The relationship with Rome formed more than a decade ago.
This year the relationship is renewed when Jonathan Schuerholz, who as a member of the inaugural Rome Braves team in 2003 helped give the city a South Atlantic League championship, returns to Rome as the newest manager of the same team he played for.
“I’m so excited about being back in Rome,” said Schuerholz, who makes his first public appearance as the Rome Braves manager Monday at The Forum for the team’s annual Hot Stove Gathering.
“I have so many good memories here. It’s like a homecoming, and I get to work with the best general manager in the business, Mike Dunn, and the best staff around.”
“I’m ready for the full-season challenge,” he said about the opportunity giv-
en to him to take over the reins in Rome after spending the last three years as the skipper of the Atlanta Braves’ rookie
league teams that played short seasons in Kissimmee, Fla., and Danville, Va., “and there’s no better place to do it than in Rome.”
Without question, Schuerholz found out first hand just how positive Rome can be for a young ballplayer embarking on a career as a professional.
A native of Atlanta, Schuerholz grew up in a baseball family as the son of Atlanta Braves president and former general manager John Schuerholz. Playing the game was something he became very good at, and after establishing himself as a solid infielder at Auburn, he was drafted by the Braves in the 2002 June amateur draft.
Following a short season with the Danville Braves, Schuerholz arrived in Rome in 2003 to play with a group of highly-touted teammates — eight of whom became major league players — and capped off the team’s first year at State Mutual Stadium by winning the South Atlantic League championship.
“Winning that championship game and celebrating on the field. That’s something you never forget,” said Schuerholz, who drove in the winning run to clinch the title, celebrating at State Mutual Stadium with the likes of Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur and Kyle Davies. “But what made it special was how close I was to all those guys, and I still keep up with most of them.
“When it’s all said and done, what you remember and miss the most are those guys that you not only played with but spent countless hours with on the bus, in the clubhouse and off the field.”
Schuerholz went on to play at every level within the Braves’ minor league organization. After playing for Atlanta’s Class AAA team in Richmond, Va., in 2007, he decided to trade the love he had for playing the game into a love of teaching it and became a roving minor league infield instructor for the Braves.
In 2010, Schuerholz made his debut as a manager when he was named to guide the Gulf Coast League Braves in Florida. For the past two seasons, he served as the manager for the Danville Braves.
When he begins his tenure as the manager for the Rome Braves, Schuerholz knows it’s an entirely new longer and demanding 140-game campaign, as was the case when he played on that first Rome Braves team.
“The short season (that doesn’t begin until June) presents different dynamics,” said Schuerholz. “Just when you figure out what they can do out there, the season ends. Now we’ll have a full five months developing them.
“We’ve always had a young team in Rome and been more of a second half team, just like we were and did in 2003. Of course,” he added with a laugh, “back then I felt like a grandfather, because I was older than most of those guys.”
Joining Schuerholz at the 2014 Rome Braves Hot Stove Gathering will be three members of his staff he knows all too well – hitting coach Bobby Moore, who was Schuerholz’s hitting coach back in 2003, and pitching coach Gabe Luckert and trainer Kyle Damschroder, who were both with Schuerholz in Danville.
Former Atlanta and Rome pitcher Chuck James along with Rome Braves alumni Wes Timmons (2003), Jon Mark Owings (2008), Shae Simmons (2013), and Robert Hefflinger (2012) will be among the invited guests.
Fans will also have the opportunity to meet Atlanta Braves Director of Minor League Operations Ronnie Richardson, minor league training staff coordinator Mike Graus, Atlanta Braves scout Brian Bridges, former Atlanta Braves third base coach and current manager of the Gwinnett Braves Brian Snitker, and Rome Braves General Manager Mike Dunn.
Tickets for the event, which runs from 5:30 to 7 p.m., features an “all you can eat” gourmet ballpark fare, a question and answer opportunity and an autograph session, are $15 for adults and $10 for children 12 and younger.
Special advanced VIP tickets are available for $40 that include a meet and greet along with heavy hors d’oeuvres, and beer and wine. These are limited to the first 50 fans.
Tickets can be purchased in advance at the stadium ticket office or at the door the night of the event that benefits the Miracle Field of Rome.
For the first time at State Mutual Stadium, the Atlanta Braves will play an exhibition game on March 29 against the Braves Future Stars, who will be coached by Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox.
Schuerholz and the Rome Braves open the season April 3 facing the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns on the road before returning to Rome for their home opener April 10 against the Savannah Sand Gnats.