ATLANTA — Tom Glavine never got used to making that unfamiliar turn in the tunnel beneath Turner Field, the one that took him to the visiting clubhouse the last five years.
Now he’s back with the home team.
Glavine returned to the Braves on Monday to finish a career that likely will send him to the Hall of Fame, though this isn’t just a sentimental farewell. Atlanta believes the crafty left-hander, who will turn 42 before next season, can help them get back to the playoffs after a two-year hiatus.
"Starting pitching has been our Achilles’ heel. We just didn’t have the depth we had in past years, and we wanted to address that," new general manager Frank Wren said. "Tommy was our No. 1 target."
This was an easy one to hit.
Glavine, who is married and has four children, was eager to return to Atlanta, where he spent the first 16 years of his career and kept his home even after moving to the New York Mets. If the 303-game winner had not gotten an offer from the Braves, he planned to retire rather than subject his family to another year of splitting time between two cities.
"I’m supposed to be doing things for my kids," Glavine said. "But more and more, my kids were sacrificing for me, whether it was missing their ballgames or missing their friends’ birthday parties. When they were getting on a plane two or three times a month, they were doing it for me. I didn’t feel good about asking them to do it anymore."
After turning down a $13 million option with the Mets for 2008, taking a $3 million buyout, he turned his attention toward the Braves. He gave Atlanta a hometown discount, agreeing to an $8 million, one-year deal that was the lowest he was willing to play for and wasn’t available to anyone else.
The Braves jumped on it quickly, wrapping up the negotiations in less than a week. No one else — not even the Mets — were ever in the mix.
"I have an opportunity at this stage of my career to combine the best of both worlds," the two-time NL Cy Young Award winner said. "I can be home, work at home and be around my wife and kids more than I have the last five years. I’m ecstatic."
So are the Braves, who were eager to add depth to a rotation that relied heavily on John Smoltz and Tim Hudson.
The team never settled on reliable options in the fourth and fifth slots, finishing third in the NL East for the second year in a row. Glavine, despite a dismal end to his season, went 13-8 with a 4.45 ERA in 200 1-3 innings for the Mets.
"Sentiment goes a long way," Braves manager Bobby Cox said, "but we all think Tommy can still win at the major league level. That’s the bottom line."
Proving you can go home again, Glavine and the Braves got over the bitterness that accompanied their negotiations after the 2002 season.
Atlanta started out with a one-year offer and a series of club options, then came back with a proposal that included millions in deferred money. After Glavine signed a four-year, $42.5 million deal with the Mets, then-Braves general manager John Schuerholz held an extraordinary news conference to go over the negotiations step by step. Later, he wrote about the whole affair in his book, angering Glavine.
Most Atlanta fans seemed to side with Schuerholz, booing Glavine whenever he returned with the Mets, though the jeers lessened in recent years.
"For a long time, I didn’t understand it. I guess I was angered by it a little bit," Glavine said. "I learned to live with it over time."
Last month, Schuerholz left the GM job after 17 seasons, moving up to become team president and handing his former post to Wren. But everyone said that move had nothing to with Glavine returning to Atlanta.
Schuerholz met with Glavine and his wife, Christine, at a charity event over the weekend. The former GM planned to attend Monday’s news conference until he got word that his elderly mother had died.
"John really wanted to be here," Wren said.
Glavine said he relied on his faith to cope with the disappointment he felt about leaving Atlanta.
"The biggest moments in all our lives, where things happen and decisions are made, we can look back and say, ‘Well, geez, if this conversation had gone a little different or this situation had gone a little different, then the outcome would have been different,"’ Glavine said. "Things happen for a reason."
While he got more and more comfortable with the Mets, he always felt a little strange coming to Turner Field.
Glavine was drafted and nurtured by the Braves. He came up with an amazing group of young pitchers that included Smoltz and Steve Avery, helping Atlanta go from worst-to-first in 1991 and all the way to Game 7 of a memorable World Series loss to Minnesota.
During his 16-year tenure, Glavine had five 20-win seasons, captured Cy Young Awards in 1991 and ‘98, and helped the Braves win the first 11 of their unprecedented 14 straight division titles. He was MVP of their only World Series championship during the run, pitching eight scoreless innings in the deciding game of a 1995 victory over Cleveland.
"No place I ever went to as a visiting player was ever as remotely strange as coming here as a visiting player," Glavine said.
Which is probably why his wife teared up when he tried on his Braves cap and jersey in the training room before the news conference.
And that’s probably why Wren couldn’t stop smiling when Glavine buttoned up his No. 47 jersey with "Braves" written across the front and modeled the red-and-blue hat with an "A" above the bill.
"Looks good, doesn’t it?" Wren said.