News - Camp Leo, minus one
Maddux stays in Vegas while pitchers train
Fred Stone laboriously picks off last year's All-Star game patches from the sleeves of the team uniforms.
The Braves' assistant clubhouse manager has been doing that all winter, leaving tiny threads all over the carpet.
The picnic table that's usually in front of the coaches' lockers is pushed aside to make room for the growing stacks of stuff bound for spring training. No player is going to want for Bazooka Bubble Gum (Original flavor) or Gillette disposable pivoting razors.
The old blue steamer trunks stand on end. If they weren't stenciled "Atlanta Braves," you'd swear they'd been used by the Boston Braves in the 1940s. And dragged across America from the back of a train every year since.
A quarter of the lockers stand empty: Andres Galarraga, gone; Reggie Sanders, gone; Terry Mulholland and Scott Kamieniecki, gone and gone; Walt Weiss, gone and retired.
Out in the clubhouse, the Braves' pitching staff — Cy Young winners, minor leaguers, invited veterans nearing the end of the line — gathers once again for Camp Leo, the early spring routine of pitching coach Leo Mazzone.
Jason Marquis and Kevin Millwood are the first pitchers to arrive in the clubhouse. Both of them have been working out in the off-season. Marquis' upper body is noticeably thicker. Millwood weighs the same, but he's turned fat into muscle with resistance training. "To be as good as I want to be," he says, "I've got to be strong at the end of the season."
Camp Leo is the Braves' first taste of the season ahead. This is what makes the Braves pitching staff different. This is what makes them successful. (Having Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz doesn't hurt.)
But when the rest of the pitchers straggle in to toss under Mazzone's animated supervision each Feb. 1, Maddux stays in Las Vegas. Always has. He plays golf, watches cartoons with his kids, telephones his mother-in-law pretending to be an IRS agent, studies game tapes. He'll show up down at Disney World at the last minute; he'll be ready.
John Smoltz, more than ready after last season's painful elbow surgery and rehab, is still testy. Last September, Braves management told him to cut it out when he started throwing from 60 feet, 20 feet farther than doctor's orders.
"I don't think I'm being given enough credit," he says, his jaw set. "I mean, it's my career. I'm not going to do anything to jeopardize it."
Typically, he sees the suggestion that he pushes himself too far, too fast as criticism instead of what it is: the truth. What, exactly, does he think is wrong with being known as a fierce competitor?
Glavine, team spokesman, player rep, strolls in last. Maddux has more Cy Youngs, but Glavine is the guy you want on the mound when it's do or die. Or when you want answers.
How will the new high-strike zone affect you? ("I'm not gonna do what I did last time, which is make adjustments before anything happens.") Should the Braves have paid $252 million to sign Alex Rodriguez? ("I can't fault anyone for not spending that kind of money.") Were you disappointed that you lost the Cy Young to Randy Johnson? ("Disappointed. But not more than that.")
And: Is the threat of a work stoppage going to hang over you all season?
"I guess it will," Glavine says, grabbing his glove and heading for the indoor batting cage, "since here it is February and we're talking about it."
Hot shots: What's hot in Atlanta sports
RAVENS D THE BEST THAT EVER PLAYED? — Get back to me when they've won six Super Bowls in four years, as the Steelers of the '70s did. Then we'll talk.
HEY, IF MISSOURIANS CAN ELECT A DEAD MAN TO THE U.S. SENATE — then NBA fans can certainly elect Alonzo Mourning and Grant Hill — out for the season — to the All-Star game's starting lineup.
DON'T STOP THE PRESSES — J.R. Rider misses the Lakers' charter to New York and has to shell out his own money to make it to Madison Square Garden in time for the Knicks game.
"THEY PLAYED BETTER THAN WE DID." — Jim Harrick, after the Dogs lose to Florida on Saturday, 82-71. When's the last time you heard a coach say that?
DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH — The NBA trade deadline is 6 p.m. EST, Feb. 22.
GO AHEAD, HOLD YOUR BREATH — The NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. EST, March 13.
FANTASY LEAGUE — Who would you rather have on your team: Dikembe Mutombo or Theo Ratliff?