LAWRENCEVILLE — On a day when the Gwinnett Braves showcased their new team in their new stadium, an old familiar face was there to help usher in the start of a new tradition.
Longtime Atlanta Brave Tom Glavine threw roughly 85 pitches during a simulation game, helping the veteran southpaw rehab from an arm injury and give the fans in attendance a chance to see a future Hall of Famer up close and personal.
“I felt good, I felt free and easy,” Glavine said of his time on the mound. “I felt good about most of my pitches, but it’s hard in this cold weather to feel good about a curveball or slider. I felt the ball was coming out of my hand better than the other day.”
Pitching in a simulated game was something that Glavine has done in the past, and while not ideal, he believed he accomplished his goal.
“For me, the most important thing was to increase the number of pitches I threw and you can certainly do that under those conditions,” he said.
While Glavine provided the crowd with a familiar face, the fans did not get the chance to see heralded prospect Tommy Hanson take the mound. Hanson, who is the top-ranked pitching prospect in the Braves’ organization, will start the year in Gwinnett, but how long he stays there is anyone’s guess.
“If I knew how long Tommy was going to be here, I probably wouldn’t be here either,” Gwinnett manager Dave Brundage said. For now, Hanson will be donning the Gwinnett uniform, which means good things for the Braves and bad news for opposing batters.
“I think I can go out and compete with anybody right now,” Hanson said. “I feel like if I can go out and command all my pitches I’ll be alright.”
Glavine had nothing but high praise for the young right hander.
“He’s got everything you want,” Glavine said of Hanson. “He’s a big kid, throws hard, he’s got a lot of good off speed pitches and he has a great presence on the mound. More than anything you just encourage him to do what he’s been doing because there’s not a whole lot that needs correcting right now.
“I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him (in Atlanta) this season.”
Hanson may be the headliner of the pitching staff, but the rotation doesn’t end on the days that No. 34 is not on the mound. From Jo-Jo Reyes to Charlie Morton to Todd Redmond, the G-Braves boast one of the best young pitching staffs in the International League.
“From top to bottom, whoever we’re playing, they’re not gonna have an easy pitcher to face,” Hanson said.
Hanson, Reyes, Morton, Redmond, James Parr and Kris Medlen will not only determine the success of the G-Braves this year, but they also represent what lies ahead for their major league affiliate.
“Those names are the future of the Atlanta Braves and the people of Gwinnett County are going to get the opportunity to see them up close and personal,” Brundage said.
They will also get a chance to see the future position players, as well.
Outfielders Gregor Blanco and Brandon Jones will anchor the G-Braves lineup, and like Hanson, could be called up to the Atlanta Braves before the season is out.
“The Braves are in a real good position in that they have some real good position players coming through and they have some real good arms, particularly right here (in Gwinnett),” Glavine said. “The people here in Gwinnett are going to be awfully familiar with them once they get to the big leagues.”
With the big league club just a short drive down Interstate 85, the proximity of the G-Braves will only help with that familiarity.
“Every one in this area — Braves’ fans among us all — gets to see what the future is of the Atlanta Braves,” Brundage said. “It makes our job a little tougher being 32 miles from the big club, but that’s what we’re here for. We’re here to develop players, get them ready for the big leagues and make sure they’re ready.”
For now those projected major leaguers are in the minors, honing their skills so that a future call-up won’t be a matter of if, but when.
“I feel like I have a long ways to go to be the pitcher I want to be,” Hanson said. “When I hear stuff like I’m the top prospect, I just let it go in one ear and out the other and keep working everyday to get where I need to be.”
Where he’ll be is in a Gwinnett Braves uniform taking the hill every fifth day for the Braves’ newest affiliate in a stadium fit for a professional franchise.
“I think it’s fun to call this home and we’ll be able to call this home for years to come,” Brundage said of Gwinnett Stadium. “We weren’t very sharp taking infield and we weren’t very sharp doing some other things out there, but that didn’t matter.
“Getting an opportunity to play in this beautiful ballpark here and seeing the excitement of the fans was what mattered most.”