It's easy to read about a trade and just consider them as names, or as pawns on a chessboard moving from place to place. For years, when I checked the transaction wire, I would only consider what a certain deal would do for my favorite team. I was oblivious to what a trade meant to the individual person.
But this afternoon around 2:30 I was reminded that these names on paper are more than just names. They are people. And today, the Atlanta Braves traded three people I know.
I met Ray King and Jason Marquis when I was a sports anchor in Macon in the late 90's. Both are great guys. Ray is a jovial person who was thrilled to re-join the Braves last winter. He's been traded before, however, so I'm sure this night is not as difficult for him. As for Jason, well we all knew this was coming. No one likes to be traded, but there is little doubt this is best for his career.
The final member of the trio headed to St. Louis is Adam Wainwright. Back in the spring of 2001, I was starting my first season as host and producer of a weekly television show with the Braves. Adam was in his first spring training, drafted the summer before in the first round of the amateur draft.
Zach Miner, another Braves minor league prospect in his first spring training that year, introduced me to Adam. I was interested in following two players closely throughout the baseball season, and Adam and Zach were the two selected. Adam was from my neck of the woods (both of us are from South Georgia), so we had something big in common. Adam agreed to allow me to follow him around during the season tracking his first full year in pro baseball.
Two days later, I taped Adam and Zach playing golf on a course near Disney. I wanted to get them doing something away from the field. "The Adventures of Adam and Zach" became a popular feature on the show that year. We interviewed Adam's high school coach, his family, and examined him closely in many aspects of his season.
Over the next two years, our show frequently tracked Adam's progress as he rose to the top of the Braves prospect list. It also became an absolute pleasure to get to know this young man. This giant of a kid has a heart of gold, the kind of person you want your son to grow up like. Adam can be goofy at times, and go out on the mound and pitch like a monster. His competitiveness was admirable, and his desire to win unparalleled.
Here's a kid who grew up in South Georgia and dreamed about pitching for the Braves. He grew up loving John Smoltz, only to get to know his hero and have him take him under his wing as a protégé. There was no player in the Braves minor league system that wanted to keep the winning tradition alive more than Adam Wainwright. It became a piece of his soul. He wanted to be apart of the new wave, a new era of Braves baseball.
So when I got the phone call that Adam was traded this afternoon, my heart sunk. I hurt for him. All he wanted was to put on that Tomahawk uniform and walk on the mound in Turner Field as a Brave. But it wasn't meant to be.
I didn't need to call him. I know how he feels. What young pitcher would want to leave the Braves? But this was Adam, the one who really not only wanted to pitch for the team, but lead it. Of all people, of all pitchers, Adam was traded?
Over the past few years, I've gotten to know a lot of the minor leaguers and their families. I proudly call many of them some of my closest friends. Whether it was Adam or anyone else (like Matt Belisle), a trade is going to touch me personally since I know them. By telling their stories on our show, I know that these kids want to be Braves, and want to keep this tradition going for many years.
But this was Adam Wainwright.
I've tried to separate myself from the personal attachment I have to Adam so I can analyze the deal, but it's difficult. I know we needed a right fielder, and I know you have to give up talent to get talent. I guess I thought Adam was somewhat above being traded. He's a fine prospect, someone who I believed could have been in our rotation for many years. But all of a sudden, he's gone.
That's the job for a general manager. I know how much the Braves loved Adam, but John Schuerholz had a job to do today. He couldn't allow any personal feelings get involved. There is no doubt in my mind that this trade was not an easy thing for him to do, but if it was going to get done he had to include Adam.
It's just baseball, the nature of the business. Trades happen everyday.
From talking with Adam's family, I can report the 22-year was "shocked" by the trade. This is not going to be easy for him. But he'll quickly rebound and prepare to be a Cardinal. It's not going to take away the pain of being traded, but he'll survive.
This day will surely repeat itself. More of our young prospects are going to be traded. But it doesn't make it any easier. This was a kid who I had penciled in as a starter for the Braves for many years to come. But it was a pencil – not a pen. That's just something you don't do in baseball.
It will be a pleasure to follow Adam's career. He's a great kid who deserves every ounce of success coming to him. Selfishly, I wish he was going to be in a Braves uniform, and maybe he will be one day.
But again we learned that baseball is a business. It's nothing personal – unless you are that person.
Bill Shanks hosts "The Braves Show" during the baseball season. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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