Monday, June 18, 2012

Andrelton Simmons In June: A Timeline

Well, this ain't good.

The Atlanta Braves are in something of a freefall.  They have lost six of their last seven games, stranded an unholy quantity of base runners, and failed to score any runs in twenty consecutive innings.  They're sitting 4 games back of the Nationals in the NL East, barely clinging to a wild card slot.  The starting lineup is banged up, and Brandon Beachy's just-announced move to the DL is the latest in a series of unfortunate developments for the pitching staff.  At times like this, reflecting on the big picture is a sure path to the blues.  Scratch that; the Blues.  With a capital B.  I'm talking whiskey-drenched, cigarette-smoked, slide-guitar-moanin' in the juke joint, life sure is awful here.

So instead of walkin' on down that lonesome road, let's focus on one of the precious few bright spots on this Braves roster: the glorious wonder that is Andrelton Simmons.

June 1: Listening to AM 680 in the car, traffic at a glacial crawl along 400 North.  Buck Belue, of Run Lindsay Run!!! fame, informs me and the rest of Atlanta's sports talk-listening public that the Braves have sent Tyler Pastornicky back down to the minors and called up Andrelton Simmons to be the new everyday shortstop.  The book on our boy is that he's a bona fide  defensive whiz kid but not too dab a hand with the lumber.  Buck is of the opinion that just about anything will be an improvement over Pastornicky, who has been woefully mediocre thus far.  I couldn't agree more.   

A little backstory here: Simmons nearly won the starting job in spring training, but Atlanta had already earmarked essentially preordained Pastornicky as the club's Opening Day starter, and the battle was, by all accounts, a stilted one for Simmons, who nonetheless almost pulled it off.  Instead, he took the additional time in the minors gaining confidence, refining his swing, and biding his time.

June 2: Simmons makes his first Major League start on the road against the Nats.  He goes oh-fer at the plate, but looks every inch the sublime defensive player we've been hearing about.  He's doing the little things right, moving around the infield dirt with the self-assured fluidity great fielders always seem to have.  He looks like he was born to gobble up funny hops and rifle them to first.  Every instinct is perfectly attenuated, every movement purposeful and smooth.  He reminds me a little, blasphemous at this is to write, of a young Ozzie Smith.  Without the back flips, obviously, but with a similar grace and intelligence.

June 5: The Braves play their first game in the 21st-century-marketing-funhouse-cum-architectural-atrocity that is the Miami Marlins' new stadium.  Simmons has a three-hit, three-RBI game, scores a run, and demonstrates audacious foot speed when he legs out a triple.  Kid can fly.  Braves win 11-0.

June 9: A breezy day at Turner Field.  Clouds and Atlanta smog make for soft-focus lighting conditions in the late afternoon as the Braves square off with the Blue Jays.  In the bottom of the 7th inning, Simmons sends his first career dinger over the wall in left-center.  The ball just barely gets out of the yard, carrying 391 feet, but no one ever accused the guy of being a power hitter, right?  He even home run trots classily.  If any occasion would give a little leeway for celebratory histrionics, you'd think a first homer in The Show would be it, but Simmons rounds the bases at a good clip; he acts like he's been there before.  When the game ends, he's batting .280, third-best on the roster.  The kid who wasn't supposed to be much of a hitter is anchoring the bottom of the order.  Well, then.

June 11-13: After having lost the final game in the Toronto series, the Braves are swept at home by the Yankees, catalyzing their current tailspin.  Nonetheless, Simmons bats .364 against some formidable New York pitching, including a 2-4 day against ace CC Sabathia.

June 15: Simmons goes 3-4, and hits his second career home run in almost the exact same spot as his first, 390 feet to left-center.  The blast puts the Braves on top 3-2; they will go on to win the game.

Today: In a few hours, Simmons will take the field at Yankee Stadium for the first time.  His resume as of now: a stellar  .333/.396/.542 slash line, an ever-growing collection of Web Gem-worthy highlights in the field, and an all-around savvy that is just plain scarce among rookies with a mere 14 games of experience at the game's highest level.

If the Braves don't start putting together some wins, this season could take a sour turn much sooner than last year's September collapse, but at least we have the privilege of watching a great young career unfold in our back yard.  Andrelton Simmons may not be the answer, but he's a nice diversion from the unpleasant questions Braves fans have been contemplating of late.  Sometimes, that's all you can ask.  

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