Jeff Francoeur arrived at Turner Field on Thursday afternoon to find his car just where he left it when the Braves departed for a pre-All-Star break road trip two weeks ago.
"I was just glad it didn't get towed," said Francoeur, who started that trip as a Brave and ended it as a Met.
Donning the road grays, one of Atlanta's favorite sons squared off against his hometown team for the first time in his five-year career after being dealt for Ryan Church, another underperforming outfielder. Francoeur, one of the most accomplished high school athletes in Georgia history before being drafted by the Braves, received a warm ovation in his first at-bat in the second inning of the Braves' 5-3 win (RECAP | BOX). He was acknowledged every at-bat thereafter with measurable cheers.
"I was excited to see a bunch of cheers and stuff like that. It was one of those things where I was trying to just get in the box," said Francoeur, who kicked a little dirt toward lifelong friend Brian McCann, who in turn greeted Francoeur with some trash talk. "It was one of those things where I would see Brian and didn't know what to say. Tomorrow should be back to baseball." Francoeur put solid wood on the ball in his first at-bat, but lined into a 4-3 double-play.
Francoeur is staying in his Atlanta home this week rather than the Mets' hotel, packing up and preparing for the move to New York, which he says will take place next week while the Mets finish their 10-game road trip.
Braves fans, for the most part, agreed with the trade after it appeared Francoeur could not shake his season-and-a-half slump in which his power numbers and on-base percentage sank considerably from his first years with the Braves. Trading him to the Mets was a bit awkward, but in general, the feeling was Francoeur needed a fresh start away from Atlanta after struggling with a .239 batting average in 2008 and .250 in 2009 with just 16 home runs over 1 1/2 seasons.
Francoeur discussed with his wife, Catie, how "weird" it would feel to head to the visitor's locker room at Turner Field during a trip to Destin, Fla., over the All-Star break. It was there, Francoeur said, that he got a chance to reflect a bit on the ending of his Braves career -- which included the highs of landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a rookie and the lows of getting sent to the minors three years later.
"Now that I look back on it, my time here was awesome, but just the two days I played (at Citi Field), I could feel the energy of the fans," he said. "Forty-five thousand fans and they love their baseball. So for me, it is a great opportunity. It is huge stage in New York, and it is something my wife and I are looking forward to."
Despite growing up near Atlanta (Catie and Francoeur met in third grade) and attending the University of Georgia, Catie had no problems switching allegiances to the Mets. Jeff said his wife bought about $1,000 worth of Mets merchandise during Francoeur's first two games in New York and distributed it to family and friends at the beach. Francoeur wasn't sure if all of his friends would be wearing the Mets attire at Turner Field over the weekend, but he knew he would have a large support group in right field, just as he did when he broke into the majors in 2005.
McCann, who played youth baseball with Francoeur and came up with him through the Braves organization, initially thought Francoeur would have a hard time with the emotions of his first game back since the trade.
"Putting myself in that situation, I'm sure I would press and try to hit a home run," he said.
Francoeur admitted he swung for the fences (and missed) in his third at-bat with a 2-0 count against Derek Lowe, and he finished the night 0-for-4 with an RBI. He insists he will not press during this four-game set or any other of the numerous games the Braves and Mets will play in the coming seasons.
"I'm not coming back here to show anybody they made a mistake (trading me) in four games," he said. "Because whether you have a good four games or a bad four games, it doesn't show anything because baseball is such a long season."
During a pre-game media scrum in the visitors dugout, where Francoeur warmly greeted many members of the Atlanta media, the 25-year old mentioned several times how getting away from Atlanta could rejuvenate a career that devolved from almost a mythical start (SI labeling him 'The Natural') to one in which he was one of the worst everyday hitters in the National League.
"It is exciting because it is something (Catie and I) have never done. We're going to live away from our family," Francoeur said. "I'll be able to concentrate a lot more on baseball. As different as it is gong to be, it is also something I think I will enjoy."