KISSIMMEE, Fla. — When John Smoltz spotted the dirty uniform creeping into the space in front of his locker, he playfully pushed it back toward Tom Glavine’s side.
"I’m sorry," Glavine said, sounding downright sincere.
Then, on his way to the showers, Glavine ran into Jeff Francoeur, who didn’t bother to look up.
"You’re not even going to say thanks?" the pitcher asked with faux disgust, having served up two long balls to Francoeur during batting practice Friday.
Did Glavine really pitch for any team other than the Braves? Was he really gone for five seasons? Except for a few gray hairs and an extra pound or two around the middle, he just picked right up where he left off in 2002.
"It almost seems like he never left," manager Bobby Cox said. "The first day he walked in, it felt like old times."
Glavine did leave, of course, bolting from the Braves in a nasty split to sign with their NL East rival, the New York Mets. But time has a way of healing things, so No. 47 found his way back to Atlanta in the twilight of his career.
He’s home again.
"Obviously, this uniform represents a large chunk of my career," Glavine said. "It also represents home for me. It’s where I live. It’s where my kids grew up."
Even after he signed with the Mets and traded barbs with then-Braves general manager John Schuerholz over their contentious negotiations, Glavine never gave up on returning to Atlanta to finish his career. Even after he signed a new deal with New York for the 2007 season, he still thought there was a chance of getting back to the Braves.
Then it happened. After Glavine turned down a $13 million option with the Mets, the Braves swooped in. They couldn’t match the money he would have made in New York, but they didn’t have to. Glavine was willing to sign for less if he could play in Atlanta, where his wife and kids remained even after he left. The two sides quickly agreed on an $8 million deal.
Turns out, those five seasons in New York were a mere detour on the way to Cooperstown.
"I don’t think I ever closed the door on" returning to the Braves, Glavine said. "It wasn’t like I was counting the days before my contract was up so I could get back here. But having things work out the way they did, with me going up to New York, it made me realize that you never know what’s going to happen in this game, so you just keep your options open."
Glavine, who turns 42 next month, isn’t as dominant as he was during his first 16 years with the Braves, when he won two Cy Young awards and put up five 20-win seasons. He went 13-8 with a 4.45 ERA in his final year with the Mets, getting hit hard in his last two starts to contribute to New York’s historic collapse.
On the final day of the season, Glavine went to the mound against lowly Florida hoping to at least ensure a tie with Philadelphia in the NL East. Instead, he didn’t even make it out of the first inning, one of the worst starts of his career. The Mets lost. The Phillies were division champs.
But it wasn’t a chance at redemption that brought Glavine back for another season. He actually considers himself a more complete pitcher than he was during his previous stint in Atlanta, when his repertoire mainly consisted of fastballs and change-ups thrown over the outside corner — or even farther away, say those who felt Braves pitchers always got the benefit of the doubt from the umps back in the glory days of Smoltz, Glavine and Greg Maddux.
"Basically, I was a two-pitch pitcher," Glavine recalled. "I’m a lot more than that now. There’s a lot more things I can do, a lot more things I feel comfortable doing. The scouting report against me is not as easy as it used to be."
He’s willing to work the inside half of the plate. He’ll mix in the occasional breaking ball.
"I think it’s a lot tougher for the hitter to stand in the batter’s box now than it was when it was just wait on the fastball away, wait on the change-up away," Glavine said. "There’s more to my game plan today than just those two things."
He also returns to Atlanta as a member of the 300-win club, a milestone he reached last August with the Mets. While he surely realizes the magnitude of his accomplishment, Glavine said it’s tough to speak with any perspective while he’s still playing.
Ditto for his first stint with the Braves, the majority of it spent with one of the greatest rotations ever assembled. Glavine and Maddux are surely headed to the Hall of Fame, and Smoltz is likely to join them.
"It’s hard to totally appreciate when you’re still part of it," Glavine said. "But you do realize that for a 10-year chunk of time, this team and the people who followed this team got to watch three future Hall of Famers. That’s a pretty special thing."
Maddux is gone, but Glavine is back. All kidding aside, Francoeur realizes just how special that is.
"It’s cool to play with these guys," said Francoeur, who was born in Atlanta and raised in the suburbs. "I grew up idolizing them."