In the lore of the oldest continuously operating franchise in MLB, there might be sentences in the future that begin, “In the dark days after Chipper Jones retired…”, because the Atlanta Braves now face something they haven’t dealt with since 1993.
Life without Chipper Jones.
Yes, Chipper was out with injuries for nearly entire seasons at times, but he was always there…a part of the team…in the clubhouse…in front of the microphones and cameras. His presence was always felt.
Chipper was beloved by many, tolerated by some, and detested by a few. But one thing was undeniable about the Braves legend – he was the face of the franchise. For nearly 20 years, when people thought of the Atlanta Braves, they thought of Chipper.
Except at Citi Field in New York, where they thought of “Laaaaaa-reeeeee”
But beyond replacing his glove at the hot corner, and his bat in the middle of the lineup, the Braves are faced with another challenge from Chipper’s departure.
Who will be the new face of the franchise? When Fox Sports and ESPN run their teasers, what name will be filled in front of: “…and the rest of the Atlanta Braves”?
The choices are more limited than you might think.
Longtime catcher Brian McCann comes to mind first. The Braves All-Star certainly has some credentials. Since 2005, McCann has been a stalwart behind the plate, and has provided for some special moments for Braves fans. But the last two seasons have seen a steep decline in his offensive production, and free agency is right around the corner.
No, the new face of the franchise will have to be a younger player, but one who has somewhat proven himself (unlike the once handpicked face-man, Jeff Francoeur).
Andrelton Simmons? Possible, but still too green. The Braves have yet to see a full season of steady production out of their young shortstop.
Kris Medlen? Hmm. We only see him every four to five days, and he wears his cap kinda funny.
Dan Uggla? Hahahahahahahah!
Craig Kimbrel? Certainly a worthy choice, but he’s a closer. Not an everyday player or even an every 4-day player. The “face” needs to be seen regularly.
No, there can only be one real choice to follow in the footsteps of Larry Wayne, the Met Killer.
Some may disagree with me, but look at the facts. Heyward was a consensus number one prospect by Baseball America, ESPN.com and MLB.com. He made a huge splash in his debut, hitting a 471-foot home run in his first major league plate appearance. He has a penchant for the dramatic, and has a likeable personality.
The problem is that Heyward already gets a pretty bad rap from the Atlanta media and fans because he’s not putting up ungodly numbers. The expectations for Heyward were so high that few could have ever lived up to them. Even if he has great All-Star type seasons, people will still look for the spectacular from him.
Trying to make him be the face of the franchise would only add to those pressures; but, such is the price of adoration.
No, unless some other young everyday player comes along this season and just wows the entire baseball world, it would seem Jason Heyward will have to do as the guy who represents the Braves franchise.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.