One more time: Jeff Francoeur is coming back to the Braves.
Only now the Braves’ No. 1 draft pick of 2002 will be talking baseball rather than playing it, joining the home team’s broadcast lineup on an occasional basis.
Fox Sports South and Fox Sports Southeast announced Friday that Francoeur would appear as an analyst on selected “Braves Live” pregame and postgame shows, with the potential of working his way into the booth for as yet undetermined in-game broadcasts. His first appearance is scheduled for the night of June 5 in advance of the game against Philadelphia (another of the eight major league teams he played for over 12 seasons).
Having consulted with a couple of former teammates who made the jump from the field to the booth, Francoeur feels prepared to make the leap himself.
“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity,” he said. “I’ve talked to Smoltzy (John Smoltz) and (Tom) Glavine a whole bunch. After talking to them, I think it’s right up my alley.”
There were no news releases concerning Francoeur’s retirement as a player this season. That just sort of crept up on him at the age of 33, as teams showed declining interest in his well-traveled services. He toyed with the idea of trying to play for a spot on the Braves this spring – as he did in 2016 – but ultimately could not foresee a comfortable fit for him back on the team where it all began.
A look at the transition that Francoeur is making away from the field appears in this weekend’s AJC and ajc.com. It reveals that watching and talking baseball is only a small part of the package.
As an aspiring broadcaster, Francoeur will have a thick menu of experience upon which to draw. The question remains: How will it all translate into meaningful analysis?
He has been a hometown sensation – the kid out of Parkview High whose first hit as a Brave was a home run in 2005 and who was dubbed “The Natural” by Sports Illustrated while still in his major league infancy. With an easy smile and an aw-shucks attitude, he quickly joined the ranks of the Braves most popular figures.
He has been the outcast, traded away by the hometown team during the 2009 season amid diminishing returns.
He has been the survivor, bouncing from team to team, the itinerant outfielder. He even made a humbling prolonged return to Triple-A in 2014 – where he even pitched a bit – in a successful attempt to prolong his career. His journey brought him back to Atlanta last season, having made the Braves in spring training and appearing in 99 games before being traded to the Marlins.
There is no question that he is familiar with the territory.
“This is something I think I’ve known I wanted to do for a long time when I was done playing. It’s the perfect opportunity. A hometown team. I live here (in Suwanee). I still know so much about all the guys and can bring a perspective,” he said. “I think I’ll do a decent job as far as experience in the game – I’ve been in almost every situation you could be in from the very top to the very bottom.”
“We are excited to add Jeff to our Braves telecasts on Fox Sports,” said Fox Sports South Executive Producer Randy Stephens. “He has the knowledge, experience and personality to be a first-class broadcaster, and as an Atlanta native, he knows firsthand what the Braves mean to the community.”
Immediately, Francoeur will be called upon as an expert witness to the trials and triumphs of Braves rookie shortstop Dansby Swanson. Here is another hometown product rushed in as a front man for the team. Swanson has struggled mightily to begin this season, hitting a mere .162 as of Friday and kicking an inordinate number of balls at shortstop.
“I love that kid (Swanson). He’ll be fine,” Framcoeur said reassuringly.
“If there’s one thing I wish (the Braves) had done, I wish they had started the season with him hitting seventh or eighth. Not at the top of the lineup,” he said.
Francoeur certainly hopes to be an involved spectator long enough to witness the stockpiling of young pitching arms yield results. That is the crux of it all. “This pitching has to come. If the pitching comes through, then the plan was successful. The lineup doesn’t bother me. They can put runs up. To me it’s always easier to sign position players,” he said.
At some point every player who takes the bridge to the broadcast both must decide how cutting and critical he can be with the new gig. Turning an unblinking eye upon former peers is a challenge.
“As a media guy, I think I can be critical, but I want to remember how tough this is,” Francoeur said.
“When I’m looking through a different angle soon – from a press box watching – I want to remember the game is not that easy. Even now I’ll watch on TV and say ‘How did you miss that pitch?’ But you got to be respectful of how hard this is going to be.”