ATLANTA -- A change of scenery may be all that Mike Hampton needs.
The left-hander had a chance two years ago to join the Atlanta Braves as a free agent but opted instead for a $121 million, eight-year deal with the Colorado Rockies instead.
After spending two miserable seasons in Colorado's hitter-friendly Coors Field, Hampton is getting another opportunity to pitch in Atlanta, arriving via a three-team trade on Monday that wound up with a record amount of cash - $36.5 million - changing hands.
"It's pure excitement," Hampton said Wednesday during a news conference introducing him to the Atlanta media. "It's something we had a chance to do two years ago, but I'm a little hard-headed. So it took me two years to find the right airplane, and we finally made it."
The Braves got $30 million to help pay Hampton's huge contract. The Rockies got rid of the expensive contract although they will wind up paying him $49 million for his two seasons there, and the Florida Marlins - the third team involved in the trade - saved about $23 million.
Hampton, 30, was terrible in Denver's thin air. In two years, he went 12-26 with a 6.62 ERA for the Rockies. Last season, he was 7-15 with a 6.15 ERA, the highest in the major leagues among qualifying pitchers.
"I'd really rather focus on here and now," said Hampton when asked about his Colorado experience.
"That was really a time that's in the past. You know if anything, confidence might have been the main factor," he said. "But, I'm looking forward to moving ahead. So I'd like to put those Colorado questions on the side and talk about what's ahead."
Hampton said what kept him going was thinking about his success in the past with the Houston Astros - six consecutive winning seasons, including 22-4 in 1999 - and his 15-10 record in his only season with the New York Mets.
Overall, he has a 106-81 record and 3.98 ERA in nine-plus seasons in the majors.
"I felt like that's about all I was doing the last year-and-a-half," said Hampton. "I was trying to figure out what I could do to get back to the way it was."
But, he said he's looked at video tapes of his pitching appearances.
"There's no difference. The mechanics are there," he said.
"I feel like I'm the same guy. I feel like I can be the successful person I was, the pitcher I was, and I'm looking forward to starting as soon as possible," said Hampton.
"I'm sure there is some doubt. I haven't pitched up to my expectations, but that's the past. This is kind of a new start. There's no extra pressure. I have high expectations of myself," he said.
It also was pointed out that Hampton had never won a game in Atlanta, going 0-5 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and Turner Field.
"I think I was saving that up for now," he said.
The deal to make Hampton a Brave was complicated.
Initially, he was acquired by the Marlins along with outfielder Juan Pierre and $6.5 million in exchange for catcher Charles Johnson, outfielder Preston Wilson, left-handed reliever Vic Darensbourg and second base prospect Pablo Ozuna.
After dumping the contracts of Johnson ($26 million over the next three years) and Wilson (owed $28 million through 2005), Florida then sent Hampton to Atlanta and agreed to pay the Braves $30 million over the next three years.
The Braves sent the Marlins reliever Tim Spooneybarger, who was 1-0 with a 2.53 ERA and one save in 51 games, and minor league pitcher Ryan Baker.
Atlanta will pay only $5.5 million of Hampton's contract over the next three years, then pick up the remainder of what he is owed: $13.5 million in 2006, $14.5 in '07 and $15 million in '08.
That leaves the Braves with the opportunity of re-signing free agents Tom Glavine and/or Greg Maddux.
The Braves have had several discussions with Glavine, a two-time Cy Young Award winner who has spent his entire 16-year career in Atlanta. Their latest offer is a two-year, $18 million contract with a $9 million option for 2005 if he pitches 225 innings or makes 33 starts in '04.
The New York Mets made Glavine a three-year offer worth about $31 million, slightly more than Philadelphia's three-year proposal. The Boston Red Sox also have shown an interest in Glavine.
"I consider it pure speculation that he (Glavine) will not be on our team," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said Wednesday.
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