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Thurston waiting patiently for his chance
G-Braves infielder could get promotion if Jones retires
Gwinnett Braves infielder Joe Thurston takes a swing at the plate earlier this season. - photo by For The Times

LAWRENCEVILLE — As news of Chipper Jones’ potential retirement filtered through the media this week, Gwinnett Braves infielder Joe Thurston ignored all the reports.

“Obviously whatever the move they make, if it involves me, great. If not, then I can’t control it, so I don’t worry about it,” Thurston said Friday prior to the G-Braves doubleheader with Syracuse. “I hope he figures out what he wants to do and I’d like for him to get healthy.”

That’s quite the high road to take seeing Thurston was the last infielder cut at the close of Spring Training and would be one of the first names in the discussion of who to bring up to fill a hole in Atlanta’s infield.

“I would like to believe that,” said Thurston, who played 124 games last year for the St. Louis Cardinals. “I’d like to hope to be considered to be one of the guys to be called up due to my experience at the big league level and what I’ve shown at the big league level. But again, that’s something I can’t control. If it happens great, and if not, I just got to continue doing what I’m doing.”

Thurston currently leads the G-Braves with 33 RBIs, and his .292 average with runners in scoring position is third best on the team — pretty impressive when you consider his rough start to the season.

“I think he got off to a frustrating start,” G-Braves manager Dave Brundage said. “You spend all last year in the big leagues and get sent down to AAA, you want to get off to a good start and he didn’t, and I think he put some extra pressure on himself.”

That slow start was largely due to how Spring Training ended.

After hitting .319 with two home runs and 10 RBIs during the spring, Thurston found himself in a battle with Brooks Conrad for the final roster spot, and despite Conrad hitting just .229 in the spring, Thurston was sent to Gwinnett.

“I was very disappointed because of the things I was told when I signed with these guys, of the spring that I had, so yeah, I was very disappointed,” Thurston said. “I thought I did everything I could do to make the big league team and it’s one of those things where it’s out of my hands.”

Brundage, who stated he and Thurston talked about his early season struggles, said what happened to Thurston is an every-year occurrence.

“That’s the position I see an awful lot,” Brundage said. “It’s not the first time I’ve seen it and it won’t be the last time I see it. It’s part of the game and part of the roller coaster ride of minor league baseball.”

At least Thurston made management think.

“My goal every spring training is to make their decision hard,” he said, “and obviously I did do that.”

Now his goal is to get back to the level he was at last year, when he hit .225 with 17 doubles, four triples and 25 RBIs for the Cardinals in a place he called “the best baseball city he’s ever played in.”

“There’s nothing like St. Louis,” he said. “There’s a sea of red, they draw every day and everyone shows up to the games. It doesn’t matter what time of day, what day of the month. They’re there to support their team.”

With that in the forefront of his memory, Thurston hits the field motivated.

“I play every game wanting to do something and wanting to show someone every game that I’m a big league baseball player,” he said. “The way I play defense, the way I hit, everything; I feel that I’ve proved myself at this level, I’ve done everything I’ve been asked at the Triple-A level, and at the big league level with the role I had.”

His efforts with Gwinnett certainly have caught the eye of Brundage.

“He’s consistent about how he plays the game,” Brundage said. “He plays hard, he plays the way the game is supposed to be played, he comes to play and he supports his teammates.

“He does a lot of things that maybe go unnoticed to some people, but they don’t go unnoticed by me.”

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