The circle is not yet closed, for who knows how long Jeff Francoeur will last on a Braves roster that is written in sidewalk chalk?
What we have here with the news Tuesday that Francoeur made the Braves opening day 25 is more a very pleasing bend to one uniquely Atlanta story. Back comes the prodigal outfielder, if not to end his career in the same place where it started, then at least to come home for a spell to lend a hit in the pinch and maybe a bit of feel-good to some very chaotic times.
This time, Francoeur will not play the rookie savior, proclaimed as “The Natural” on the newsstand, mythic from high school days at Parkview High all the way to his first major league cuts. All that has been strewn on the roadside, somewhere between being traded away by the Braves in 2009 and re-signed by them to a modest minor league contract in February. In between, there were six other cities where he played and left little pieces of his fabled beginnings.
This go-round, success and failure for Francoeur will not be spelled out in all capital letters. Face it, a clutch hit here, one good throw from the outfield there may well rank as among the shinier moments of a season that promises so very little.
He doesn’t have to rule Turner Field as an everyday sensation in his Braves reincarnation. He can be a ballplayer – and still a very useful one – without having to be a franchise landmark.
In many ways, the second act of Francoeur in Atlanta will be so much easier than the opening one. Speaking to him nine days ago, I found a player who was utterly at ease with his role off the bench and his flesh-and-blood status.
A prediction: He’ll initially thrive with the Braves, perhaps even exceeding expectations that have been recalibrated downward, into the realistic range.
Cynics will ignore his good work this spring and the right-handed power he still possesses and dismiss Tuesday’s news as a Braves ploy to sell tickets. As if that motivation has guided a single move they’ve made in the past year. As if it were unseemly to employ a popular performer.
And, all things being pretty much equal between role players, why not pick up the one that most satisfies the customers and acts as human air freshener in the clubhouse?
I choose to smile at the news that one of the most genial, sincere and unpretentious athletes I’ve ever stumbled across will start the season with the Braves.
No one can know where Francoeur’s baseball journey ends, but we can celebrate the fact that it has doubled back this way again.