On Saturday the Atlanta Braves held their Braves Fan Fest at Turner Field. The Fan Fest included all sorts of activities including multiple autograph signing sessions, photograph sessions, ballpark tours, activities for kids, which included getting to do their own press conference with some the players, and several different round tables. The first round table consisted of Braves executives and coaches such as GM John Coppolella, Head Coach Fredi Gonzalez and John Schuerholz. The second table consisted of current players (Kelly Johnson, A.J. Pierzynski, Gordon Beckham, Mike Foltynewicz, Freddie Freeman) and the third with top prospects Dansby Swanson, Mallex Smith, Lucas Sims and Braxton Davidson. The final round table was with Braves alumni including Denny Neagle and Mark Wohlers.
This piece is all about that second round table that was with five players on the Major League team.
Hosting and asking the questions for this round table was Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton (324 wins) who played for 23 years primarily for the Los Angeles Dodgers and has been the Braves radio color commentator since 2009 and before that was a part of the television broadcast for the Braves on TBS from 1989 through 2007.
Players/Round Table Participants
Kelly Johnson is making his third stint with the Braves after being traded mid-season last year to the New York Mets and then resigned by the Braves this past off-season. Johnson was also originally drafted by the Braves in 2000 and made his ML debut with the Braves in 2005 and then stayed with the Braves until he signed as a free agent with the Arizona Diamondbacks in the off-season following the 2009 season.
Gordon Beckham was signed by the Braves this off-season after spending the majority of his career with the White Sox before getting traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2014 and then resigning with the Sox last off-season. Gordon is a Georgia product graduating from Westminster High School and then attending the University of Georgia.
Freddie Freeman is the undisputed face of the Braves franchise. He was drafted by the Braves in the 2nd round of the 2007 draft and will be entering his 6th full season with the Braves in 2016.
The Round Table
The round table started off with Sutton asking Johnson about his opportunity to play in the World Series with the Mets after he got traded. Sutton was attempting these questions with the knowledge of everyone in the audience being Met haters, but also wanting to get the insight into being able to play in the World Series, the ultimate goal for every team. Johnson said it was a great experience with a great group of guys (which the audience was not thrilled with of course), but Johnson said he was excited to be back with the Braves for a 3rd go around. Pierzynski also joked that Johnson had better have had fun after he left Freeman and himself with having to share the field with what seemed like 23 rookies.
Sutton then looked at Pierzynski and Beckham and talked with them about their experience playing together with the White Sox. Pierzynski had spent the majority of his career with the White Sox and was asked about how his experience there differed from the situation he is in now with the Braves, and he pointed out that he never really experienced anything close to what he is experiencing now with the Braves; that being that he is the truest veteran leader on the team and has taken on that role of helping the youngsters when they show up to the Big League club, although he of course he has seemingly always took on that role in helping the rookies adjust to the Bigs at his previous stops, but never really to this extent. This led Beckham to jump in asking where was that help/mentoring when he made it to majors. Pierzynski responded by jokingly saying that was different because Beckham was different told a story of how Beckham’s relative has a picture hanging up of a time when Pierzynski knocked Beckham down when they were both tracking a pop-up.
Freeman was doing an autograph session just before the round table, so he was a little late, but when he showed up the conversation of course stopped to a big round of applause for him. Sutton then asked Freeman how his day is going and how he is enjoying the Fan Fest to which Freeman responded with how much he loves the fans and the turn out that they have received.
Sutton then directed his questions towards Foltynewicz and on a more serious note of asking him about what it is like going back and forth from starter to reliever to starter and so forth. Foltynewicz said that it is certainly more difficult to keep going back and forth but that he wants to be a starter and thinks he can be a really good one so he will continue to work on becoming a better starter.
Sutton also asked how they were all feeling in terms of the current direction of the franchise. Freeman, who came up when Chipper Jones and Brian McCann were still there and the team was still putting up winning seasons, but now the past two seasons were pretty much over, when it comes to making the postseason, by the time that September came around. Pierzynski has also never really experienced this sort of rebuilding process before, Beckham has been with the White Sox for the majority of the past three seasons where they have averaged 91 losses per year, so he has recently been experiencing this process while Foltynewicz is too young of a player to really know what this is like, other than being in the Astros farm system while they were in the process of ending their rebuild and becoming relevant again. Then there is Johnson who has been with eight different franchises through his nine-year career, so he does not have much of an experience with it either. That all being said, they all showed trust in the organization and in what they are doing, (not like they have a whole lot of a choice, especially Freeman who is under contract for many years to come) and they believe that the franchise will be a major player for many years beginning in the near future. They also made it clear that they have no reason to believe that this team cannot compete for a division title this season.
The final questions asked were in regards to SunTrust Park opening for the 2017 season. Sutton asked them about their excitement towards the new stadium, and they all mentioned that a new ballpark is always exciting, although Pierzynski was also quick to point out that Freeman was the only one of them that is under contract for when the stadium opens; this was met with laughter by the other guys and the audience. Freeman said that he is certainly looking forward to it and that he is already living close to the new stadium.
Lastly, they all talked about their memories of Turner Field. Freeman and Johnson both had their MLB debuts there, and Beckham is from Georgia and grew up going to games at there. For Freeman and Johnson, it brings them memories of working their way through the minors and eventually making their debuts in front of home crowds for the franchise they would be playing for for many years to come.