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Swanson highlights bright future for Braves

August 19, 2016

ATLANTA -- If you're keeping score, Day 2 for Dansby Swanson in the Major Leagues was Thursday at Turner Field, and the whole scene was slightly less frantic than Day 1 on Wednesday, when much of the world -- well, at least the portion from his hometown of nearby Marietta,

ATLANTA -- If you're keeping score, Day 2 for Dansby Swanson in the Major Leagues was Thursday at Turner Field, and the whole scene was slightly less frantic than Day 1 on Wednesday, when much of the world -- well, at least the portion from his hometown of nearby Marietta, Ga. -- came to see everything involved with the Braves' designated face of the future.
I've seen this before around here. So has Eddie Perez, the former backup catcher and longtime coach for the Braves. He shook his head before rattling off more than a decade worth of memories involving guys from the Atlanta area making their debuts with the franchise while creating expectations stretching from the earth to the farthest solar system.
Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann, Jason Heyward. There also were those other Georgian-born players joining Francoeur and McCann among the dozen rookies in 2005 known as the Baby Braves. Talk about an Atlanta love fest: They played their first Major League games that season during the team's improbable run to another National League East title.
Now it's Swanson, 22, who went from playing shortstop for the Mississippi Braves of the Double-A Southern League earlier in the week to starting at the same position a few days later for the organization of a record 14 consecutive division championships and recent Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Bobby Cox.
You know -- the team of Swanson's not-so-distant adolescence. It sounds overwhelming.

"Yeah, but when it comes to [Swanson], this is very different. I mean, it's very, very different," Perez said of the No. 1 overall pick by the Diamondbacks in the 2015 Draft. Swanson eventually came to the Braves during a multiplayer trade in December, and the attention exploded around Swanson, especially when you combine the homecoming element with the fact that he was considered a key player for a rebuilding Braves franchise.
Francoeur, McCann, Heyward and those others were part of Braves teams seeking to remain elite, but even though these Braves aren't those Braves, Swanson still is producing the same outside vibes as his predecessors.
"There is a difference, because I was worried about the attention around Francoeur, and I was worried about Heyward, who threw his first [ceremonial] pitch before his first game to Hank Aaron," Perez said. "But with this kid, I'm not worried, because Swanson is a very smart guy. Even when all of the attention was on him Wednesday during his first game, he knew it wasn't fun at all, because we lost [to the Twins]. He's going to be OK, because he's going to figure out what it takes to win games, and he'll figure out how to deal with the fans, and he's going to figure out how to deal with the media."
So far, there's no problem with the latter. Swanson began our one-on-one chat with a firm handshake, and through it all, he resembled exactly what he is: Somebody who went to Vanderbilt, noted for cerebral folks. There is his splendid imagination, for instance. Long before he got those two hits and loud cheers Wednesday night, he said he saw the whole thing in his head as far back as, well, forever.
"I wanted to soak in every moment that came along, but the visualization through the years of actually playing in a game like that is what kept me calm throughout the day," Swanson said by his locker inside a nearly empty home clubhouse since he was among the first to arrive. "I felt like I had already played my first Major League game before, even though I hadn't. That kind of stuff [regarding visualization] can get you prepared and ready, and this has kind of been my dream my whole life.

"You're always thinking about it. You're a little kid, playing Wiffle ball or something in your front yard, and you're acting like you're a certain player."
Which player for Swanson? He laughed.
"It's kind of funny, because instead of one player, I idolized the whole Braves team and their mantra," Swanson said. "I just loved how they went about everything that they did, but as far as a certain player, I was always a big Nomar Garciaparra fan (even though he wasn't a Braves player). Still, growing up, since I just loved those Braves teams, they kind of influenced me, and they shaped me into what I am today."
Among other splendid things, Swanson is the fastest No. 1 overall Draft pick to reach the Major Leagues since pitcher Stephen Strasburg joined the Nationals in 2010. If you're talking just position players, you have to go back to Darin Erstad with the Angels in 1996.
That said, when you think about Dansby Swanson, you see Derek Jeter, at least according to the Major League scouts who made such an analogy while scouting this five-star talent of 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds.

Braves officials already have announced that Swanson will remain their starting shortstop for the rest of the season. If he continues to impresses, they said he will keep the job when the Braves move into their new ballpark next year.
"Like I said, Swanson is a very smart kid, and he has a lot of talent, but I still worry about him," Perez said. "There's just too much attention. He's too much in the news. They're just too many people [around Atlanta] cheering for him. I've been watching this happen for so many years."
There was the Braves' "Big Three" among hometown guys, starting with Francoeur, who also starred as a local high school football player. He ripped a home run during his debut with the Braves in the summer of 2005, and he continued at such a scorching pace on offense and defense that he made the cover of Sports Illustrated. He was dubbed "The Natural" in the headline, but he was traded by the Braves to the Mets four years later.
Even though Francoeur is back with the Braves, he worked for six other teams in between as mostly a complementary player.
Then there was McCann, who functioned so well behind the plate as a rookie with Francoeur in 2005 that Smoltz tagged him as his designated catcher. McCann homered in his second Major League at-bat, and he ripped a shot out of the park during his first plate appearance in the playoffs. Still, despite his significant local ties, he bolted the Braves for the Yankees as a free agent after the 2013 season.

Heyward hit a homer during his first at bat in the Majors in 2012, and he evolved into the game's best defensive right fielder. Even so, he never came close to Aaron territory with the Braves. He had a solid year with the Cardinals after he was traded by the Braves after the 2014 season, but now he is struggling on offense with the Cubs.
All I know is that Swanson looks and sounds like the real deal.
"During Spring Training, Swanson said hello to me, and he called me by my name," Perez said with wide eyes. "Since we had so many new people in camp this year, I didn't even know who this kid was."
Now Perez knows.
The same goes everybody else.

Terence Moore is a national columnist for