Kotsay primed to return to form

There’s a certain level of excitement for a player who joins a winning franchise that could be on the cusp of a promising season. Mark Kotsay goes from a team committed to a youth movement to joining a club with a strong history of winning.

"You’ve got to be excited to come to a winning ball club, a great tradition," said Kotsay. "I came through here in ’96 with the Olympics, played in the old Fulton County [Stadium] and I look forward to playing in the new one."

Of course, "the new one" would be Turner Field, home of the Braves since the 1997 season. Much has changed since Kotsay’s days in the summer 1996 and even his stints with both the Marlins and Padres.

That same season of 1996 marked the year that Andruw Jones made his Major League debut and began carving out a legacy built on excellence in the outfield. With 12 years passed for both men, a new chapter begins in earnest for Atlanta in center field.

It comes as no surprise that the immediate storyline many want to follow is trying to determine how Kotsay feels about replacing a player who was, and will always be, an Atlanta legend and fan favorite. How do you properly answer that question if you are Mark Kotsay? Easy.

"You can’t replace Andruw Jones," stated a very frank Kotsay. "I’m not here to replace Andruw Jones. He’s an elite outfielder, he’s an 11-time gold glove winner. That’s all that needs to be said."

By side-stepping the landmine of the potential distraction that would come with dwelling on the fact that you are expected to "replace" perhaps the greatest fielding outfielder in the game’s long and storied past, Kotsay has made a wise move. Honestly, no one from Frank Wren to Bobby Cox expects there to be a seamless transition from Jones to Kotsay.

What the Braves are aware of is that they picked up a hard-working, slick fielding, line-drive hitter who will bring a veteran presence to younger more inexperienced outfield. A healthy Kotsay can more than fill in, he could be a big contributor. Health is priority number one.

"What we’ve seen so far is real good," said a pleased Cox, adding that the team will occasionally give the veteran outfielder a day off here and there to keep him fresh throughout the spring.

Couple him up with the cannon-armed Jeff Francoeur over in right field and you may have one of the best throwing outfields in recent memory. The Braves certainly have high hopes that Kotsay will be able to fill in their center field void more than adequately – and that is really all anyone expects of him.

Is Kotsay here to be the teacher? He boasts the most outfield of assists of any Major Leaguers since 1998 with 110. But teacher? Not necessarily.

"Mr. Francoeur won a Gold Glove last year," quipped Kotsay. "What does he need to be taught?"

Kotsay has already taken part in full work-outs, as Major League Baseball allows him that right as a player coming off an injury.  Back injuries sapped Kotsay’s productivity a year ago (.214 with a homer and 20 RBI in 54 contests). Rushing his return to try and help the Athletics make their usual second half surge may not have been the best move in hindsight, but Kotsay feels that his back is now 100%.

So now it’s time to get back to the business of winning for Kotsay and the Braves.

Till next time,

G-Mc

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