AIKEN — A line of fans wrapped to the back of Aiken’s Academy Sports and Outdoors as they waited for autographs from a mix of Atlanta Braves on Tuesday.
Braves general manager Frank Wren, Hall of Fame pitcher and broadcaster Don Sutton, and former players Marquis Grissom and Brian Jordan made the trip to sign autographs and talk baseball with fans as part of the Braves Country Caravan.
A variety of executives, coaches, broadcasters and players travel more than 3,000 miles for 12 stops throughout the Southeast to meet fans and thank them for their support.
“I think this is our opportunity in the wintertime to come see the fans where they live,” Wren said. “They come all summer long to see us, so this gives us a chance over the winter to reach out to our fans, and it’s a great opportunity to get out in the community.”
The caravan is also an opportunity to discuss the latest involving the Braves and their expectations for the new season.
“We were one of the youngest teams in baseball last year and we won the second-most games in all of baseball, so I feel like we have a young, dynamic club that’s on the rise,” Wren said. “It’s hard to replace guys like Brian McCann and Tim Hudson, there’s no doubt about that. But we do think we have a good group of young players.”
Wren said the Braves might be the only team in baseball to have a rotation featuring five young starters all developed by the team’s farm system, assuming Alex Wood is the fifth starter out of spring training. Newly-signed Gavin Floyd is expected to take a rotation spot once he’s deemed healthy a couple months into the season, Wren said.
The Braves will soon go to arbitration with three of their core players in Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman. But Wren said it’s part of the business of baseball.
“I think the way we look at it, and we’ve taken this approach for a long time, it’s just a part of the process,” he said. “We don’t take it personally. We really hope our players don’t, as well.
“I think for the most part it is a pretty benign process.”
The Braves will soon be represented by two team legends in the National Baseball Hall of Fame when Tom Glavine and Bobby Cox will be inducted July 27. Former Brave Greg Maddux will also be inducted but will not have an Atlanta cap on his plaque.
Sutton, who was inducted in 1998, said a player’s life is never the same after being chosen.
“When you’re called to to go the Hall of Fame, (your life) changes at that moment,” he said. “People view you differently. For both of those guys, and I’m happy for Bobby, too, I think it’s the greatest class I’ve seen in years.”