Today, we at Walk Off Walk kick off a series of our All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves. This isn’t about the best players, great ones before our time, or even cogs in the famous division title run that every 30-40 something year old Braves fan holds dear to his/her hearts. This is about those players, performance be damned, that have fueled our fandom over the years and have kept the flame alive in our hearts.
Criteria for our All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves
It’s quite simple, really. The players we choose have to be within our Braves fandom time period. The rub is that we all have different time frames of when we became Braves fans. Let’s check-in with everyone to see the individual windows and a little clarification on the type of player that makes him or her tick:
Ryan Cothran – I became a Braves fan back in 1983 when Braves baseball ruled the airwaves on TBS. I’ve been a bit of a superfan since and have stuck with the team through the poverty of the 80’s, the glory of the 90’s, the continued dominance through the early part of the millennium, through the rebuild, the black eye that was the international scandal, and I’m still here today. If it’s not the Braves on TV, I’m likely not watching it. For the most part, I enjoy the guys that go about their business pretty quietly but show the real fire in times of excitement. I guess you could say I’m a bit old school in that regards and it goes back to what baseball was for me: a true past-time with family. The game is adapting and I’ve got to as well, but that doesn’t mean the criteria for my favorites have to change.
Brittni Swanson – The span of my Braves fandom started about 8 & 1/2 years ago when my husband and I started dating. One of our first outings as broke high school kids was going to Turner Field to see the Braves play. It was my first time ever going to a major league game and I instantly fell in love with the game. Since then I’ve been trying to learn everything I can about the game. I don’t claim to be an expert in baseball, I’m still a rookie, I just pay attention when my husband talks sports. This list, for me, culminates my journey of learning about the Braves and the players I have enjoyed cheering for along the way. I tend to enjoy watching the underdogs on the team; guys that are great and are humble about it. I think that says a lot about the type of person they are and the spirit they bring to the team.
Tommy Poe – I’ll go a little deeper into this with my #10 player, but I grew up around baseball. My dad was an usher at Lynchburg City Stadium when I was born. I probably caught my first game a few weeks after my birth. Back then, it was the Lynchburg Mets. During the summers, I would often go to the games – for free. At home, my dad loved to watch baseball and our basic cable package had two games on most days – the Braves and the Cubs. I know many find this a huge faux pas, but I never liked to listen to Harry Carey. So, instead of WGN, we watched a lot of TBS when I was finally old enough to calm down and watch a game on TV. This was the same time the Braves started to get good (1991). As I grew older, I began to love statistics and discovering players. That created a number of man crushes – some of which make my Top 10. As a result, some of my Top 10 are guys I was sure would be stars and some are guys who were stars that I just loved to watch play.
Ryan Cothran’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 10
Evan Gattis: When writing at Tomahawk Take, I wrote a LOT about Gattis (here, here, and here). From his nickname El Oso Blanco donned while playing in the Winter Leagues, to the lack of batting gloves, the janitor, the ski-lift operator, the substance abuse/depression issues early in life, there’s a whole lot about him that makes my heart strings strum. He carries himself on the field in a manner that makes me feel like a proud father, but the most important piece for me is he’s the underdog. He’s always been the underdog. Defense not good enough. Doesn’t walk. Hitting approach won’t translate to success. Pfft…get out of here with that stuff. Give me El Oso Blanco and Brian McCann behind the plate next year (should we lose Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki) and I’ll be just fine.
Brittni Swanson’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 10
Mike Foltynewicz: Baseball is mine and my husband’s thing. Some couples like to hike or run marathons together, or play music together…ours is baseball. Shoot, we even went to a minor league game on our honeymoon; we are dedicated people. It might seem odd that Mike Foltynewicz is on this list but over the past few years my husband and I have shown up for several batting practices & he’s always the one that is the nicest about throwing us a ball or waving or even talking back. Yeah, he may not have the best stats in the world but he seems like a stellar guy to hang out with.
Last season, we saw Folty at Citizens Bank Park during batting practice, my husband yelled ‘FOLTY’ so loud he yelled back from the field, smiling and later throwing us a ball. During our tour of Wrigley Field, Folty & Wisler were throwing a frisbee around in right field while Jon Lester and his son played catch in left field. Lester & his son soon cleaned up the balls they were playing with & left. Folty & Wisler were still playing and hanging out in right when the frisbee flew over Folty’s head into left. Lester & his son had forgotten a ball, so Folty picks it up and puts it in his back pocket. We yell his name again like we did in Philly & he throws us the ball & waves. We also have a ball that Folty pitched to Giants catcher, Trevor Brown that was fouled off right to our seats in Turner Field. He has been in so many of our recent Braves memories, that he had to make my list. He is a player that I would love to just sit down and get to know better. I want him to emerge as a more consistent starting pitcher and step-up and be a leader in the pitching rotation. Cheering for you Folty!
Tommy Poe’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, Number 10
Rafael Belliard: He hit .221/.270/.259 during his career. He hit all of two home runs. Fangraphs gives him a career -1.2 fWAR. If it wasn’t clear that this list is not a “best of” list, here it is. Rafael Belliard makes my Top 10 and he will be there until the day I die because of one reason – my father. My dad served in three wars and didn’t father his first child until he was 65. That first and only child was me. My mom was 29. #respect. After they divorced because of obvious reasons, I was part of a custody agreement in which I spent one week with my dad and one week with my mom. My dad loved baseball. When I was born, he worked as an usher at Lynchburg City Stadium – a job he kept for much of my childhood. As the Braves started to find their way in 1991, I was just eight – going on nine – and finally getting to the point that I could sit in the living room and watch baseball. And that’s what we did. My dad’s favorite – Raffy Belliard. The next spring, I changed my number to #2 to mimic Belliard just to make my dad happy.
My father, Eugene Thomas Poe, died in the spring of 1994. A strike killed baseball that year, too, but only temporarily. In 1995, the Braves were once again in the World Series and again, Belliard was in the mix. He dropped down a suicide squeeze against the Indians to plate a run. And before Marquis Grissom caught the last out of the 1995 World Series, Belliard got the inning off to a good start by making a wonderful rangey play to retire Kenny Lofton. No other player from that era connects me more to my father than Belliard. That’s why no Favorite Braves list I could ever come up won’t include the no-hit shortstop with a smooth glove.
Ryan Cothran’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, #9
Andruw Jones: If you were a fan of the Braves in the 90’s and early 00’s, this guy’s presence in CF was like having an extra pitcher on the mound. He just messed with hitters with his shallowposition, daring them to hit it over his head. The problem? They couldn’t. Never has there been a larger defensive presence in CF and he could hit a bit as well. I recall a video game commercial featuring Greg Maddux on the mound. Greg was staring in at the opposing hitter, yet the hitter couldn’t stay focused on just Maddux as Andruw’s presence in CF was the real intimidation factor. That’s how I imagined every hitter that got in the box facing off against one of the greatest of all time with another greatest of all-time in CF screwing with their mind…”I dare you”.
Brittni Swanson’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, #9
Dansby Swanson: Dansby is someone I have been following since he got traded to the Braves in the Shelby Miller deal. We have the same last name but as far as I know I am not related to him. He grew up in Marietta and I grew up in the northwest part of Georgia, an hour & a half away, so you never know. I like to think that I’m related to him just because it would be cool to say I was related to a Brave. I got to meet Dansby last season in Wrigley. My husband had him sign a ball, but I just wanted to shake his hand. So when he came to me I said ‘Hey man, I just wanna shake your hand.’ He responded with ‘Hi, I’m Dansby.’ He was the first active Braves player that I ever met, so that was a very cool interaction for me. The cool thing is I can now buy a jersey with Swanson on the back and even if he eventually gets traded away it still works.
Tommy Poe’s All-Time Favorite Atlanta Braves, #9
Rafael Furcal: There are reasons to not like Furcal. The two DUI’s as a Brave and the way Furcal/his agent used the Braves to get a better offer from the Dodgers stand out the most. However, there was a lot to like with Fookie and I just loved to watch him play. I was already a big fan of Furcal’s during his rookie season when something I had never seen happened. On August 8, Furcal and the Braves were in Cincinnati. Elmer Dessens was on the mound. On the first pitch at old Riverfront Stadium (then Cinergy Field), Furcal squared to put a bunt down. But he punched at the ball, pushing it past Chris Stynes at third. Furcal cut the bag at first and easily beat Dimitri Young’s throw from left. He actually made it to third because Young, who was not an outfielder, threw the ball away.
Furcal had that special quality. At any moment, he might do something spectacular. I know some fans hated his tendency to get homer happy or the fact that his speed seemed to come-and-go, but I loved what he did on the baseball field. While never a Gold Glover at short, he had the third-best arm I’ve ever seen from the position (Andrelton Simmons, Shawon Dunston). In short, Furcal was a joy to watch.
Who ya got? Play Along!
I invite any and all to play along in the comments section. Let’s keep the comments streamlined in here! Who’s your 9th and 10th favorite Braves during your time as a fan? I look forward to hearing who makes you proud to root for the Braves.