For all the excitement Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees bring to town for Interleague Play, Braves rookie shortstop Andrelton Simmons was just excited for the chance to see his boyhood hero and fellow Curacao native Andruw Jones.
The Braves former Gold Glove center field is now a platoon left fielder and designated hitter for the Yankees. Simmons said he hadn’t seen Jones in person since he was 8 years old and on the Little League team from Curacao that Jones invited to Turner Field as a reward for winning a tournament in 1997.
Simmons watched Jones on TV with the Braves, and idolized him growing up.
“The way he played defense – it was stupid,” Simmons said. “He was one of the best out there. And he could hit a bit.”
Simmons was hopeful he could get a chance to talk to Jones, now 35, at some point during the series.
“He doesn’t know who I am though,” Simmons said, just before the Braves took the field for batting practice.
Shortly after Simmons said that, Jones was asked about him in the visiting clubhouse at Turner Field. He knew who Simmons was, and he knew that Simmons was among the kids from Curacao he met at Turner Field in 1997. And he knew Simmons had been called up to the big leagues recently, after following his progress since spring training.
“I check all the guys that are from Curacao that are in the minor leagues,” Jones said. “If it’s not scouts or Baseball America, I just ask people around. I know he is great defensively. People were talking more about his hitting skills. I think he’s got potential.”
Jones sees a bright future for Simmons, despite the questions about his offense. Simmons has done a little of both in his first nine games in the majors – hitting .241 with his first double, triple and home run, while bolstering the Braves infield defense.
“You always can get better hitting wise,” Jones said. “If you have defense in you, you’ve always got a plus, especially playing shortstop. If you play shortstop and you hit .240, .250 and are a solid defensive shortstop, you’re going to be in the big leagues. (It’s) a matter of if you figure it out and start hitting for high average.”
The Braves and Yankees played three times in spring training but each time either Jones or Simmons was not on the trip. But Jones said he saw Simmons on TV in spring.
“It’s going to be nice to see him play,” said Jones, who said he looked forward to congratulating him and wishing him well. “People in Curacao are really excited for him… for a young player to make it to the big leagues and represent the island.”
Jones and his wife Nicole still make their home in Duluth. This was the first time he’s played at Turner Field since April 18-20 of 2008 when he was with the Dodgers.
“It’s good to come home and sleep in my bed,” Jones said.