In 1996, the Atlanta Braves went into the season with Marquis Grissom as the starting center fielder. He was a relatively beloved Brave, as any hometown boy who came back to play for the hometown pro team would be. There's also the fact that, you know, he caught the ball that clinched the Braves' World Series title back in '95. However, what he wasn't was the "Center Fielder of the Future" for the Braves. That moniker went to a teen-aged big leaguer from the tiny island of Curacao known as Andruw Jones.
Andruw made his Major League debut on August 15th, 1996, and any time a 19-year old kid makes an appearance at the highest level of any sport, it's going to cause a bit of a stir. The stir turned into waves when Jones hit his first career homer the very next day.
My favorite part of that video comes from the announcing crew, who were discussing how Andruw Jones had been taking bus trips up & down the minor league circuit before finally getting on a plane with the big league squad once he got called up. Then Andruw smashed one to left field and Don Sutton starts hollering on about how the only bus he'll be taking is from the hotel to the ballpark. I love it. Anyways, Jones ended up adding 4 more homers to his regular season tally, and after 31 games with the Major League club, he ended up making it onto the Postseason roster.
Jones didn't play much of a role in the NLDS victory over the Dodgers, but he was thrown right into the fire in the NLCS, a series in which the Braves were down 3-1 at one point. Jones started Game 3 and made limited appearances as either a pinch hitter or pinch runner for the rest of the series, until Game 6 when he entered the game after Ryan Klesko exited following just 1 plate appearance in that game. Jones made the start in Game 7, and hit a home run in what eventually turned out to be a complete joke of a Game 7, one which the Braves won 15-0 to win their 4th pennant of the decade.
Jones started again in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series against the Yankees, and this is when Andruw made his presence felt on the biggest stage in baseball. Before the 1996 World Series, no teenager had ever hit a homer in the World Series. By the 2nd inning of Game 1, that barrier was broken when he launched a bomb into the Bronx sky for a 2-run homer in the 2nd inning. Not satisfied with just one history-making moment, Andruw Jones came up in the 3rd inning with 2 on and 2 out with a chance to break the game wide open for the Braves, who had a 5-0 lead at the time. He did just that by swatting another ball into left field, this time into the bullpen.
The game was now 8-0, it'd end 12-1, and Andruw Jones' first World Series game was a ridiculous success. He not only became the youngest player to ever homer in a World Series, but he also became the youngest player to hit 2 homers in his first 2 plate appearances. Doing it all in one of the most storied stadiums in baseball history was just icing on the cake.
If the World Series would've ended there, I think we'd all be happy campers here. For your sake and mine, we're just going to ignore what happened when the series came back to Atlanta, and instead we'll focus on the fact that Andruw Jones went on to have a fantastic career with a Tomahawk on his chest.
Although his bat was what brought him into the initial spotlight, he ended up leaving his hallmark on Center Field with his amazing defensive skill. I guess we shouldn't be surprised that the other guy in the photo above is also a defensive maestro. It's clear that with that one touch, Andruw Jones transferred his powers onto Andrelton Simmons. This is unassailable fact and scientifically sound.
But let this article serve two purposes:
- A reminder that the Braves were once mainstays in not just the Playoffs, but the World Series. What I wouldn't give for those days, again.
- A reminder that we should really appreciate Andruw Jones and what he accomplished as a Brave.