For the past nineteen years, the Atlanta Braves were identified by two words: Chipper Jones. The eight-time All-Star third baseman was heralded as the face of the franchise and adored by fans. But with Jones gone, the Braves are calling themselves a much younger team in search of their next leader.
“I don’t want to put one guy on that. I think it’ll evolve,” Braves catcher Brian McCann told ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark. “But I can think of a lot of guys in here who have done some cool things. You’re never going to replace Chipper, and we’re not trying to.”
But being a part of a young team is not strange to former Rays center fielder B.J. Upton. In 2008, when the Rays made their first postseason appearance, the average age of the team was 27 years old. But the Rays have always been the youngsters of their division, playing against division rivals such as the New York Yankees, whose average age was 31.5 last year. In 2012, the average age of the Rays was 29.2.
This season, the Rays’ average age is 27.6, while the Braves are a slightly younger team averaging at 26.7. In 2012, the Braves were a bit older, coming in at 28 years old. The retirement of Chipper Jones, who was 40, and other offseason transactions, such as trading Martin Prado, 29, to the Arizona Diamondbacks for B.J.’s younger brother, Justin, 25, ushered in a younger roster.
Although B.J. Upton was never known for being a vocal teammate with the Rays, he led by example, especially in the outfield. Many criticized Upton for being lazy or looking disinterested when in the outfield, but Upton was just confident in his abilities defensively. The Rays and their fans understood this about Upton and hopefully Braves fans will as well. All eyes are on the outfield, as the Upton brothers will be patrolling it with Braves star right fielder Jason Heyward, who is only 23.
“I think the face of our team now is the outfield. Those three guys in the outfield [Heyward and the Uptons] — because they’re young, and they’ve got a chance to play together for a while, at the very minimum three years,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told Stark. “We could do something special while those guys are here.”
While it may take a while before the Braves’ next team leader emerges, Upton is in a place to offer guidance to his new and younger teammate,s considering Upton was with the Rays franchise for ten years. Rays fans will adjust to seeing Desmond Jennings standing in center field, and Braves fans will learn to embrace a roster without Jones. Both organizations face a promising 2013 season filled with the hope of young talent. Seeing Rays prospect Wil Myers at spring training already has people asking about when he will make his big league debut. Until these changes occur or sink in for both organizations, fans will think about hard it is to say goodbye, after ten or nineteen years.