Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
The Braves call up a dynamic, charismatic young fielder from Double-A. He drives through the night to get from his minor league club, and crashes at his folks’ home before his big debut at Turner Field.
He possesses roots that run deep into metro Atlanta soil and asphalt.
He is a first-round pick in the amateur draft, whose fortunes at the time are intimately linked to those of the franchise by fans and execs alike.
“It’s crazy,” said Jeff Francoeur, thinking about the many parallels between his Major League beginnings and those of Dansby Swanson.
“He was in Mississippi. I was in Montgomery. You get a call and got to find a way back. We both drove. You get back late at night. You get a thousand text messages. You leave tickets for your family. It’s something he’ll remember the rest of his life.”
We rode hard the story of Francoeur when he came up in the midst of the 2005 season. He fed the frenzy by homering in his first game. Sports Illustrated finished the job by putting him on the magazine cover and proclaiming him “The Natural.”
And yes, we immediately explored the local angles when the Braves acquired Marietta’s Swanson in a Winter Meetings trade with Arizona. And followed up with more after his call-up, including this story in Sunday’s AJC and on myajc.com.
Francoeur, a career .261 hitter with 160 home runs with seven teams, became what is known in the business as a journeyman. He returned to the Braves this season after signing a minor league deal and making the team in spring training.
He believes there may be explanations for why he remained with the team after the trade deadline, beyond his .250 batting average as a pinch-hitter and plug-in outfielder. “My wife and I were laughing about that (when Swanson was called up) – that’s some of the reason I’m probably here after the deadline is to be a leader, be a shoulder, talk to guys,” he said.
No one is better versed on the pluses and pitfalls of being a young hometown player called up early and asked to lead a revival. Francoeur has been there, done that, and has the scars to prove it.
He’s telling Swanson to focus on learning how to be a Major Leaguer these next six weeks, and not to be detoured by outside demands.
And he’s warning him to not to listen to too many voices, which are especially plentiful for a guy playing in his hometown.
“The first time I struggled, I listened to everybody,” Francoeur said. “I think I would have listened to the guy at the barbershop what I needed to do to hit. That’s a bad spot to get to.”
But from what Francoeur knows of Swanson, he believes the 22-year-old will deal with it better than most could. “I think you’re going to see a pretty mature kid. He was in spring training when I got to know him. And I think you’ll see it here. I think he’ll handle himself real well,” he said.
And Francoeur has a piece of advice for the fan base, as well. Take heed.
“I’d tell everybody just temper your expectations. Let the kid play. Who knows, he might struggle for six weeks. But he’s going to be good, he’s going to do well. Everybody comes up in their own time. I like to tell people that Mike Trout came up the first time and wasn’t very good (he hit .220 in his first partial season).”