It was a little more than a decade ago when we watched “The Baby Braves,” a group of young men who came up and kept the Atlanta Braves’ streak of division titles alive for one more season.
Five of those players were from the state of Georgia — Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur, Macay McBride, Kyle Davies and Blaine Boyer. It was the result of the Braves focusing on players from their own backyard in the draft.
The belief was players who have grown up watching the Braves on TV and going to the games would have even more desire to make the team great. It’s like a dream come true, for a kid who has worn a Braves jersey since an early age to wear the uniform once they arrive in the major leagues.
This season will see something similar, as four projected members of the Braves’ starting lineup are from the Atlanta area.
Catcher Tyler Flowers was born in Roswell, second baseman Brandon Phillips grew up in Stone Mountain, shortstop Dansby Swanson was born in Kennesaw and grew up in Marietta, and right fielder Nick Markakis went to Woodstock and then attended Young Harris College.
Will it matter for half the lineup to be boys from Atlanta? It might not decide whether the Braves get to the playoffs or not, but you’ve got to admit, it’s kind of cool.
“It’s neat. I think it’s somewhat of a testament to show how good Atlanta baseball is and where we grew up playing,” Swanson said earlier this month. “Nowhere else really would you imagine four kids from that area being able to play on the same team for the major league team, but in Atlanta it seems like things like that are always possible.”
“I’m happy to be here, happy to have the ‘A’ on my hat,” Phillips said. “Being from Stone Mountain, Georgia, there’s no better feeling than to come here and represent my home team and wear the same jersey that I’ve been watching all my favorite players growing up.”
Phillips played 11 years in Cincinnati, but after being traded right before spring training to his hometown team, he has been smiling for the last month knowing he’ll wear the Braves jersey.
“I’ve always wanted to do that growing up,” Phillips said. “I always had a thought in my mind that it would happen. It’s a blessing to be able to put on this jersey. I’m just happy to wear this jersey.”
Phillips couldn’t stop saying that. I guess if we had the same chance, we’d say the same thing. These players seem fully aware they are doing what kids in the state of Georgia only dream about.
“There is that pride,” Flowers said. “Growing up a Braves fan, it was on TV everywhere, every night. The new stadium is going to be awesome. The state, the city, everybody is going to enjoy it. I think our crowds will be able to enjoy it a bit more. It provides a little more energy for you. It’s exciting for me, and I know it’s exciting for those guys, too.”
Again, having four players from Georgia doesn’t guarantee anything. If there are eight players who are all from California, as long as they win, the fans wouldn’t care. But for those who grew up in this state loving this team, watching others live out that same dream is pretty special.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.