Andruw Rudolf Jones was born on April 23, 1977 in the capital city of Willemstad on the Caribbean island nation of Curacao, off the coast of Venezuela. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) His father, Henry, was one of the country’s best baseball players in the 1960s and ’70s. Had major league teams bothered to scout the island, Henry might have been the first in his family to play in America. As it was, he worked in a tissue-paper factory and played ball in the evenings and on weekends. He could not wait until Andruw was old enough to pick up a bat and glove.
Andruw’s mother, Carmen, warned Henry not to start the boy too early. Henry ignored her advice and attempted to teach Andruw how to catch a hardball while he was still a toddler. The experiment ended in tears. Andruw preferred to stalk iguanas in his back yard, which held his attention until the age of three, when a large iguana started to stalk him and sank its teeth into his chest. He rediscovered baseball soon after.
By the time Andruw was six, he was already dreaming of being a major leaguer. He would bounce around singing to himself, “I’m going to play ball in the United States, I’m going to play ball in the United States.” Back then, he played most of his baseball on the dusty field near the family's house. Those who watched Andruw in his early years remember how calm and confident he was.
By the age of 11, Andruw was on a youth select team that traveled all the way to Japan to play in a tournament. He could handle any position on the field, but because of his powerful arm, Andruw often found himself at catcher or third base. He switched to the outfield a couple of years later.
Stories of Andruw’s early accomplishments are the stuff of legend. As a 13-year-old, playing for his father’s Royal Scorpions team, he sent a ball screaming over 400 feet to the tennis court of a nearby hotel. In the same game, Andruw came up again and hit the hotel. By his early teens, he was competing against adults. He even played on Curacao’s national team in the Latin American Games.
Though Andruw required little in the way of coaching, his father and he talked a lot of baseball. Henry quizzed him on strategy and game situations and helped him train. He also raced him in sprints. Henry was still very fast, and Andruw was well into his teenage years before he could out-run his father.
Andruw’s first big break came when he was spotted by Giovanni Viceisza, a businessman who watched a lot of baseball in his travels around the Caribbean basin. Viceisza doubled as a part-time scout for the Atlanta Braves. He first saw Andruw during a tournament in Puerto Rico.Viceisza was amazed. Unlike most boys his age, Andruw was not a wiry kid. To the contrary, he was well-muscled and moved around the field like a grown man.
A few days later, scout Paul Snyder was on a plane to see the kid who Viceisza had raved about. Impressed with Andruw‘s skills, Snyder pulled out his stopwatch and asked the teenager to sprint 60 yards. Andruw’s dad lined up beside him and raced against him to make sure he gave his best effort. Snyder yelled go and then watched the pair streak toward him. Andruw covered the distance in a remarkable 6.73 seconds. More amazing was his 46-year-old father, who lost by half a stride! Convinced by what he saw—and confident about Andruw’s bloodlines—Snyder urged the Braves to sign him as soon as he turned 16.
The Atlanta brass sweated out the next few months, hoping no other teams would send scouts to the island. When word leaked out, several other organizations began showing an interest in Andruw. Luckily for the Braves, their games were carried on TBS, which was beamed into Curacao. As far as Andruw was concerned, Atlanta was the only team he cared to play for.
When the time came to sign, Henry and Carmen knew it would mean that Andruw would have to leave the St. Paulus School before he got his diploma. Education was important to the Joneses, but the fact that St. Paulus School did not field a baseball team convinced them that it was now or never for their son. The Braves handed over a bonus check for $46,000 in July of 1993, and Andruw was in training camp the following February.
ON THE RISE
Andruw met several other starry-eyed teenagers in his first camp, most of them Latinos. He spoke Spanish fluently and made quick friends. Andruw also spoke English (as well as Dutch and Papiamento), so he communicated easily with virtually everyone in the organization. The Braves started Andruw off with their instructional team in West Palm Beach, Florida. He was one of several exciting young players on the roster who would eventually reach the majors, including Micah Bowie, Bruce Chen, Wes Helms, George Lombard and Fernando Lunar.
Andruw was promoted to Danville of the Appalachian League after only 27 games. Though barely 17, he batted .336 and was named the circuit’s second-best prospect. He was also recognized by Baseball America as one of the Top 10 prospects in all of the minor leagues. Among his teammates at Danville were future Braves stars John Rocker and Kevin Millwood.
The only glaring weakness in Andruw 's game was handling breaking pitches. Of course, that was not uncommon for young hitters. In fact, it is one of the reasons clubs move them level-by-level through the farm system. Each bump up in quality means better pitchers, and an opportunity to sharpen your skills. The way the Braves figured it, their young star would spend 1996 in high Class-A and Double-A. The follwing year, he would jump to Double-A or Triple-A. If everything went well, Andruw would split 1998 between Triple-A and Atlanta. The Bravesprojected him as they everyday centerf ielder by 1999 or 2000.
Andruw had a different timetable in mind. Beginning the 1996 season with Atlanta's Class-A team in Durham, he batted .313 with 17 home runs in 67 games, with nearly as many walks as strikeouts. The Braves quickly promoted him to Double-A Greenville. Despite facing good breaking stuff for the first time, Andruw hit .369 in 38 games. His batting average was tops in the league by 25 points.
There was an opening at Class-AAA Richmond, so the Braves decided to promote Andruw to see how he adjusted. In less than two weeks, he had nine extra-base hits and was batting .378. The Atlanta braintrust wasn’t sure what to do next.
Fortunately for Andruw, the big club was in the market for an outfielder. Earlier in the year, Dave Justice had injured his shoulder and was lost for the season. Jermaine Dye, a lanky 22-year-old who was playing a level ahead of Andruw in the Atlanta system, was promoted from Richmond and proved a capable fill-in. But he hurt his knee, and the team had to scramble for a replacement.
When Andruw arrived in Richmond, manager Bill Dancey had a hunch the Braves might give him a shot at the majors. Dancey moved his young star from center to right. Then, during a road trip to Norfolk, it happened. The trainer knocked on the door to Andruw’s hotel room and informed him he was about to become a major leaguer. Andruw was speechless.
When Andruw got to Atlanta, manager Bobby Cox put him right in the lineup. In his first game, he singled home a run and threw out a baserunner from right. The next day, Andruw hit a home run and a triple. The league caught up to the teenager after a couple of weeks, and he failed to make the necessary adjustments. Cox sat Andruw on the bench rather than let him embarrass himself. In between games, Andruw worked with the coaching staff to learn the finer points of hitting major-league pitching. He already had a major-league caliber glove.
The Braves won their division easily behind the great pitching of starters Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz and the stellar relief work of fireballing Mark Wohlers. When it came time to set the rosters for the playoffs, Andruw (who finished the year mired in a 1-for-22 slump) assumed he would be dropped. But his speed and his defense earned him the last spot on the bench.
The Braves, world champions in 1995, were heavy favorites to repeat. They swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Divisional Series. Andruw did not get in any of the games. In the National League Championship Series, the St. Louis Cardinals gave Atlanta a scare when they won three of the first four games. The Braves responded with three straight victories, including a squeaker in Game 7, to take their second straight pennant. Andruw got into a couple of games, subbing for Ryan Klesko, who had trouble hitting lefties. The rookie played well and hit a home run. At 19, he was the youngest player in postseason history to go deep.
The World Series pitted the Braves against the Yankees. It had been 15 years since the Bronx Bombers had reached the Fall Classic. They were underdogs against the juggernaut Braves. Or were they? With three quality lefties—Andy Pettitte, Jimmy Key and Kenny Rogers—they could neutralize much of Atlanta’s power. Cox warned Andruw that he might see some action against New York.
That was all his parents had to hear. Henry and Carmen booked a flight to New York and were sitting in the stands in the Bronx for the opener. Cox toyed with the idea of starting Klesko against Pettitte, but feared that covering Yankee Stadium'sspacious left field would overwhelm the burly slugger. Instead, Andruw got the start against the 21-game winner.
In the second inning, Andruw came to the plate after a single by Javier Lopez. Pettitte threw a nasty cutter on the hands hoping to induce a double-play ball to Wade Boggs at third. Andruw was ready and caught the pitch perfectly. Everyone in the stadium watched the ball rise high into the night sky, and then drop over the wall in left for a two-run homer. In Curacao, a nation roared in unison. The emotional Pettitte self-destructed after that and the Braves took Game 1.
But not before lightning struck twice.
Andruw came to the plate in the third against reliever Brian Boehringer. Seconds later, Andruw launched a bomb to left for a three-run homer. As he circled the bases, Braves announcer Pete Van Wieren wondered aloud whether Andruw realized there were no more levels left for him to move up!
The Braves won Game 2 but then dropped Game 3 in Atlanta. In the pivotal fourth game, Andruw—making his fourth start of the series—reached base four of the five times he batted. The Braves had a 6-3 lead going into the eighth inning, but the normally lights-out Wohlers fell apart. He hung a pitch to pinch-hitter Jim Leyritz, who homered over Andruw’s outstretched glove to tie the score. The Yankees scored twice in the 10th inning to knot the series.
In Game 5, Pettitte avenged his earlier loss with a sparkling 1-0 shutout against Smoltz, and the Braves now trailed heading back to Yankee Stadium. When the heart of the Atlanta failed to produce against five New York pitchers, the Yankees won 3-2 to score one of the most remarkable comebacks in postseason history.
Andruw's two home runs, six RBIs, and .400 batting average was the best hitting performance of anyone in the World Series. But that was little consolation. Andruw had gotten a taste of championship baseball and now hungered for a World Series ring.
With Lofton, Klesko and new right fielder Michael Tucker all hitting from the left side, Andruw saw a fair amount of action as a reserve. He regularly made great plays in the outfield and hit the ball with authority. When Lofton went down in June with a leg injury, Andruw killed the ball for five weeks as his replacement.
Pitchers, however, saw enough of Andruw during that stretch to realize that he still liked to chase breaking balls away—and that’s pretty much all he saw for the rest of the season. His average dipped to .231, though he began to make progress in September and show a little more patience. The Braves, meanwhile, won the NL East with 101 victories and once again were the favorites to win the World Series.
The Braves swept the Houston Astros in the Division Series. Then the Wild Card Marlins stunned them in the NLCS. Andruw had a great series against Florida’s stellar pitchers, but it wasn’t enough. For the second year in a row, the sure-thing Braves went home empty-handed.
The 1998 season was a crucial one for Andruw. The Braves dealt away Lofton to open center for their young star. He got a little overconfident in the early part of the season and non-chalanted a few plays on defense. When he failed to hustle after a fly ball in a July game, Cox ordered him into the dugout in the middle of the inning and chewed him out. The Atlanta skipper told Andruw it was time to grow up. The public humiliation worked. Andruw turned his season around and earned his first Gold Glove. He also raised his average 40 points, finishing at .271 with 31 homers, 90 RBIs and 27 steals.
Andruw was a major reason the Braves won 106 games and the NL East. For the third year in a row, they were favored to take the pennant. After sweeping the Chicago Cubs in the Divisional Series, Atlanta came up short again. This time, the Braves were outplayed by the San Diego Padres in the NLCS and again missed the World Series.
Finally, in 1999, the Braves made it back to the Fall Classic. Ironically, they did so with an inferior club. First baseman Andres Galarraga, the team’s spiritual leader, was diagnosed with cancer and missed the entire year. Lopez, their star catcher, went down at mid-season with a knee injury. But thanks to big contributions from Chipper Jones and newcomer Brian Jordan—and another solid year from Andruw—the Braves managed to win 103 games. They beat the Astros in the Division Series and survived an exhausting battle with the New York Mets to win the pennant for the fifth time in the decade.
The World Series promised to be a tough battle. The Yankees were in the midst of a dominant postseason run. Still, with home field advantage and veterans Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, young stud Kevin Millwood and closer John Rocker, the Braves had the ingredients for an upset.
The Braves led Game 1 going into the eighth inning, but Maddux could not hold the Yankees, who rallied to win 4-1. When Millwood got cuffed around in Game 2, Atlanta found itself in a deephole. The Braves led again in Game 3, but Glavine, weakened by the flu, departed after only 73 pitches. Rocker coughed up the lead and the Braves lost on a Chad Curtis homer in the 10th. Game 4 saw the Yanks score three times early against Smoltz, and then Jeff Nelson and Mariano Rivera slammed the door for a series sweep. Andruw might as well have not shown up. In four games, he managed just one hit.
Despite the disastrous conclusion to his year, Andruw had learned a lot from batting coach Don Baylor. He was beginning to fully understand the importance of patience at the plate. While Andruw was still waving at breaking balls away, at least he had a better idea of when they were coming. Everyone on the Braves agreed that he was ready to take the next step in his career.
MAKING HIS MARK
Andruw made enormous strides at the plate in 2000, batting .300 and reaching 100 RBIs for the first time. He smashed 36 home runs—a career high—and finished one hit shy of 200. The Braves held off a late charge by the Mets and won their division by a game. Reigning MVP Chipper Jones enjoyed a great year and Galarraga, who returned from cancer to hit 28 homers and knock in 100 runs, was simply remarkable. With Smoltz out for the year with a bad elbow, Maddux, Glavine and a trio of relievers led the staff to 95 victories.
In the playoffs, the Braves first met the Cardinals, who were minus sluggers Mark McGwire and Fernando Tatis. With everyone in Atlanta looking past St. Louis to an NLCS showdown with the Mets, the team’s sterling pitching suddenly collapsed. Maddux got bombed in the opener, Glavine got trashed in Game 2, and Millwood got hammered in Game 3. There was no accounting for the disastrous showing, especially when the Cardinals lost to the Mets in the NLCS.
Unlike the 1999 World Series, when the Braves fell to a superior ball club, Andruw and his teammates were stunned by their defeat to St. Louis. The fog lifted by the time the 2001 season began, and the Braves got down to the business of winning their 10th straight division title. Maddux and Glavine won 33 games between them, and moltz returned from elbow surgery to become the club’s closer down the stretch. Without much competition from its NL East rivals, Atlanta was able to take the division crown with a mere 88 wins.
The Achilles heel of the club was its offense. Chipper Jones had the best year of his career, but everyone else seemed to drift in and out of a hitting funk during the season. Andruw was not immune. Although his power stats were virtually identical to the previous year’s, his average sank to .251, thanks to a dismal second half. Andruw had fallen in love with the long ball and was swinging like a rookie. As the campaign drew to a close, he came precariously close to breaking the team record for strikeouts in a season.
Despite some worries that Andruw was not maturing quickly enough as a hitter, the Braves inked him to a $75 million contract for six years. They were investing in what everyone in baseball agreed was unlimited potential. Now it was time to produce.
To Andruw’s credit, he did not come out flailing in 2002 to justify his hefty contract. Instead, he began the season hitting the way everyone knew he could. He was smashing homers, driving in runs, and flirting with .300 again. In July, he was named to the All-Star team (for the third time in his career).
The Braves were holding their own in the NL East, thanks as always to their pitching. Although Maddux experienced injury problems, the slack was taken up by youngsters Damian Moss and Jason Marquis. Glavine was also pitching beautifully, and Smoltz—in his first full season as a closer—was on a pace for 50-plus saves.
Just when it seemed Andruw was ready to take the final big step in his development, the injury bug bit. He strained his neck and left shoulder, and then jammed his wrist. Andruw tried to bull his way through the discomfort—and watched in frustration as his average sank more than 50 points. The harder he tried, the easier it was for pitchers to make him to swing at their garbage. Finally, in the last few games of the year, Andruw began listening to new coach Terry Pendelton, who urged him to wait for pitches he could handle. The result was four homers in four at-bats. It was a nice way to end a confounding regular season.
With 101 wins, the Braves were confident heading into their playoff showdown with the San Francisco Giants. They had homefield advantage planned to pitch with great care to Barry Bonds. The rest of the San Francisco lineup was solid but hardly spectacular, and their pitching didn’t scare anyone. The Giants, however, roughed up Glavine in the opener and took an 8-5 decision, The Braves bounced back, scoring 17 runs in the next two games to take the series lead.
The Braves sent Glavine to the mound to wrap things up, but he was pounded again, forcing a fifth game back in Atlanta. In the first well-pitched contest of the series, Millwood hurled five strong innings. Unfortunately, Russ Ortiz was better. The Braves could not score against the San Francisco bullpen, and once again Atlanta was bounced out of the playoffs.
By the time Andruw returned to Kissimmee for spring training in 2003, the Braves had retooled the team. Gone was Glavine, now a Met, and Ortiz, who had pitched so well against Atlanta in the playoffs, was acquired in a trade for Moss. Millwood, who had finished 2002 with 18 wins, was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for young catcher Johnny Estrada. The Braves tried unsuccessfully to shop Lopez over the winter, so the plan was to let Estrada round out his game at Triple-A until the veteran could be dealt. Meanwhile, Marcus Giles was given a shot at the second base job, and Robert Fick became the new first baseman.
The challenges in the NL East appeared formidable. Florida's young arms made the teamm extremely tough, while both the Mets and Phillies had beefed up with major hitting and pitching acquisitions. Even the lowly Montreal Expos were a thorny proposition, as they proved by taking an early season series from Atlanta.
The Braves rebounded and began playing like a contender. Giles and Lopez were smoking the ball, and the pitching was holding up fairly well despite a slow start from Maddux. Much of the credit went to Pendleton, who had transformed Atlanta into an offensive juggernaut. Andruw became one of his best students. Instead of relying solely on his considerable God-given skills, he was thinking his way through at-bats. Go the other way, wait for piches he could drive, and set up the pitcher instead of the other way around. Andruw loved Pendleton's philosophy and viewed him as more of a friend than a teacher.
Andruw concentrated on working a pitch or two deeper into the count and wound up getting some great balls to hit. After two months, he was batting .300 and found himself among the league leaders in home runs and RBIs. He also continued to play a breathtaking cente rfield. At the All-Star break, Andruw was on pace for a 40-homer, 120-RBI season.
By early August, the Braves had the best record in baseball and the largest lead of any division front-runner. They were best in the league in every major batting category andon pace to eclipse the NL record of 249 homers.
Andruw, however, was struggling with a pulled right oblique muscle. The nagging injury had actually helped him focus on his hitting—he was swinging with more control and attempting fewer steals—but the pain was preventing him from going after the knee-high fastballs he loved so much. Knowing how much the Braves needed him in the lineup, Andruw played through the pain. Atlanta finished with the league’s best mark, and Andruw enjoyed a career year, including 36 home runs and 116 RBIs.
Unfortunately, a great season ended in disappointment, when Atlanta fell to the Cubs in the Division Series. With Mark Prior and Kerry Wood scheduled for three starts between them, beating Chicago in a five-game set was no easy proposition. Wood sent a message in the opener, whiffing seven in eight overpowering innings. Prior then outdueled Greg Maddux in Game 3, and Wood closed out the Braves in Game 5.
Andruw hit an anemic .059 for the series. In 17 official at-bats, he picked up just one knock against seven Ks. Even so, in the offseason, the Braves determined that Andruw could handle being the team’s main righthanded bat and let Gary Sheffield walk away.
With many experts predicting an end to Atlanta's long string of division titles, Andruw felt the pressure to carry the club in 2004. He tried to do too much at the plate, and opposing pitchers took advantage of his aggressiveness. At season's end, the Braves had won the division by 10 games, but Andruw had taken fallen off offensively. All of his numbers were down slightly, and his strikeouts had soared to 147 on the year.
Andruw pulled it together for the Division Series against the Astros and battered Houston pitching. Unfortunately for Atlanta, Carlos Beltran was even better. The Astros squeezed out the series victory in five games.
Andruw led the NL with 51 homers and 128 RBIs. His eighth Gold Glove was testament to his continued proficiency in the outfield. Andruw's breakout performance was crucial to the Braves, who prevailed in the tightest divisional race in a generation. Andruw finished second to Albert Pujols in the NL MVP voting, which some saw as highway robbery.
Once again, the Braves and Astros faced off in the first round of the playoffs. Andruw had terrific series, hitting .471. Along with Brian McCann and Adam LaRoche, he carried the club. The Astros, however, got the biggest hits, including a series-ending homer by Chris Burke in the 18th inning of Game 4.
Andruw continued his lusty hitting in 2006, socking 41 homers and driving in a career-high 129 runs. Pitchers were giving him less to swing at, and he showed admirable patience, drawing 82 walks. He also led the Braves in runs scored. Unfortunately, Atlanta ’s powerful offense could not make up for a season-long pitching drought. The Braves finished out of the money (and under .500) for the first time in Andruw's career.
Andruw suited up for his 12th season as a Brave in 2007. With the team cutting costs, everyone in baseball suspected it would be his last. He was in the final year of his contract, and it seemed Atlanta would unlikely to enter the free-agent bidding that fall.
That scenario changed somewhat as the season wore on. Andruw appeared to lose a step in the outfield and on the bases. He was also a beat behind in the batter's box. After he hurt his elbow early in the year, he tried to play through the injury. Andruw had never spent a day on the DL as a major leaguer, and with free agency looming, he had no intention of doing so in ’07. He finally submitted to a cortisone shot in August.
Andruw's average hovered around .200 almost all year, and his power numbers did not come around until the second half. He finished with 26 homers and 94 RBIs, but he hit just .222. Outside of his short sint in the majors in 1996, that was the worst mark of his career.
The Braves, meanwhile, were never really part of the division race. Everyone was asking, "What's wrong with Andruw?" That prompted some fans to wonder whether the team would try to re-sign him at a bargain rate.
The Braves ended that conjecture right after the season's final out, announcing that they were not interested in bringing Andruw back. Even with his diminished numbers, he was likely to draw heavy interest on the free agent market. The Braves did not want to get into the bidding. A couple of months later, the Dodgers announced they had inked Andruw to a two-year $32 million deal. Other teams were offering more years, but Rafael Furcal, Andruw's old Atlanta teammate, convinced him he could be a difference-maker in Los Angeles.
Andruw is eager to write the next chapter in his career. Despite more than 10 years of service in the big leagues, Andruw is still young by baseball standards. Indeed, he is reaching the age when many players hit their prime. If that's the case with Andruw, you can punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame now.
ANDRUW THE PLAYER
In 2003, Andruw stopped trying to pull everything to left and began stroking pitches to all fields with authority. With the pressure of free agency in 2007, he fell back into some old habits. When Andurw is patient, he is at his best. Few players are better when they stay in the strike zone.
In the field, Andruw is not what he was at 25. That doesn't mean he can't chase them down anymore, You don’t glove 400 balls a year unless you can do it all in the outfield—go left, go right, come in, go back, and take good angles on drives to the gaps.
Overlooked in Andruw's game is his clubhouse presence. He learned from some of the best in Chipper Jones and Bobby Cox. Andruw has never been a rah-rah leader, but his willingness to play with injuries and his desire are crucial to any club making a push for the pennant.
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