His defense in the outfield remains stellar, especially since his right arm still delivers rockets on target with consistency. The batting stroke is back, and so is his ability to thrill Braves fans in his native Atlanta just by trotting out of the home dugout at Turner Field with his
His defense in the outfield remains stellar, especially since his right arm still delivers rockets on target with consistency. The batting stroke is back, and so is his ability to thrill Braves fans in his native Atlanta just by trotting out of the home dugout at Turner Field with his contagious smile.
In sum, even during a platoon role these days at 32, Jeff Francoeur is in the midst of a baseball renaissance. He's hitting .281, which is 19 points above his lifetime average, and he's a popular voice in a Braves clubhouse filled with youngsters during a transitional year for the franchise.
"I'll tell you what, man. I'm in a good frame of mind," said Francoeur, who spent his first five-plus seasons in the Major Leagues with the Braves before he was traded to the Mets in July 2009. He had some uneven times in baseball after that, but he's doing well during his return to the Braves, and he added, "Honestly, if you have confidence in your approach and what you're doing when you go out there, it's going to work out good."
All of this goes back to Francoeur's best friend. She just happens to be his wife.
"We were friends for so long before we started dating and got married that our relationship is still very much the fact that he really is my best friend, and he says the same about me," said Catie Francoeur, who first met Jeff when they were in the third grade. They began dating during their senior year in high school, and they married in November 2007.
As a result, Catie said, "It's a very honest relationship."
No kidding. Let's start with their conversation two springs ago that led to Francoeur impressing folks now during his 12th Major League season instead of doing whatever else he could have done with his considerable non-baseball skills as a former player entering his third year of retirement.
Here was the setting: Two months after Francoeur signed with the Indians in 2014 after he struggled the season before with the Royals and the Giants, he was cut in Spring Training by the Tribe. Within days, the Padres grabbed him, but they sent him to Triple-A El Paso team. The bumpy bus rides. The small-town lodging. It wasn't pleasant for a guy who spent the previous decade traveling first class with big-league accommodations for the Braves (the first time), Mets, Rangers, Royals and Giants.
Not only that, but Francoeur struggled at the plate with the Chihuahuas. Courtesy of his powerful arm, they even flirted with converting him into a pitcher. He remained in the outfield, but he was about to become the anti-Francoeur by exploding with depression over the whole situation when the Chihuahuas rolled into a game in Las Vegas.
That's when Jeff got a call from Catie, who was back at their Atlanta home. She followed the game over her computer.
"I know Jeff was going through a tough stretch, because it had been a hard spring, and April had started out terribly for him, and we also had just had a daughter that previous July, so he was really so down on himself," Catie said. "He was having a pity party, actually, and there is a difference between that and just struggling and feeling sorry for yourself. So since he was having a pity party, I kind of recognized he was crossing that line."
In response, Catie went Aroldis Chapman on her husband by throwing harder and harder to get her point across. The difference: Instead of trying to get Jeff to strike out, she wanted him to rip a home run.
"That was really the first time I saw Jeff acting like that, so I just said, 'Listen. God has given you so many talents, and if life beyond baseball is truly what you want right now, and if that's your passion, then do it and do it well,'" Catie said. "I told him, 'Stop feeling sorry for yourself and go out there and play up to your God-given ability. But if you want to be done with baseball, then be done. There's life beyond baseball.'"
"He was on the West Coast, and I had a baby on the East Coast who wasn't sleeping very well, and reality just kind of struck. I told him, 'We're behind you either way, but I'm not going to be a party to this.' It was like a parent talking to a child, because I was like, 'No, don't do this. I don't want to hear it,' and he was like, 'You're right. You're right.'"
Catie chuckled, saying, "I didn't think it would actually work."
It did. Francoeur's batting stroke returned with the Chihuahuas, but after a brief callup by the Padres, he was back in Triple-A before he cleared waivers at the end of the year and became a free agent. He signed with the Phillies for the 2015 season. Then, after Francoeur proceeded to play more in Philadelphia than he had in three years anywhere else, he went spurts at the plate resembling that rookie with the Braves who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated under the headline of "The Natural."
Francoeur still had his struggles with the Phillies, though, and Catie still wasn't afraid to pull out her fastball.
"I remember he had a couple of 0-for-4 games right in a row, and I kind of noticed him getting down and everything," Catie said. "It was funny, because I literally said three minutes of something, and he said, 'Don't give me the lecture again. I get it. I promise I'll change,' and he did."
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com.