You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myAJC.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myAJC.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myAJC.com.

Inciarte finally filling Braves’ void left by Andruw Jones


When the Braves’ long run of baseball Octobers sputtered to a halt, it was more than just a case of their starting pitching declining, or investments going belly-up, or the prospect well drying up. Specifically, they never replaced Andruw Jones.

The decision not to re-sign Jones after the 2007 season left a sinkhole in center field. They traded for Mark Kotsay. He didn’t make it through the year. They tried Gregor Blanco and Nate McLouth and Jordan Schafer and Michael Bourn and the creature from the misery lagoon, Melky Cabrera.

Then former general manager Frank Wren tied an anchor to his leg and jumped off a bridge. The anchor’s name was B.J. Upton.

From 2008 through 2015, 23 Braves players started a game in center field. Even if you eliminate those who made only cameo starts, 11 players who started at least 22 games, so help me Josh Anderson.

But it’s safe to take a cleansing breath now. Atlanta’s post-Andruw apocalypse appears over.

Ender Inciarte arrived in 2016. And the angels sang.

Inciarte looked at the list of 23 starting center fielders who were sandwiched between him and Jones, then smiled Tuesday and said, “Well, I hope the Braves get settled with what I’ve been able to do. I enjoy playing for the Braves. I hope I can stay here for a long time.”

This isn’t about whether Inciarte will be as good as Jones. This is about the Braves finally finding answers to two of their long-term issues: starting center fielder and leadoff hitter. He arrived last year in the lopsided Arizona trade for Shelby Miller, along with Dansby Swanson and pitching prospect Aaron Blair. Even if Blair doesn’t develop, the Braves acquired two potential faces of the franchise for the next several seasons.

Inciarte hit .291 and won a Gold Glove in his first season in Atlanta. He had the catch of the year in a win over the New York Mets in September, when he climbed the wall at Citi Field to steal a three-run homer from Yoenis Cespedes.

That catch will be commemorated with an Inciarte bobblehead giveaway in May. The Braves are confident the Inciarte bobbleheads will maintain their value longer than the Upton ones, which have been crushed to fill holes on various Atlanta interstates.

“Steadiness,” Freddie Freeman said when asked what Inciarte brings to the team. “He wants to be out there every single game. He had one hiccup last year in the first week with his hamstring, but other than that he’s a guy you can count on every day. He cares about defense as much as he does offense, if not more. He tries to change the game in every aspect.”

Inciarte, who hit four home runs in a span of four games recently and entered Tuesday’s game against Washington hitting .269, was signed to a five-year, $30.5 million contract in the winter.

“It means a lot that they’ve committed to me,” he said.

Somewhere in heaven, Astolfo Inciarte is smiling. Inciarte’s late father was a pro player in Venezuela and provided the “inspiration for me to play baseball the way I do.”

After a stretch and before every Braves game, Inciarte makes time for a small tribute to his father.

“When I go out there, I say, ‘This one is for you dad,’ and for God,” he said. “He’s the one who told me he didn’t just want to see me play in the big leagues, he wanted to see me play for a long time.”

Inciarte also said his father told him the words that have carried him through his career since he was struggling in the minor leagues.

“I was in the low-A and I was not feeling well, mentally, and I remember I told him, ‘I’m doing everything I can to keep you proud of me,’” Inciarte recalled. “He said, “I don’t care if it’s baseball or whatever. If you’re happy, I’m proud. That’s my only mission for you.’ That’s something I’ve kept in my mind since then.”

He plays with pure joy. It’s as clear to teammates as it is to fans watching him. Freeman marvels as his defense, saying, “He covers so much ground. I don’t know if anyone is ever going to be close to Andruw Jones, but any ball that’s hit to center you feel he could get to it. That’s how I felt with Jason (Heyward) in right. And what he brings to the leadoff spot is something we haven’t had since Michael Bourn. Everybody talks about how we got Dansby in that trade, but Ender has actually changed our team around.”

Every game at SunTrust Park, Inciarte makes his way through the tunnel that leads from the Braves’ clubhouse to the field. Just before reaching the dugout, he passes a Gold Glove trophy and a plaque listing all of the Braves’ past winners of the award. Jones won 10 Gold Gloves, tied with Greg Maddux.

Inciarte just won his first. When he watched games on television growing up in Venezuela, he seemed to lock onto the outfielders. Jones, being from nearby Curacao, “had a huge influence,” on him. “Everyone who watched him play, we felt fortunate. All the stuff he got to do for this team, he’ll always be remembered.”

Inciarte also will be remembered — for being the answer at No. 24.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Atlanta Braves

Braves win with key plays by rookies Swanson, Camargo
Braves win with key plays by rookies Swanson, Camargo

It was like old times on Friday for Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson and third baseman Johan Camargo. The pair played infield for Double-A Mississippi last season and are doing it with the Braves now that Camargo is getting regular playing time. Each made superlative defensive plays to hold off Brewers rallies during the 5-4 Braves victory at SunTrust...
Adams becomes a complication for Braves — in a good way
Adams becomes a complication for Braves — in a good way

If only Matt Adams hadn’t gone on his galoot-free diet and had reported to the Braves looking like he was smuggling grapefruit in his uniform. Were only he the typical left-handed masher that he appears to be at first glance, mindlessly pumping baseballs into the shift and either hitting home runs or taking a seat. Then we wouldn’t be going...
Phillips big early, rookie infielders huge late in Braves’ 5-4 win
Phillips big early, rookie infielders huge late in Braves’ 5-4 win

Hours after unveiling a new Braves T-shirt bearing his likeness and showcasing his Stone Mountain roots and proud ATLien status, veteran Brandon Phillips had a home run and two RBIs to help his squad and pitcher Mike Foltynewicz take a lead on the way to continuing their recent surge in a series-opening win against the Brewers. But it was a pair of...
Braves’ multiple rain delays becoming a bit tiresome
Braves’ multiple rain delays becoming a bit tiresome

The season isn’t even half over, and the Braves already had eight rain delays, the most in the National League, including three in the four-game series against the Giants that ended Thursday at SunTrust Park, where the last two games of the series ended after midnight. And there was a good chance of rain for Friday night’s home series opener...
Freeman cleared to swing bat, could start rehab stint in 7-10 days
Freeman cleared to swing bat, could start rehab stint in 7-10 days

After having his left wrist examined again Friday, Braves slugger Freddie Freeman was cleared to start swinging a bat and hopes to begin a rehab assignment in seven to 10 days, reiterating his intention of playing in a July 6-9 road series against the Nationals leading into All-Star break. That’s three weeks ahead of an original 10-week estimate...
More Stories