On the day the Braves honored baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson by wearing No. 42, they also sent out three African-American outfielders during a time when the percentage of black players in the majors is declining.
Braves right fielder Jason Heyward said he and new additions B.J. Upton and Justin Upton don’t talk much about their relatively unique circumstances, but are aware of the significance.
“We are African-American, (and) we know we are playing in Atlanta, which does give a lot of people the opportunity to be influenced by that,” Heyward said. “It’s a good thing to see because that influence is the only way you are going to get more blacks, more Asians, more anything. So we know if we take care of business and have fun, enjoy the game and not take it for granted we are doing the best we can as far as setting an example for kids behind us.”
According to research by USA Today, the Braves are the first big-league team since the 2001 Twins to have three African-American outfielders in the regular lineup. Major League Baseball said the percentage of players identifying as black or African-American this season is 8.5.
In 1947 Robinson became the first African-American to play in the modern era when he started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig recently announced the creation of a task force to address the “representation and development of diverse players and on-field personnel in Major League Baseball, particularly African-Americans.”
Heyward noted that there are fewer college scholarships available for baseball compared with football and basketball and that it’s a longer path to make it to the top level in baseball — with longer odds of making it at all.
“It’s hard to tell somebody, ‘Hey, go do baseball’ when the odds are a lot slimmer in baseball to make it,” he said. “It’s tough to say what you should do. It’s about influence. You’ve got guys on this team and on other teams trying to do it the right way, and it would be pretty easy for kids to look up to us.”
Freeman takes swings: Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman took swings Tuesday for the first time since he was placed on the disabled list April 7 with a strained right oblique muscle.
Freeman said the oblique “felt fine” while taking 30 swings. He was to be examined by the doctor later Tuesday to come up with a plan for the rest of the week.
Freeman is eligible to come off the disabled list Monday.
“See if it’s sore tomorrow,” he said. “Go at it again tomorrow if it’s feeling all right.”
Freeman suffered the injury during a workout before opening day, but played in five games before the Braves shut him down. He’s hitting 7-for-17 (.412) with a home run and seven RBIs.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Freeman could go to extended spring training “to get some at-bats, get into game speed” before re-joining the lineup.
“It wouldn’t surprise me when if 15 days are up he’s ready to play, or shortly thereafter,” Gonzalez said.
McCann on the mend: Braves catcher Brian McCann is expected to join the club’s extended spring training Wednesday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in preparation for a possible minor-league rehabilitation assignment.
McCann, out since Oct. 16 surgery on his right shoulder, opened the season on the 15-day disabled list. Under major league rules, McCann’s minor-league rehabilitation assignment can last for a maximum of 20 days.
McCann experienced shoulder pain on some swings for much of last season. He eventually had surgery to repair a torn labrum in the back of his throwing shoulder and also secure ligaments back to the socket to stabilize the joint.
More time at first for Gattis: With Braves catcher Gerald Laird set to handle starter Julio Teheran as usual Thursday and Pirates left-hander Jeff Locke on the mound, Gonzalez said he plans to play Evan Gattis at first base again.
Gattis, a 26-year-old rookie catcher, hasn’t played much first base since college, but started there Friday at Washington and committed an error. But he’s off to a hot start at the plate, and Gonzalez is looking for ways to play Gattis on the days he doesn’t catch. First base provides an opening with Freeman on the disabled list.
“It’s hard to take that bat out of the lineup,” Gonzalez said. “I thought he was fine at first base.”
Entering Tuesday night’s game against the Royals, Gattis, who bats right-handed, was hitting .324 with four home runs and 10 RBIs in 34 at-bats. His 1.120 OPS was third behind Freeman (1.121) and Justin Upton (1.306) among Braves regulars.