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Teheran looks up to, hopes to speak with Big Three

Right-hander grew up in Colombia admiring Braves legends Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz

Weird? Bizarre? Crazy? I'll just say Julio Teheran has a fascinating reaction to his baseball heroes whenever they are near his world, but let's start with a little background. This Braves pitching ace grew up in Cartagena, Colombia, worshiping the Big Three of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, the legends of yore for Atlanta. Maddux and Glavine were inducted into Cooperstown this past Sunday, and Smoltz is headed that way next season.

While Maddux only sits on the periphery of the game these days from his long-time home in Las Vegas, Glavine and Smoltz remain close to baseball as television announcers. Not only that, but they also still live in Atlanta, where they joined Maddux to help make the Tomahawk Chop famous along the way to a collective 26 trips to the All-Star Game and seven Cy Young Awards.

Glavine and Smoltz are as approachable as they come. I say that because during the season, you'll see either one or both of them sauntering through the clubhouses at Turner Field or moving between the home dugout and the batting cage, chatting with everybody in their vicinity.

You won't see Teheran in that scenario, though.

What's up with that?

Teheran eased into a smile, and then this pleasant 23-year-old in his fourth Major League season told the truth: He's intimidated.

"Well, you know, I'm kind of shy just to be around them, because those guys were my idols," Teheran said. "I really get nervous when I'm around any of them, so I haven't had a chance to talk to them, but I do want to. I want to see what they would like to say to me. It's something I would appreciate."

I'm sure the feeling would be mutual. Glavine and Smoltz love to share knowledge with those who care to listen. In addition, greatness combined with potential greatness is a splendid mix, especially if potential greatness keeps finding ways to remove "potential" from the equation. Take Teheran, for instance, who is doing the latter well enough to become one of the game's elite pitchers. At 10-6, he ranks in the top 10 of the National League in ERA (2.71 ERA, eighth), strikeouts (132, ninth), innings pitched (149 1/3, fourth) and complete games (2, fifth). He also rarely walks hitters (31). Plus, after entering this season for the first time as the designated leader of a Major League pitching staff, he tops Braves starters in victories, ERA, strikeouts, WHIP (1.04) and opposing batting average (.227).

Sounds like the stuff of Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz.

Teheran understands that as much as anybody. Even though he was two years old when Maddux signed with the Braves before the 1993 season to form the Big Three, he spent much of his youth in Colombia forgetting he was a diehard Yankees fan -- you know, whenever Maddux, Glavine or Smoltz pitched, even if it was against somebody in pinstripes.

"I loved the Yankees, and I didn't like the Braves at all," Teheran said, "but as a little kid, I was a big fan of their rotation."

In fact, Teheran studied the Big Three in detail during its unprecedented run through the 1990s. There was Glavine, the slightly built left-hander who threw softer than your average summer breeze.

"He really was a pitcher," Teheran said. "He didn't have to use force to get people out. He went through the entire batting order, and you could tell that he knew how to pitch [a specific way] to each hitter that he faced. It was the same thing with Maddux."

Speaking of Maddux: "He was always thinking on the mound," Teheran said. "The hitters never knew what he was going to throw. Even if they knew what he was going to throw, it didn't matter. He could just control the game."

And Smoltz: "He was aggressive during games," Teheran said. "I liked the way he looked and the way he acted overall. It was something that always caught my attention."

What mostly intrigued Teheran was how each of the Big Three was different, but absolutely the same. As for symmetry, they constantly worked at their craft, and they never took a pitch off. Such a thing goes back to former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who embraced the different styles on his staff, but who insisted they all throw, throw and throw some more and never deliver anything from their arms toward home plate without a purpose.

"That's why I remember that now that I'm in the Major Leagues, I have to work to get better and to pay attention, and I got that from [following Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz]," Teheran said. "I learned from watching them to be aggressive and to control myself and control the game."

Which makes you wonder ... Teheran is improving like crazy. He was wonderful last season during his first full season as a Major League starter, with a 14-8 record, 3.20 ERA and 170 strikeouts in 185 2/3 innings, and he is better this season, which already has included his first All-Star Game appearance. That said, how prolific will he become someday after he sits down and has a deep conversation with at least one of the Big Three?

That day is coming, right, Julio?

Teheran paused before saying, "Well, wow. Sometimes, I'll say, 'Hi,' if I see one of them, but I don't know. I get so nervous around them. The one I see around here the most is Smoltz, and I really want to talk to him about some stuff. I really want him to tell me what I can do to get better and what I can do to be like him, but I'm not sure what he can tell me."

Smoltz could tell Teheran a lot.

Terence Moore is a columnist for

Atlanta Braves, Julio Teheran