As soon as he got off the team plane from Houston, spring training began for Jeff Francoeur. His program was: Get to Athens and get to work on his body. Athens is where his physical therapist is, and after a season of a .239 batting average, just 11 home runs and a discouraging number of strikeouts, he needed to relocate the former Francoeur, the local kid who had brought many a Turner Field crowd to its feet with joy. His game had picked up a bit in the closing games, to the point that he was batting cleanup against the Astros, then struck out three times.
“What happened this year will never happen again,” he said, and with emphasis. He had checked in at spring training weighing 238 pounds, a plumpish figure strange to him. “I weigh 2l8 now, always my game weight, and I’ve got to get the rest of me in baseball shape. Nobody is looking forward to the end of this season more than me.”
He was newly married and perhaps got a little fat and happy as a husband. Worst of all, he felt he’d let his fans and friends down, and it came across like a brown fog in those games of multiple strikeouts. For the first time in his life, he heard boo’s—in his hometown, from his own people. “I had never failed like I did this year. I’ve always succeeded in what I did,” he said. “I’ve never known what it is to fail. This will not happen again, I promise.”
In between seasons the Braves had offered both Francoeur and Brian McCann extended contracts for something like $24 million over six years—I don’t guarantee those figures, but they’re close — something John Schuerholz eschewed when he was general manager. Presumably, this was the new man, Frank Wren’s, proposal. McCann took it. Francoeur turned it down. There were suspicions that this may have been the source of Francoeur’s regression, but don’t suggest that to him. “Not at all. I’ve always had faith in my ability. I have more confidence in myself than that. I’ve always succeeded in what I did. I’ve never known myself to fail,” he said, rather firmly. “I guess I took a lot for granted. If I can presevere through this, I can persevere through anything.”
After all the lifting and physical training, he’ll move into some concentrated hitting exercises, tuning up for the spring. “I’m looking forward to next spring right now. I want my wife to have a season she can enjoy more than this one.” In other words, this is not just for himself, but all those out there who have become fans of “Frenchy’s,” the local hero who had his chance at two careers on a major level — scholarship football at Clemson, or baseball with the Braves. He is certain he made the right choice, and those of us who love him feel the same way. Can’t wait for spring after the gloomiest season the Braves have had since 1990.