NORTH PORT, Fla. -- As Kenley Jansen experienced his first day with his new employer, he reminisced about those childhood days when his love for baseball was fueled by the countless times he spent watching his older brother, Ardley, and fellow Curacao native, Andruw Jones, play within the Braves' organization.
“It’s awesome to put this uniform on,” Jansen said. “This is where it all started for me. This is where the hope started. This is where the dream to become a Major Leaguer started. Growing up, I was a big Fred McGriff fan, and then the next thing you know, Andruw Jones gets to the World Series and hits two home runs.”
As a 19-year-old Jones made Curacao proud by hitting homers in his first two plate appearances of the 1996 Word Series at Yankee Stadium, a nine-year-old Jansen was being inspired back on their home island. To play in the Majors would be great, and to play for the Braves would be the ultimate dream.
Well, the childhood dream became a reality on Friday night, when the Braves signed Jansen to a one-year, $16 million deal. The veteran reliever emotionally said goodbye to a Dodgers' organization that had employed him the past 17 seasons. But he also eagerly began looking forward to becoming the closer for the defending World Series champions.
“It’s about how can we bring another championship to the Braves' fans,” Jansen said. “I’m here to do whatever we can to win ballgames.”
While getting past Jansen’s Dodgers in the National League Championship Series and beating the Astros in the World Series, the Braves benefited from the dominance that Will Smith, Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson and A.J. Minter provided out of the bullpen. But instead of standing pat, the club spent the past week enhancing its relief corps with the additions of Collin McHugh and Jansen, who is one of eight pitchers in MLB history to record at least 350 saves and 1,000 strikeouts.
So, during the same week Freddie Freeman left Atlanta to join his hometown Dodgers, Jansen became the closer of a Braves club that he has followed dating back to his childhood days when TBS brought the Braves to Curacao on a daily basis.
“The Braves came in at the end and that made it an easier decision for me,” said Jansen, who passed on the opportunity to extend a relationship that dated back to when the Dodgers signed him as a catcher in 2004.
The Braves were Jansen’s favorite team before they signed his brother Ardley Jansen, an outfielder who only briefly rose above the High-A level during seven seasons (2000-06) in Atlanta’s system.
Giovani Viceisza, the scout who signed Jones out of Curacao, regularly brought a young Kenley to Braves Spring Training. The two would also make trips to Turner Field, where Kenley experienced the thrill of waiting outside the clubhouse to talk to Jones and his other favorite Braves.
As Jansen introduced himself to Braves manager Brian Snitker, his new coaches and teammates, he thought about how Viceisza hoped the three-time All-Star would eventually play for the Braves. Viceisza sadly passed away last year, just days before the Braves won the World Series.
“It was tough how he passed away during the World Series,” Jansen said. “We were talking last year. He said, ‘You are going to be a free agent. There is nothing that would make me happier than for my daughter to see you wearing a Braves uniform.' Now, he’s gone. So it’s crazy wearing this uniform."
When Jansen debuts at Truist Park, he will be serenaded by Jermaine Dupri’s "Welcome to Atlanta." This will replace 2Pac’s "California Love," the entrance song that blared through Dodger Stadium’s sound system every time he entered to close a game for Los Angeles.
Like Freeman with the Braves, Jansen became an institution within the Dodgers organization. The longtime reliever will continue to reside in California and savor the memories he gathered during his long tenure with the club.
Jansen won’t have to wait long to return home. He and the Braves will battle Freeman and the Dodgers in an NLCS rematch at Dodger Stadium from April 18-20.
“It was an emotional day a few days ago for me to make this decision,” Jansen said. “[Going back to Los Angeles] hopefully will not be emotional, but it could be very emotional.”