LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The rebuilding Atlanta Braves aren’t going to lead the league in much this season. But with former New York players Nick Swisher and Jeff Francoeur in spring training, the Braves have a chance to lead the league in smiles.
No two players enjoy being major-leaguers as much as the bro-hugging Swisher and the always-grinning Francoeur. Unfortunately for Braves fans, both are past their primes, which is a consistent theme on the Atlanta roster.
The Braves decided to tear down that roster during the past few years in anticipation of contending again when they open a new ballpark in suburban Cobb County next season.
This season? Best to look away as the undermanned Braves (most likely) get mauled by the Mets and the rest of the beasts of the National League with their mish-mashed roster of hanging-on veterans and wet-behind-the-ears youngsters.
At least they’ll have Swisher and Francoeur to keep the clubhouse loose. That is if Swisher isn’t traded or released and if Francoeur, who is in camp on a minor-league deal, makes the roster of the club he broke in with as a hot prospect more than a decade ago.
“It was funny because about 10 days before I did sign here, it wasn’t even on my radar,” said Francoeur, a Met from 2009-10. “It just kind of quickly developed. And here I go.”
Francoeur has bounced around since the Mets traded him to the World Series-bound Rangers in 2010, with stops in Kansas City, San Francisco, San Diego and Philadelphia. He has seen his share of winning, but he also knows what it’s like to be on an also-ran.
“I was part of the Phillies last year,” said Francoeur, 32. “We lost 99 games.”
Still, Francoeur and Swisher and the other Braves veterans will try to better last year’s 95-loss campaign in the midst of what could be continuing roster upheaval.
“I think it’s the way you go about playing,” Francoeur said. “Seasons can be long when you’ve got guys who aren’t busting their butts or getting there on time. You go out there and play hard, man, even if you lose. You can only do what you can do.
“That’s something I think here you’ve got to instill in these young guys. You’ve got to play hard every pitch until the end. I think for me, you keep the guys motivated, you keep them going. You never give up until the last out. We were brought up that way playing under Bobby [Cox].”
As for Swisher, who left the Yankees and signed with the Indians after the 2012 season, his last two seasons have been wrecked by knee injuries. The 35-year-old is a far cry from the player who hit 29 home runs with an .870 OPS for the 2009 World Series champion Yankees and could be a candidate for a trade if not for his $15-million salary.
“To be able to just battle back and be here on the field every day, I’m proud of myself,” Swisher said. “It’s a big win for me because there’s a lot of uncertainty for me. Where I’m going to be. Am I trade bait? Am I a guy that you want on your team?
“I think for myself, I’m just trying to go out and show that I’m healthy and enjoy it. I love playing this game. It has been a good two years since I’ve been on the field and been able to do what I want to do. Being here in Atlanta’s a lot of fun, but you hear the rumors just like everybody else does.
“For me, it’s the first time I’ve ever been in a spot like that, so it’s a little bit of a different feel. But I’m going to come out here every day and have a blast, and whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. I love what I’m doing. I’m having a blast doing it.”