LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The game-less weeks before spring training afford even more freedom than usual for big-league ballplayers and Tuesday at Disney World was no exception. Members of the Atlanta Braves asked each other the same questions as they passed each other during morning workouts and it was a tad bit difficult to uncover what their later plans were.
"You going to Huddy's later?" "What're you going to shoot?" "What'd you shoot last year?"
"Huddy," of course, was pitcher Tim Hudson. And while any joint reference to shooting and a charity event he was about to host with teammate Chipper Jones could be assumed to involve 'gator hunting, the event in question was actually his "Birdies and Baseball" event. Designed to raise funds for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, the round gave players and fans the opportunity to step away from baseball, take some hacks outside of a batting cage and enjoy the day together for a good cause. While I'm not sure how many holes they were able to complete under the threat of afternoon rain — a trip to Port St. Lucie down the wonderful Florida's Turnpike was beckoning — at least three young pitchers were able to resist the siren's call of the first tee. That's Craig Kimbrel, Julio Teheran and Brandon Beachy going out of their way to sign for the small group of fans on hand for the workout.
More photos from my stopover at Disney's Wide World of Sports are below ...
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Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward turn to David Justice for advice. (AP)
Despite the day's later plans, Braves camp certainly had its share of visitors on Monday morning. Making headlines was the arrival of David Justice (above, right) and Fred McGriff. Both men experienced some of the best moments of their career in a Braves uniform and are spending this week in camp as special instructors. Michael Bourn and Jason Heyward were particularly glued to Justice's side all morning and you have to figure it was a particular thrill for Heyward, who grew up in Atlanta watching the Braves.
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The traveling spring training bus from ESPN's "Baseball Tonight" was also on the scene, giving new analyst Terry Francona the opportunity to take a break from needling Bobby Valentine's beer ban and interview Fredi Gonzalez about what it was like to be the other manager to blow a huge lead down the stretch in 2011. Everything you need to know about the differences between Boston and Atlanta as baseball towns came in the fact that Gonzalez was the only one still wearing a uniform.
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While Boston's camp down in Ft. Myers has been filled with constant reminders of 2011, Atlanta's surrender to St. Louis hasn't caused as much regular hand-wringing. There's a lot of worry, however, about how the offense will evolve into something resembling big-league caliber and new hitting coach Greg Walker is wearing the expectations of jump-starting the lineup. Jerry Crasnick wrote a good feature on Walker's arrival with Atlanta after more than a few contentious years with Kenny Williams and the Chicago White Sox.
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Two of the Braves' top position prospects — Tyler Pastornicky and Joe Terdoslavich — were quite noticeable during the team's infield practice inside Champion Stadium, but their arrivals at Turner Field will likely be staggered. Terdoslavich is looking to make a move back to third base (he played the position at Long Beach State) and possibly become Chipper's heir apparent at the hot corner. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, however, labels the experiment a "long shot" which means Terdoslavich would be stuck at first base behind Freddie Freeman. Despite the potential of his big bat, Terdoslavich seems destined for a season with the Double-A Mississippi Braves as he tries to prove he can handle the defensive requirements of third base.
Pastornicky, meanwhile, might want to start looking for extra opening day tickets. Jack Wilson's calf injury means the 22-year-old will be unofficially penciled in as the team's starting shortstop from Day 1. Pastornicky has only played 22 games above Double-A and here's guessing he's looking forward to erasing the one day he's spent as a major leaguer: He sat on the bench during the Braves' final game of the season as their monumental wild-card collapse officially became a reality.
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