Many players on this year’s roster play a bigger role than meets the eye. The Braves signed Jonny Gomes to a 1 year, $5 Million dollar contract this past offseason, but his value to Atlanta is much more than his performance on the field. The other night after a Freddie Freeman home run, broadcaster Joe Simpson said that, “Every team could use a guy like Gomes.” The cameras pointed to Jonny and he was the first man out of the dugout to greet Freeman after his Free-bomb. He’s always coming out of the dugout to congratulate his teammates after a big play, bust them whenever they mess up, or pick them up after an error. The 12-year veteran is also providing a good clubhouse atmosphere, and has stepped up off of the bench at key times. His .214 batting average is far from stellar, but he’s providing a young Braves club with spark. We saw how big of a role Gomes played on the 2013 Red Sox World Series team, and John Hart undoubtedly considered his leadership skills when signing him this past season.
The Braves have had a lot of key veterans mentoring young guys in years past, including Billy Wagner mentoring some kid named Craig Kimbrel. Wagner was instrumental in helping Kimbrel become an elite closer. Though the Braves have struggled at times this year, the fact that this young team is exceeding expectations is a great sign. The youngsters on the team are gaining valuable learning experiences while the team is in reboot mode.
Juan Uribe was acquired on May 27th, and he immediately made an impact with his good attitude and veteran presence. The Dodgers hated to see Uribe go, even with average numbers, just because he “could befriend any player of any race, age, or background.” He was a fan favorite in Los Angeles.
A.J. Pierzynski has had a long, amazing 17 year career. He’s taken to mentoring Christian Bethancourt along with a young Braves pitching staff. He’s become Shelby Miller’s Catcher of choice this season and the results speak for himself. The average age of the starting five is only 23.6 years old. While Bethancourt has struggled, he has shown flashes of greatness and I think the Braves made the right decision by making Bethancourt earn the starting role rather than handing it to him.
Jason Grilli, who has been around for 15 years, is doing his best to mentor the young, struggling Braves bullpen. We’ve seen him bond with young pitchers such as Andrew McKirahan, as the two of them jokingly switched jerseys during batting practice since they had identical beards and hairstyles.
Reporters and Broadcasters have all made it evident that this team is a lot more close than the 2014 squad. Apparently it’s a lot easier to get interviews around the clubhouse these days. You can also make the argument that this year’s team is a lot more fun to watch. Atlanta is trying to bring back the “Braves Way,” and they’re starting this by acquiring veterans that are capable of setting the standard for years to come. Atlanta’s future is bright, but they are also still very much in this division race, and these older guys are going to have to step up if Atlanta is going to make the playoffs in a very weak NL East. If this team can click, a potential Wild Card or Division birth is not far out of the question.