Auld Lang Syne With the Braves

By: Matt Sharp

David Goldman/AP Photo
David Goldman/AP Photo

Well, Christmas is over, the refrigerator is full of leftovers from at least a half dozen Christmas parties and family gatherings. Just a few more gatherings for New Years Eve and New Years day and then it’s all gone, nothing left behind but an extra twenty pounds of gut to be worked off hopefully between now and next Thanksgiving and some scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon hiding out in the corners of the living room or under the couch. Time moves so quickly its hard to keep up. As we look ahead during this time, let’s take a moment to look also back and remember some Braves of the recent past and where they’ve ended up.

Nate McLouth. Nate was picked 25th overall in the 2000 Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Nate didn’t stick around Pittsburgh long after breaking into the Bigs and came to the Braves via trade on June 3rd 2009 for prospects Jeff Locke, Charlie Morton, and Gorkys Hernandez. Nate McLouth struggled mightily with the bat and with injuries from 2009-2011. He was seemingly always up and down between the MLB and minor league affiliates or on and off the disabled list. He would later say that his time in Atlanta was one of the most personally difficult periods of his career. McLouth would hit a game tying 8th inning homerun against the Nationals on July 17, 2011. That would prove to be his last long ball as a member of the Atlanta Braves. On July 29th he was put on the DL an for abdominal strain and on August 5th it was announced he had a hernia and would miss the remainder of the season. He entered free agency and signed with the Pirates in December. He has since had stints with the Orioles and Nationals. He is currently a free agent and at 34 years old still has some years of fight left in him.

Matt Diaz. Matt needs no introduction to Braves fans. One of my favorite Braves during the end of the Bobby Cox Era, Matt was drafted in 1999 by Tampa Bay, had a stint with Kansas City and landed in Atlanta via trade in 2005. Matt played 5 seasons with Atlanta before entering free agency and signing with the Pittsburg Pirates. It was short lived however as he came home to Atlanta on August 31 of the same year via trade. After playing the rest of  2011 and most of the 2012 seasons Diaz ended up on the D/L and ultimately with a thumb surgery on August 13 2012. He would miss the rest of the season and was not signed back on for the 2013 season. Matt Diaz was a good contact hitter, solid on defense and a fun guy to watch. Always smiling and the kind of player to shoot the breeze with the fans in the outfield between innings. He retired from Baseball in 2014 and is currently part of the Braves Fox Sports South Broadcast team.

Johnny Venters. This man is part of legend. It seems so long ago now, but Brothers and Sisters, who among us doesn’t remember the vaunted “O’Ventbrel” bullpen. That triad of victory. Eric O’Flaherty, Johnny Venters and Craig Kimbrel. If you did not hold the lead by the 7th inning you weren’t going too. They would shut you down. But alas, it was short lived. Johnny struggled mightily in 2012 with on again off again elbow problems. Fast forward to today and Johnny looks to make an unheard of comeback from a third Tommy John surgery. Johnny hasn’t thrown a pitch in the bigs since July 2012 and had his third surgery in 2014, missing the entire 2015 season. He is however, under a minor league contract with the Rays and will have a lot to play for come Spring Training. Here’s wishing him the best.

Eric Hinske. Ya’ll remember Eric ? Drafted by the Cubs in 1998 Hinske has played on 7 Major League teams. He’s a 2x World Series Champion and the 2002 AL Rookie of the Year. He’s played 1st and 3rd base, right and left field. Unfortunately, although he had a very nice career, he never got back that great rookie form. He signed with the Braves to start the 2010 Season and quickly made his mark on the team. “Big Damage” Hinske played baseball with reckless abandon, fielding the ball, running the bases or swinging the bat, everytime Eric Hinske was involved in a play it might end up on the highlight reel. Primarily a bench piece Hinske was nonetheless the quintessential pinch hitter, look up “clutch” in the Baseball dictionary and you will find a picture of Eric Hinske in a Braves cap. It seems everytime Hinske needed that big hit, he got it. Monster homeruns, doubles, triples, you name it, he pulled it off. I always missed the high drama of those Hinske at bats once he left for his final stint as a player in Arizona in 2012. After a tour with the Yankees as a scout he took a position as 1st base coach with the Cubs and is currently a hitting coach in the same organization. I would love, just once more, to see Eric Hinske standing in the batters box waiting on a pitch, down by 1 with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on 2nd…

Kris Medlen. Another great Brave who worked his way up the ranks, Medlen was picked in the 10th round of the 2006 draft. He broke into the Majors in 2009 as a starter and did reasonably well. He got bumped back to the Bullpen as the Season progressed to make room for Tommy  Hanson where he remained until August 2010 when he tore his UCL and got the dreaded Tommy John surgery. Kris got  back to the game in 2012 and served as a long relief pitcher and sometimes, set up man in the bullpen. Early on however he was sent down to AAA to “stretch out” for a role on the Braves starting rotation and came back to the majors on July 31. After that, history was written. Medlen won that first start, followed by a no-decision and then a 5 game win streak. Medlen stretched his scoreless innings streak to 28-1/3 by August. In September Kris Medlen made history, with the Braves winning their 23rd consecutive game started by him. In 2013 he hit his first career homerun and went 15-12 with a 3.11 ERA in 32 Starts. However, Spring Training 2014 Medlen suffered his second torn UCL and had another Tommy John Surgery after the recommendation of Dr. James Andrews. Non-tendered by the Braves Medlen secured a contract with the Kansas City Royals and awaited his chance for a comeback. That opportunity presented itself on August 24 2015. Amazingly Kris went 6-2 in 58.1 innings with a 4.01 ERA to close out the season. Good tidings for the future. Kris Medlen is one of my favorite pitchers in the game, I hated to see him leave the Braves and I certainly wish him  every success in the future.

We could go on and on really. Martin Prado deserves a shout out, maybe Tyler Pastornicky too. David Ross, Melky Cabrera, Yunel Escobar, Brandon Hicks, Omar Infante, Wes Helms, Paul Janish and Jeff Baker, all would be interesting subjects, but it has to end somewhere and I feel like the Kris Medlen story ends us on a high point. A lot of great memories for Braves fans, maybe some not so good, but that’s life  and its fun to look back, especially this time of year.

Happy New Years Braves fans. Here’s to many more great memories in the future.

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