Bring on the Braves

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It’s time.

Baseball fever has swept through Atlanta. Or maybe that was the cold front that’s left the city overcast and chilly for Opening Day. Either way, the Atlanta Braves open their 2008 campaign at The Ted tonight with expectations set right where they should be — with the Braves picked by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to win their first division title for the first time in three years and predicted to win a World Series crown for the first time since 1995 by ESPN.com.

The AJC captured the sentiment in a preview on Saturday:

When the Braves open for real Sunday in Washington, with a quick turnaround for a six-day stand at Turner Field, it is more than just the first flutterings of another baseball season. It marks nothing less than the renewal of hope in the bosom of the Atlanta fan. A city’s bloodied sports psyche is in real need of therapy.

Tonight, Tom Glavine is set to start the game, marking his return to the mound for the Braves. And there’s a roster full of hotties (Escobar, Teixeira, Jurrjens, Prado, Hampton and yes even pudgy Francoeur). There’s even the Golden Moon Casino Level to replace the Lexus Level and the SunTrust Club where you can sit 43 feet behind home plate, the closest in Major League Baseball. A season ticket for one of those seats — the Braves don’t sell them for single games — could cost you up to $24,900.

Back to reality, the Braves are one of the MLB clubs that offer all-you-can-eat seating. It’s a sales pitch the team launched with great success last season. One ticket. One price. All you can eat in nine innings. Outsports.com tracks the development here.

The Braves actually opened the season on the road last night at the new home of the Washington Nationals, complete with a first pitch by President Bush (see for yourself below), who later joined the ESPN broadcast crew to offer his listless comments for a few innings. You’d think a guy that used to own a MLB franchise might be able to offer some insight. You’d be wrong.

The Braves lost when the bullpen failed in the ninth, but they looked resplendent in their new blue road uniforms.

David O’Brien, the AJC’s Braves beat writer, and others at the paper have provided a thorough primer on the Braves. Your reading assignment before the game tonight:

Pin hopes on a winner

A look at the Braves roster

10 keys for the Braves

Francoeur excited by roster

Solidifying the middle infield

Previewing the pitching rotation

And when you grow tired of reading, check out the photos I snapped in late March during a trip to Orlando to take in two Spring Training games with the Braves.

Things I learned during the trip to Disney: Jeff Francoeur got fat though not as big as Andrew Jones; Yunel Escobar added muscle and boosted his Hunk Factor; Escobar has an odd ritual when it hits the field to start the game that includes getting on one knee, grabbing a handful of dirt from the infield and rubbing it on his pristine white pants (top photo); and the Braves missed their chance to bring Javy Lopez back to the fans that love him.

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