Markakis ready to begin next chapter of career
ATLANTA -- Though he spent a significant portion of his childhood growing up in suburban Atlanta and closely following Braves legends of the 1990s, Nick Markakis did not view his entry into this year's free-agent market as a means to come home.
Over the past decade, he established himself as one of the most beloved members of the Orioles' organization and the Baltimore community. Initially, there was reason to believe that the veteran outfielder would remain with the only organization he had known during his professional career. But somewhere in the process of their aggressive recruiting process, the Braves gave Markakis reason to believe it was time to return to Atlanta to fill a right-field vacancy that had been created by the recent departure of Jason Heyward, another hometown hero who was traded to the Cardinals in November.
"It's not something I was really looking at, it's just something that kind of happened," Markakis said. "The way I look at it is, this is a business, anything can happen at any given moment. Things just didn't work out. I couldn't be happier being here than anywhere else."
Once Markakis completed his physical on Friday morning, he came to Turner Field to sign his four-year, $44 million contract and briefly introduce himself to his new environment. As he spoke to reporters, he was positioned in front of a locker in which hung his new No. 22 jersey.
While some Braves fans might not like the fact that Heyward's replacement is getting his jersey number, Markakis did not have the option to continue wearing 21, the number he fashioned throughout his days in Baltimore. That number has been retired in Atlanta to honor Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn.
"I wish [I could have No. 21], but you can't take it away from that man," Markakis said.
While the 31-year-old Markakis has only heard tales of Spahn's greatness, he still savors the opportunity he had to routinely watch Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Chipper Jones and the other Braves legends who captured Atlanta's attention throughout the 1990s and early years of this century.
Markakis moved from New York to Woodstock, Ga., in 1993, when he was just 10 years old. This transition led him to slowly adjust his allegiance from the Red Sox to the Braves, who played their home games approximately 30 minutes south of his new hometown.
"The Braves are a great organization," Markakis said. "I grew up watching them and I know what they're about. I feel comfortable, and that is what was most important to me."
While the Braves spent a few weeks pursuing Markakis, they further displayed their commitment to securing his services on Monday, when manager Fredi Gonzalez and assistant general manager John Coppolella flew to Baltimore to have dinner with the free agent.
Markakis' decision will provide him with an opportunity to play even closer to home when SunTrust Park opens in 2017. But he indicated that the new stadium did not necessarily play a key role in the recruiting process.
"I've always liked [Turner Field]," Markakis said. "It's a good ballpark to play in. With them getting a new addition in 2017, it's just a bonus. That's not the main reason that I came here. I saw what they have on paper and I know the kind of guys they have on their coaching staff and all the way up to their front office and their fan base. I grew up watching the kind of fans they have. It's going to be fun. It's going to be interesting, and I'm along for the ride. I'm ready to get started."
As Markakis prepares to begin this next chapter in his life, he is currently contemplating undergoing neck surgery to relieve the discomfort he has felt while playing with a herniated disc the past two seasons. But even if he undergoes the procedure, there is still a chance he could be ready to assume his new role on Opening Day.
When Markakis is cleared to take the field, he will have a chance to consistently play in front of his parents and brother who still reside in the Atlanta area. At the same time, he is now going to have a chance to reunite with many of the friends he gained as he honed his skills at Woodstock High School and Georgia's Young Harris College.
"[The Braves] wanted me here," Markakis said. "It's a good feeling that they put inside you. I'm happy to be here."