like The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton,” or Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”
[Laughter] “I’m going to have a contest on Twitter and say the first hitter that walks up to the plate with Wilco or something like that playing, I’m going to get him a prize.”
♣ OK, let’s close this with a tune by one of Murph’s favorite bands, Wilco. You can hear “Via Chicago” from their Summerteeth album by clicking here. Also you can read more about the music side of Murphy in his blog, Murph Listens to What?
“VIA CHICAGO” by Wilco (J. Tweedy)
I dreamed about killing you again last night
And it felt alright to me
Dying on the banks of Embarcadero skies
I sat and watched you bleed
Buried you alive in a fireworks display
Raining down on me
You cold, hot blood ran away from me
To the sea
I painted my name on the back of a leaf
And I watched it float away
The hope I had in a notebook full of white, dry pages
Was all I tried to save
But the wind blew me back via Chicago
In the middle of the night
And all without fight
At the crush of veils and starlight
I know I’ll make it back
One of these days and turn on your TV
To watch a man with a face like mine
Being chased down a busy street
When he gets caught, I wont get up
And I wont go to sleep
I’m coming home, I’m coming home
Where the cups are cracked and hooked
Above the sink
They make me think
Crumbling ladder tears don’t fall
They shine down your shoulders
And crawling is screw faster lash
I blow it with kisses
I rest my head on a pillowy star
And a cracked door moon
That says I havent gone too far
I’m coming home
I’m coming home
Searching for a home
Searching for a home
Searching for a home
I’m coming home
I’m coming home
-- by David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog