A few weeks ago we suggested the Atlanta Braves hand out name tags you may get at a class reunion. You know, the ones that tell you who people are, even though they might no longer look the way they did in high school?
That’s exactly what happened Saturday when the Braves’ players arrived in the clubhouse. Closer Craig Kimbrel sprung for a bunch of T-Shirts that had an appropriate message on the front: “Hello, my name is ...”
It is necessary. There are always new faces in spring training, but this is ridiculous. Thirty-three of the 67 players in the big league camp are new.
This type of change has never happened for an organization known for stability. It’s almost like an expansion team, with new players coming from all over the place.
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The environment in spring training is entirely different from a year ago. Last spring, the Braves were coming off a 96-win season, but it seemed like the team was going nowhere fast. And that’s exactly what happened, as the Braves finished with a 79-83 record.
Thank goodness it happened. The bad season was the catalyst to make changes. While the record allowed the changes to happen, it wasn’t the full reason the changes were necessary.
The issues with the Braves ran deep. It was a lack of talent, which had many coaches walking around spring training last year asking, “What happened to all the talent we used to have?” It was a lack of positive spirit, which had been sucked out of an organization that was being run by a tyrant.
Frank Wren, the former general manager, wanted things done his way. He had his hand in everything. No longer did a Braves executive trust people to do their jobs. Instead, he wanted to do everybody’s job.
It didn’t work. It made people not trust anyone in the organization. It created an environment that was not conducive to winning. It made people miserable.
This didn’t happen overnight, but the problem was the team was winning. It’s not like the Braves could have fired Wren after winning the division, even though the problems were already in place. The Braves literally had to lose to get him out of there, and many are thankful it happened.
With all the new faces, things are different. People are proud to put the Braves uniform on again. They are glad to be at spring training, and instead of looking around worrying about being second-guessed about anything and everything, they are simply having fun.
Now, there is more talent here. The trades that followed the bad season replenished the farm system, and now there is hope for the future. Last year, the only hope people had was that the season would end quick to end the misery.
Who cares if the young players had to come from other teams. The coaches are just glad they have talent to work with again. There is a hope the young players will develop and whatever this year will bring will only be followed by something much better than what went on last year.
The changes to the environment are palpable. You can see people smiling again. The players on the big league roster may have no clue what type of team they will have, but there is a relief it can’t be as bad as last year, even if the record is worse. Nothing likely will be as bad as last season for the Braves.
People didn’t like that team. No one liked watching the Braves play late last season. Now, after we all learn the new names, we likely will be more interested, as well.
There are five weeks left in spring training, and there is no way how to know what this team will do this season. But if the improved environment is a sign of things to come, the Braves will at least be headed in the right direction.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.