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Francoeur is first-ballot Good Guy Hall of Famer

Veteran outfielder once dubbed 'The Natural' knows what truly matters
MLB.com

During these last days of Black History Month, I'm thinking of somebody associated with Major League Baseball who isn't African-American and whose family background is as French-Canadian as his name: Jeff Francoeur.

You heard correctly. Francoeur isn't mentioned in the history books with the likes of Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron. In fact, after more than a few struggles as a player during the past 11 years since Sports Illustrated crowned Francoeur "The Natural" on its cover, he'll never reach Cooperstown.

During these last days of Black History Month, I'm thinking of somebody associated with Major League Baseball who isn't African-American and whose family background is as French-Canadian as his name: Jeff Francoeur.

You heard correctly. Francoeur isn't mentioned in the history books with the likes of Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron. In fact, after more than a few struggles as a player during the past 11 years since Sports Illustrated crowned Francoeur "The Natural" on its cover, he'll never reach Cooperstown.

Still, I'll give you yet another reason out of the many given through the years why everybody should pull like crazy for this 32-year-old non-roster invitee to make the Braves along his way to the Good Guy Hall of Fame: Francoeur gets it. He gets nearly everything of importance in life beyond the playing field.

Let's return to the summer of 2006, the year after Francoeur's baptism by SI as baseball's next great thing. The Atlanta-area native played for the hometown Braves back then, and I worked as a sports columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Between swings in batting practice, Francoeur waved me over to the side of the cage. He said he read my column that morning about the dwindling number of African-Americans in the Major Leagues, and after shaking his head, he said, "I want to help turn things around to bring more black players into the game. Just tell me what I need to do."

I was stunned. Then I thought for a moment ... this was Jeffrey Francoeur, and it suddenly made sense. You won't find a more sincere athlete than Francoeur, who always has his mind geared toward serving. You'll rarely see him without a smile, and he and his wife, Catie, are highly active with charities close to their hearts. Francoeur delivers encouraging words to teammates and to just anybody else who cares to accept them. Such things happen when you're as compassionate as he is, and you're born into a family of teachers. Francoeur's parents are now retired, but his brother and his sister still teach in the Atlanta area.

In addition, Francoeur is a devout Christian with a Bible verse, Joshua 1:9, written on the outside of his glove. Here's the Living Bible translation: "Yes, be bold and strong! Banish fear and doubt! For remember, the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

Video: PHI@WSH: Francoeur ties game late with two-run homer

Francoeur cherishes those words now as much as ever when it comes to his baseball career. Since the Braves dealt him to the Mets in July 2009, he has worked for six teams, including four during the past three seasons. Francoeur left the Phillies after last year as a free agent in search of playing a 12th Major League season. Instead, it appeared no teams were interested in a serviceable player with a lifetime batting average of .261, 153 homers and solid enough fielding to own a Gold Glove.

Then the Braves called.

Good. That is, if you're into mom, apple pie and the American flag. You also can throw Francoeur into that mix. It's just that he still has to impress Braves officials enough to make a roster that's already crowded with outfielders.

"I'm excited," Francoeur told reporters earlier this week at Atlanta's Spring Training camp in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. "I'm excited to see all the familiar faces. I'm excited to be here, excited for the opportunity. The offseason was crazy how it unfolded. But now I'm looking forward to just honestly getting back out on the field and playing."

About those other Braves outfielders: Hector Olivera is slated to start in left, Ender Inciarte in center and Nick Markakis in right. Barring a trade, Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Emilio Bonifacio are the backups, but Francoeur might fit into the mix -- and not just for sentimental reasons. He was the top pinch-hitter in the Major Leagues last season after going 11-for-30 (.367) with the Phillies, and his 11 RBIs were one shy of leading all of baseball.

Braves fans remember that other Francoeur, though. He was part of the so-called Baby Braves in 2005 of Brian McCann, Kyle Davies, Ryan Langerhans and others. They were among the 18 rookies that Atlanta used that season to win a record 14th consecutive division title. Nobody was more popular among those Baby Braves than Francoeur, a local baseball and football star who even got a scholarship offer to play wide receiver at Clemson, a yearly power in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

In his debut with the Braves in July 2005, Francoeur ripped a three-run homer against the Cubs for his first Major League hit. His opening 37 games resulted in a .360 batting average, and that's when SI came calling. Francoeur ended his rookie year batting .300 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs in 70 games, and his future looked even brighter than his perennially sparkling eyes.

Unfortunately, for Francoeur and his followers, he didn't continue his march to Cooperstown, but there is encouraging news: Folks placed his plaque in the Good Guy Hall of Fame long ago.

Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com.

Atlanta Braves, Jeff Francoeur