They are watching, of course, to see Barry Bonds become the new Hank Aaron, baseball's home run king. But there is another, perhaps more intriguing facet to Bonds Watch: Who will become the new Al Downing?
As Bonds entered Monday's series opener three home runs away from breaking Aaron's record, there was a real possibility that some unsuspecting Braves' pitcher could become a footnote in baseball history this week.
The idea was not an appealing one to pitchers as they looked ahead to the series last weekend.
"I'll let somebody else have that honor," said Tim Hudson, who will take the mound tonight. "If it's a guy making his major-league debut or a rookie, that's one thing. But it's nothing that a legitimate starting pitcher wants to do."
The Braves said they are not approaching Bonds any differently than usual this week.
"If you give up a home run, you give up a home run, what are you going to do?" manager Bobby Cox said. "No one wants to give up a home run, period."
That isn't to say the Braves are being cavalier with Bonds. It just means they don't want Bonds' record chase to change the way they play these games.
Chuck James, slated to start on Wednesday, has faced Bonds twice and walked him both times. He said how he pitches Bonds will depend on the game situation.
But James won't be quivering in fear of Bonds when he comes up to the plate, either.
"If he's going to hit it off me, he's going to hit everything I've got," James said. "If they want me to pitch around him, that'll be Bobby's call."
Downing, the former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher, is still remembered for giving up Aaron's record-breaking 715th homer. But James said giving up No. 756 to Bonds does not have to define a pitcher's career.
"The pitcher is just the name in the books," he said. "Nobody's going to remember that unless they look it up. Whether it's me or not, it's his record."
Reach Brian Costa at firstname.lastname@example.org.