Archive for February, 2011

Braves’ Lee Elia knows hitting (and what not to say anymore)

The Braves' Lee Elia knows hitting, but that's not what he is best known for.

The Braves' newest coach, Lee Elia, knows hitting — but that's not what he is best known for.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Lee Elia is telling a story and keeping it clean.

“Pulled the tape out of a drawer about three, four years ago,” he said. “Hadn’t heard it since it happened. Me and my wife sat there and listened to it, about 10 o’clock in the morning over a cup of coffee. We couldn’t stop laughing. Of course, every place I go I get my ass kicked over it.”

He stopped.

“Hey, can you not write that word?”

Through my career I’ve had several interview subjects ask me to “clean up” their quotes for them. This was the first time I ever had someone best known for unleashing, a three-minute, 42-expletive tirade ask me to remove the “a” word from harmless context.

Let’s start with this: Lee Elia knows baseball. He knows hitting. It’s why at the age of 73 and after over 51 years in baseball and time with nine organizations as a coach, manager and …

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Chipper Jones gets hit in return and takes a swing at critics

Chipper Jones had a single in first spring game since his knee injury last August. (AP photo)

Chipper Jones had a single in first spring game since his knee injury last August. (AP photo)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Seventeen years ago this spring, Chipper Jones turned to avoid a tag at first base in an otherwise meaningless exhibition and his knee buckled. He heard a pop. Then he heard a doctor say, “torn ACL.” At 21 years old, he wondered if his career was toast.

“Honestly, I was a lot more scared the first time this happened,” he said Sunday. “I didn’t know anything about the injury. I didn’t know if I could be the same player that I was before.”

Jones’ second attempt to come back from a reconstructed knee began in earnest Sunday. He played in a game for the first time since suffering a torn ACL last August. In an exhibition against the New York Mets, he went one for three (strikeout, single, flyout) as a designated hitter and even broke up a would-be double play at second base — with a cautious and “measured” slide.

“Once the season starts it will …

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Braves camp: Chipper’s return, Uggla’s debut, Cox’s ejection

Chipper Jones chats with hitting coach Larry Parrish before today's game.

Chipper Jones (with coach Larry Parrish) before today's game.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Good morning from camp sunshine, where the Braves play their second game of the spring after Saturday’s 5-5 tie with the New York Mets (and no, they didn’t go to a shootout). Here’s today’s plan:

♦ I’ll be posting a column later on Chipper Jones, who will play his first game (albeit unofficial) since suffering a torn ACL in his left knee Aug. 10. Jones will be the designated hitter and bat third today. I spoke to him this morning and he had some terrific and pointed comments about his comeback from surgery, particularly when I asked him about the fans — and you know who you are — who believe he is only doing this for the money. One thing I’ve always appreciated about Jones is his candor, and this morning’s interview was no exception.

♦ Catcher David Ross is sporting the short-pants, high socks look in batting practice as a tribute to Jones, though he doesn’t know if he’ll do it in the …

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Braves hoping to recreate chemistry from 2010 season

The challenge for new Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is to recreate last season's chemistry. (AP photo)

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez knows what the Braves had last season was rare. (AP photo)

(Updated: 4:45 p.m.)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – If there is one thing we’ve learned in sports, it’s that tangibles don’t always equate to success.

San Francisco didn’t win the World Series last season because it had the best talent, just as the Braves didn’t make it to the postseason because the secret formula of having a nine-game losing streak, losing two No. 3 hitters (Chipper Jones and Martin Prado) and utilizing 109 different lineups came with a 91-win guarantee.

Success is defined by that fragile thing called chemistry. It’s what prevents a nine-game losing streak, losing two No. 3 hitters and 109 lineups from making the lab blow up.

General manager Frank Wren and new manager Fredi Gonzalez have a significant challenge this season. It’s not merely finding a replacement for Billy Wagner, or helping Jordan Schafer relocate his career, or hoping the wander through the desert …

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So what does Braves’ Freeman (3 doubles) do for an encore?

Jason Heyward met expectations last year. Now it's Freddie Freeman's turn. (Jason Getz/AJC)

Jason Heyward met expectations last year. Now it's Freddie Freeman's turn. (Jason Getz/AJC)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Freddie Freeman doubled in his first three spring training at-bats Saturday.

So after a string of first basemen since 1998 — after Fred McGriff left — that includes (but are not limited to) Andres Galarraga,  Ryan Klesko, Rico Brogna, Julio Franco, Robert Fick, Adam LaRoche, Scott Thorman, Mark Teixeira, Casey Kotchman, Troy Glaus and Derrek Lee, is it possible this revolving door finally will stop spinning?

I know. It’s only a spring training game. But Freeman, 21, doesn’t look or act like a kid. Much like Jason Heyward did not look or act like a kid last year

It’s Freeman’s third spring training. The awe factor is gone. He’s coming off an offseason workout program that added 12 pounds of granite to his frame. Two of three doubles — to left, center and right fields – against the New York Mets were screaming line drives, the other was a blooper.

His spring …

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Digi-Blog goes to Braves’ spring training at Disney (no charge)

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Welcome to Braves’ spring training and our first Digi-Blog in a while. If you’ve missed past episodes, we’ve taken you on photo tours of every place from SEC Media Days to  Stillwater, Okla., to camp to Falcons’ training camp to the Masters (Part I: looking for Tiger Woods) and Part II (looking for squirrels).

You can find them all archived here.

Today, I’ll give you a little peak of the Braves at Camp DisneyRip. I’m just so happy that they actually let me in here for free. Most folks they actually charge for the privilege of watching David Ross stretch. OK, let’s begin our tour.

♦♦♦

webare

This sign is not on the Disney property. On a completely unrelated matter, I was late to practice Friday morning.

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DisneySign

OK, finally made it. Disney officials considered taking down the, “Where Dreams Come True” sign a few years ago, but fortunately Mike Hampton’s contract finally ran out.

♦♦♦

DisneyESPNSign

This is the entrance to the Braves’ spring training home at “ESPN’s …

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Georgia loses to Florida — and the NCAA tease continues

Georgia coach Mark Fox calls timeout but couldn't stop another second-half slide.

Georgia coach Mark Fox calls timeout but can't stop another second-half slide. (AP photo)

(UPDATED AT 10 p.m.)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Looking for the one victory that could lead fans to exclaim “We’re in!” and the NCAA tournament committee to place Georgia’s resume on the stack of 68, the Bulldogs instead prolonged the debate and the agony.

The Bulldogs were good enough at times Thursday night to lead 13th-ranked Florida on the road by 11 points. They also were inconsistent and panicky enough to melt down in the second half, go cold, let up on defense and lose.

Does the NCAA give style points for teases?

The Dogs lost to Florida 71-62 at the O’Connell Center. They are now 1-5 this season against ranked teams – the only win coming over Kentucky in January.

There is no shame in losing in Gainesville. But the lead-and-wilt act can wear on even the most optimistic fans. Also, the head coach.

“We’re not the most mature group when it comes to handling success,” Georgia …

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LIVE: Georgia looks to strengthen NCAA bid against Florida

Ladies and gentleman of the Bulldog Nation: Here's the critter you've learned to hate.

Ladies and gentleman of the Bulldog Nation: Here's the critter you've learned to hate.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Hello. This is the week I was scheduled to check in on the Braves at spring training in Orlando, and it just worked out that there was a pretty good college basketball game tonight on the way.

Georgia, which I think will have a strong enough resume to get into the NCAA tournament, nonetheless has a chance to remove some of the doubt tonight when it faces 13th ranked Florida at the O’Connell Center (7 p.m., ESPN2).

This will be a significant test for the Bulldogs, who are coming off a huge 69-63 road victory at Tennessee (whose athletic department before long I believe will officially become an extension of San Quentin. The Volunteers’ football, basketball and baseball programs all have been under NCAA investigation.)

The Dogs (18-8) have shown that they can play with Florida (21-5), having lost to them in double overtime at Stegeman Coliseum last month, when a desperation …

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Harvey Updyke (Auburn tree poisoner) now living in his car

Just guessing this is how Harvey Updyke looks when he wakes up in the morning in his car. (AP photo).

Just guessing that this is how Harvey Updyke looks when he wakes up in the morning in his car. (AP photo)

I’m assuming this will not elicit a lot of sympathy, but the yahoo who allegedly poisoned the Auburn oak trees apparently so concerned for his safety that he’s living in his car. Also, he’s now being defended by an attorney who represented the former Birmingham mayor, who’s now in prison for bribery, fraud and money-laundering.

Is this a movie of the week or what?

According to a friend of Harvey Updyke, who phoned a Birmingham sports talk show that he poisoned the iconic oak trees at Toomers Corner in Auburn, public enemy No. 1 has gone into seclusion and is  living in a car by a creek somewhere in Alabama.

So I guess it follows that if Updyke phones another sportstalk show, his handle of “Al from Dadeville” becomes “Al from Chevy.”

Wayne Barnes, a friend of Updyke’s, told the Birmingham News: “He left [his home] and went to buy a new cell phone, and while he was at the …

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Rod Barnes still waiting for payoff at Georgia State (so are we)

Rod Barnes gives Jihad Ali some instructions during a recent game against Northeastern. (Jason Getz/AJC

Rod Barnes gives Jihad Ali instructions during a game against Northeastern. (Jason Getz/AJC)

While one college basketball program (Georgia) begins to establish a footprint and another (Georgia Tech) merely resembles the gum under the ACC’s shoe, Georgia State is probably somewhere in the middle: Not great obviously but not embarrassing either, because embarrassment requires a certain level of visibility.

How much of this actually is the fault of coach Rod Barnes remains uncertain. He wasn’t handed Valhalla. It’s sort of like asking someone to build a luxury resort on the site of a former nuclear waste facility and then wonder why nobody is booking rooms right away. Bad memories and a green glow dissipate slowly.

Understand, given the high school basketball talent this state produces, there’s no reason why Georgia State shouldn’t compete for conference titles on a regular basis and go to a postseason tournament periodically. If GSU is not going to be Marquette, it …

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