The Rome Braves - A Grand Slam Of Fun

Rome News-Tribune Beat Writer <B>David Dawson</B> joins BravesCenter as a special columnist and shares his thoughts about the RoBraves' championship run this year. Read on to see what he has to say about Rocket Wheeler, Jeff Francouer and the rest of the magical 2003 Rome Brave team.

Last year, during the team's inaugural season, the Ro-Braves operated under the theme: "The Rome Braves — A Grand Slam of Fun."

They had a nifty little jingle that went with it, which was played ad nausem during the broadcasts of all the games.

By season's end, most fans in Northwest Georgia had just about had their fill of the little jingle. In fact, it eventually got to the point where some people would rather hear an ad for Giegco Car Insurance than to listen to another Rome Braves promo.

And yet, the repetitiveness notwithstanding, the jingle was right on the money. This past season was indeed a grand slam of fun, especially from my vantage point.

I was fortunate enough to be the beat writer for the Braves, and was blessed to have a front-row seat during the team's amazing run to the South Atlantic League championship.

And here, I am not using the word "amazing" lightly. It truly was.

Keep in mind that the Braves didn't even secure a spot in the playoffs until the second-to-last day of the regular season. And yet, less than two weeks later, they were celebrating a title — the first of manager Rocket Wheeler's 27-year career.

Speaking of Wheeler, he was an absolute perfect fit for the job in Rome. He was not only a manager, but also a major PR guy for the Braves. Wheeler was easily embraced by the baseball-starved city of Rome, which hadn't hosted a minor league team since the 1950s.

Wheeler was, in many ways, the face of the Rome Braves. He was very visible in the community and was always quick to shake a hand, sign a ball or chat with a waitress who had a baseball question. And for me — a first-year beat writer — Wheeler was a dream come true. Win or lose, I felt comfortable in his office. He never acted as if I, or any other member of the media, was the least bit intrusive. Instead, he welcomed us. The players were equally accommodating. And by that I don't just mean most of the players I mean ALL of the players.

Jeff Francoeur, for example, handled the media as easily as he handled the bat. Heck, it was almost as fun talking to him as it was watching him play.

And brother, he was fun to watch.

What a lot of people don't realize about Francoeur is that — in addition to his solid offensive numbers — he was also a heck of a center fielder.

Francoeur has terrific speed for a big man, and always seemed to get a great jump on the ball. As a result of that combination, Francoeur got to most any ball that was hit in his vicinity. And, of course, he was the real deal at the plate. He delighted the fans at State Mutual Stadium with several majestic home runs, including a pair of game-winners early in the season.

Francoeur also started to drive the ball to the opposite field in the final weeks of the season, which was proof of his maturity.

People often ask me if I think Francoeur is a can-t-miss major leaguer, and obviously the answer is "yes."

He wasn't necessarily overwhelming awesome this year, but he was steady, which is even better. The fact that he produced at such a consistent level all year — instead of just showing flashes of brilliance here and there — tells me that he's on the fast track to the major leagues. And he is not alone. There are many other former Ro-Braves that might wear professional uniforms in the not-so-distant future.

Matt Wright, for one. Dan Meyer is another. So are Brian McCann, Kyle Davies and Wes Timmons. And if he continues to improve, Jonathan Schuerholz could easily wind up in the bigs, too. Next season, of course, a whole new crop of standouts is heading to Rome, including Matt Esquivel, who is slated to be to the Next Big Thing in the Atlanta farm system. I am extremely excited about seeing him play, and seeing if he and the Rome Braves can somehow find a way to top last season's magical ride to the title.

Could it be that the city of Rome will be treated to another Grand Slam of Fun? Well, the Rome front office has already informed me that the jingle will back again next season … so hey, maybe things are already starting to fall into place.

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