Schafer's big day encouraging for Atlanta

Updated: April 6, 2009, 1:03 PM ET
By Buster Olney
The Braves took batting practice Saturday, and then Bobby Cox summoned Jordan Schafer into his office.

The last two weeks had been an anxious time for Schafer. He had had a great spring training, and he had done the math and knew that he was probably the front-runner to be the Braves' center fielder -- and when Atlanta traded Josh Anderson to the Tigers, well, that likely solidified Schafer's place.

But he was taking nothing for granted, he said Sunday afternoon, chatting on the phone. He didn't know for sure. And you could understand why. Schafer hadn't played above Double-A, and last spring he was suspended 50 games for acquiring performance-enhancing drugs.

"Congratulations," Cox told him, and Schafer walked out of the office and went to his locker and sent a text message to his dad, Dave. After the Braves played their exhibition that day, he called Dave Schafer, and father and son shared in an emotional moment -- Jordan Schafer feeling excited about achieving a lifelong goal, his dad choked up with pride for his son.

He awoke Sunday morning, and it occurred to him, as he gained consciousness, that he would make his major league debut in a few hours -- but he felt no nervousness, he said. "I don't think I've been nervous on a baseball field," he said, about three hours before the first pitch. "I really don't have any jitters."

He had never before faced Phillies starter Brett Myers, and he had talked to Chipper Jones about what Myers threw, his traits, his tendencies, what he liked to do to finish off hitters when he got ahead in the count.

Schafer was slotted into the eighth spot in the Braves' lineup, although the expectation is that he probably won't be in that spot for very long; in time, he'll probably move into the leadoff spot, once Cox begins to feel like he's got a nice foundation of at-bats in the majors. Schafer came to bat in the second inning, and Myers tried to take advantage of the anxiety he probably assumed Schafer would feel, throwing some breaking balls low.

But Schafer took a couple of sliders in the dirt, back to back, barely flinching, and he worked the count to three balls and one strike. Predictably, Myers challenged Schafer with a fastball -- better that than to walk the rookie and create a situation in which the top of the order might come around. Then Schafer, seemingly anticipating the fastball, leaned into the 90 mph heater, and immediately Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino began sprinting back toward the center field wall.

Schafer's drive cleared the high fence easily, and the rookie sprinted around the bases. You could see him fighting a grin the whole way, straining to keep a straight face, but once he turned at third base, with 20 family and friends in the stands, the rookie lost his battle. His face split into a small smile, and the smile blossomed fully as he descended into the Braves' dugout. The Atlanta veterans didn't give him the silent treatment; they didn't pretend to ignore his feat. Rather, they pounded him on the helmet and high-fived him and enjoyed the moment.

Schafer was the 99th player in major league history to homer in his first at-bat, Mark Bowman writes.

Derek Lowe was The Man for the Braves, David O'Brien writes.

• The bottom line about Brett Myers: He simply didn't have good command of his fastball. You could see it right away, whether the reason was adrenaline, or whether he just had a bad day. He made some early mistakes, writes Marcus Hayes. The homecoming for Myers was rude, writes Jim Salisbury.

The Phillies' parade hangover lasted at least one day into the 2009 season. The Phillies' fans booed on Opening Night, writes Sam Donnellon.

• The first day of the Twins' last season in the Dome begins tonight, Joe Christensen writes. I've always liked covering games in the Metrodome, to be honest, but my own perspective was wrapped around the fact that this is a great place to do the job of sportswriting. It is a quick journey from the press box to the clubhouses after a game, there have never been any rainouts, and you could reasonably plan your travel on any trip into and out of Minneapolis.

But the baseball played in the Metrodome is very, very different, with the ridiculously fast surface that can turn a ground ball past the shortstop into a gap double that reaches the wall. When the Twins have won, they've essentially done it with pitching, and in some respects, the Metrodome is an excellent pitchers' park, because the ball reaches the infielders quickly and the hops are true. It'll be interesting to see how the Twins' new ballpark plays. In any event, the change will be great for the Twins' players, who take a pounding playing on the artificial surface.

Francisco Liriano will try to keep his slider and his emotions under control today, La Velle Neal writes.

The rest of Buster's blog -- stories on which players are fighting for jobs, news on the latest moves and deals, and which pitchers are rounding into form, plus tons more -- is available exclusively to ESPN Insiders. Insider

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