ATLANTA - Mike Hampton finally got it right.
Two years after spurning the Atlanta Braves to sign the richest pitcher's contract in major-league history with the Colorado Rockies, the veteran left-hander acknowledged his mistake Wednesday.
"We had a chance to do this two years ago, but I'm a little hardheaded," the newest Braves pitcher said after being introduced to the Atlanta media during an afternoon news conference at Turner Field.
"It took me two years to find the right airplane. We finally made it."
Hampton, who signed an eight-year, $121 million contract with the Rockies in 2000, was traded to the Florida Marlins on Monday, then was shipped to the Braves in exchange for reliever Tim Spooneybarger and minor-league pitcher Ryan Baker.
The former 20-game winner flew in from his Houston home Wednesday, modeled his new uniform shirt (No. 32), donned a Braves cap, and expressed delight in landing with the reigning NL East champs.
"Pure excitement," he said, describing his feelings. "I'm here to continue a great tradition."
The trade for Hampton is a calculated risk by the Braves. The team is throwing out Hampton's Colorado numbers - 21-28, 5.75 ERA - and assessing him based on his performance at sea level in seven years with the Houston Astros and New York Mets.
"I've always admired Mike's toughness and aggressiveness," general manager John Schuerholz said. "I think we demonstrated that two years ago when we tried to sign him."
Schuerholz made the only recruiting trip of his 21-year career as a general manager two years ago, meeting Hampton at a Houston-area country club to offer him a chance to pitch for the Braves. When the opportunity came last week to acquire Hampton at a relatively low cost, Schuerholz said he "went after it hard."
The question is, which Hampton are the Braves getting? Hampton realizes that two years with the Rockies has damaged his reputation as one of the game's best pitchers.
"I'm sure there is some doubt," he said. "I haven't pitched up to my expectations or really anyone else's. I have the highest expectations that anyone can have on oneself. This is kind of a new start."
Hampton said that pitching at Coors Field hammered his confidence, as well as his ERA. He has spent the past 18 months studying video and reached the conclusion that nothing is seriously wrong.
"My mechanics are pretty much there," he said. "I feel I'm the same guy. I feel I can be the successful pitcher I was before."
Hampton insisted he would have defied the odds and learned how to pitch at Coors Field. But he's just as happy he doesn't have to now.
"I knew if I'd stayed there for another six years I would have figured it out or I would have died trying," he said. "I'm not the kind of guy to give up."
For the moment, Hampton is the Braves' only veteran left-hander.
Tom Glavine, who is a free agent, plans to visit with the Mets and Philadelphia Phillies today. The Braves are likely to end up re-signing Glavine, probably to a three-year deal worth about $30 million with a fourth year option that will allow him to finish his career in Atlanta.
When Glavine is signed, the team can move ahead with its winter plans. Among the various infield scenarios the club is discussing is shifting third baseman Vinny Castilla to first, installing Mark DeRosa at third base, and making Marcus Giles the second baseman. The team has also batted around the idea of returning left fielder Chipper Jones to third base or asking him to play first. Jones is willing to play third again, but he's reluctant to move to first.
"We know (Rafael) Furcal will be at short," Schuerholz said. "That's a start."
Reach Bill Zack at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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