Andruw gets reacquainted with Braves
Cox, former mates take in sight of Jones in Dodgers uniform
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- As he made his way back toward the Dodgers' clubhouse at Holman Stadium late Thursday morning, Andruw Jones shared handshakes and laughs with a number of his former Braves teammates and coaches.
In some ways, nothing had changed but the uniform. But given the fact that he'd played in Atlanta during each of the previous 12 seasons, seeing him wearing Dodger Blue for the first time was enough to make many of the Braves feel a little odd.
"He looked different," said Braves manager Bobby Cox, before his team began the Grapefruit League season with a 5-4 loss to the Dodgers. "He looked better in a Braves uniform."
When Jones scored the game's first run after drawing a five-pitch walk to begin the second inning against Tim Hudson, he didn't exactly look like he did during his days with the Braves.
Hudson was among those surprised to see Jones show enough patience to not swing at a single pitch during this initial plate appearance.
"Obviously he wasn't going up there to hit," a jovial Hudson said. "He was just going up there taking. I threw him some pretty good pitches just off the plate that he took that he normally falls down swinging at. When he didn't swing at those pitches, I knew he wasn't trying to get the bat off his shoulders."
Like Hudson, Jeff Francoeur enjoyed the opportunity to have some fun with his former teammate. Given a chance to score on a sacrifice fly in the second inning, Jones instead chose not to test the rocket arm of Francoeur, who won his first Gold Glove Award after notching a Major League-high 19 outfield assists last year.
"I wanted to see him run so bad," said Francoeur, who still ended the day with two outfield assists. "He told me he stayed at third base because he's going to run on me during the season."
If nothing else, this day provided the opportunity to remember that Jones is gone, but not forgotten by the Braves, who provided him Major League employment from 1996 through the end of last season.
Without the economics that allowed him to gain the two-year, $36.2 million contract he signed with the Dodgers in December, Jones might have forever remained a Brave. He plans to keep his family residence in Atlanta, and it's no secret that he shares a tight bond with many Braves, namely hitting coach Terry Pendleton and Cox.
"Everybody knows he's Bobby's son," joked Dodgers shortstop Rafael Furcal, who while playing in Atlanta from 2000-06, came to understand this bond between Jones and Cox.
When he first saw Jones on Thursday morning, Cox playfully asked the 10-time Gold Glove Award winner why he wasn't coming to Disney on Friday, when the Braves open the home portion of their Grapefruit League schedule against the Dodgers.
"I don't want to hear the boos," Jones responded. "I'll hear the boos in Atlanta."
While he was hitting .222 during a career-worst season in 2007, there were occasions when Braves fans would have been justified to boo Jones. But there isn't seemingly reason to justly boo him now, simply because he's wearing a different uniform.
Feeling they had no chance to re-sign him, the Braves didn't even attempt to negotiate a new contract with Jones and his agent, Scott Boras. Instead, John Schuerholz's last major assignment as the Braves' general manager came Oct. 2, when he called the 30-year-old outfielder to Turner Field to tell him face-to-face the reason the club had made this decision.
"Schuerholz talked to me really respectfully and I respect what he was trying to do," Jones said. "You know when we sign that contract, they basically own us. So they can do whatever they want to do. You just have to move on."
Jones' earliest highlight with the Braves came in 1996, when at the ripe age of 18, he homered in his first two World Series at-bats. Two years later, he won the first of 10 consecutive Gold Gloves. And although his constant struggles last year provided a sour lasting impression, many in Atlanta can't forget that just two seasons prior, he'd hit a franchise-record 51 homers and finished second in National League MVP balloting.
"I was happy when I heard he was coming over here, because I know he likes to play every day and likes to win," said Furcal, who is preparing for his third season with the Dodgers.
Although his actions may have sometimes been interpreted by fans as carefree, Jones' coaches and teammates never made the same interpretation. Because of this, many of them see no reason for him to be booed when the Dodgers come to Atlanta on April 18-20.
"I hope he's never booed in Atlanta, because every time he played, he was 100 percent Andruw Jones," Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez said. "He played every day and never complained."
Since being separated from the only organization he'd ever previously known, Jones has never had anything bad to say about the Braves organization, and at the same time, none of the organization's members have voiced any disparaging words against him.
"I am always going to respect them and they are going to respect me," Jones said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.