DARK STAR, Fla. – As week 2 of spring training gets underway, let’s take a quick look back at the biggest stories of the first week of Braves camp, shall we?
It was an eventful week, with reminders each day of why there is such a positive vibe here in Braves camp and why those in uniform and in the front office feel a lot better about the team’s chances than do most pundits and the Vegas oddmakers who set their over-under of 71.5 games.
I feel safe in saying this is not a 90-loss team, folks. In fact, if they have reasonably good health it’s close to a .500 team, in my opinion. Maybe even a little better if they get a few breaks.
Look at the offense from the second half last year and the 50-47 record in the final 97 games – which came despite having one of the worst rotations in baseball for much of that stretch, with so many starters making exits in the early and middle innings that it put too much stress on a good bullpen that eventually buckled.
Anyway, here’s a quick look at a six-pack of big topics in the opening week of camp, with the links to click for the corresponding stories I wrote.
1. Matt Kemp reported early, and in noticeably better (slimmer) condition but without sacrificing any strength. In fact, quite the opposite – the dude lost weight, but his arms and chest are bigger. And if batting-practice sessions and baserunning drills are any indication, Kemp is poised for big things in 2017. R.A. Dickey is among those not surprised by Kemp’s early showing.
2. Regarding the vibe in the clubhouse, the Braves all insist they aren’t looking just to avoid the NL East cellar; they aim to compete for a postseason berth. Whether that’s realistic or not remains to be seen, but believing it – really believing it – is a big part of the battle. And they believe. The revamped rotation, with three proven veterans joining incumbent All-Star Julio Teheran, is the biggest reason.
3. Former All-Star and four-time Gold Glove second baseman Brandon Phillips was acquired in a trade on the last weekend before spring training, and when the Redan High School graduate reported to camp, his excitement about playing for his hometown team seemed real and made the deal look even better than it already did.
4. The Braves had to make the move for Phillips after learning that Sean Rodriguez was hurt much worse than initially thought in a Jan. 28 car accident. He had shoulder surgery Tuesday and visited with the Braves in camp Sunday, talking with us reporters about the wreck for the first time and revealing the extent of his and his family’s injuries.
5. The iconic 43-year-old pitcher, Bartolo "Big Sexy" Colon, reported to camp and discussed why he signed with the Braves and how important the Latin American career wins record is for him. Colon and 42-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey went through their first Braves workouts and talked about what they believe the Braves are capable of doing together.
6. Braves GM John Coppolella assured everyone that diminutive and dynamic second-base prospect Ozzie Albies won’t be blocked from the majors with the addition of Phillips, but also said that the Braves won’t rush Albies back because he’s too valuable. They’re going to be careful bringing back him and all other top prospects from injuries, that’s the way the franchise is operating now. (And might I add, that’s a sound policy and might’ve helped prevent some repeat injuries to post-surgery pitchers in the past.)
• Speaking of starting anew, here's the great Nina Simone signing righteously on the subject.
"FEELING GOOD" by Nina Simone
Birds flyin' high, you know how I feel
Sun in the sky, you know how I feel
Breeze driftin' on by, you know how I feel
It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me.
Yeah, it's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me, ooooooooh...
And I'm feelin' good.
Fish in the sea, you know how I feel
River runnin' free, you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree, you know how I feel
It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me,
And I'm feelin' good
Dragonfly out in the sun, you know what I mean, don't you know,
Butterflies all havin' fun, you know what I mean.
Sleep in peace when day is done: that's what I mean,
And this old world is a new world and a bold world for me...
Stars when you shine, you know how I feel
Scent of the pine, you know how I feel
Yeah, freedom is mine, and I know how I feel..
It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life for me
And I'm feelin'... good.