There is always a mix of returning players and fresh faces when the Rome Braves start the season. But fans will recognize a few more names on the opening day roster than usual.
The 2018 minor league baseball season gets underway today, and the Rome Braves are kicking things off at home tonight against the Hagerstown Suns.
“There’s a lot of guys who this is their first year playing, and being their first year it’s a long season,” manager Rocket Wheeler said. “Long bus rides and then you get off and have to play another game. It’s things they have to learn to do in minor league baseball.
There will be plenty of support in that area as the team starts out. While the Braves had yet to release an official roster as of press time, players began working out at State Mutual Stadium on Monday. Of the group already here, many of them either played a considerable amount of time or finished last season in Rome.
“A lot of these guys played together last year. Some of them have even played here,” Wheeler said. “Hopefully those veteran ballplayers will help show the younger ballplayers the ropes.”
Wheeler is one of the familiar faces Braves fans will get to see again this season.
The Texas native was Rome’s first manager from 2003-2005 and returns after stints with Myrtle Beach, Mississippi and the Florida Fire Frogs to begin his 16th season in the Braves’ organization.
Back in Rome Braves uniforms on opening day are infielders Kurt Hoekstra, Riley Delgado and Drew Lugbauer, and outfielder Isranel Wilson. Pitchers returning are Alan Rangel, Brandon White, Thomas Burrows and Walter Borkovich.
“We’ve got a little bit of speed, a little bit of power, and we’ve got really good pitching. So that’s a good combination,” Wheeler said. “We’ve also got a very young team. And having a young team there is going to be some ups and downs with how guys handle things, and that’s why we’re here, to help them out.”
Among some of the first-timers are infielder Jean Carlos Encarnacion and Drew Waters, an in-state prospect who was drafted 41st by the Braves last year out of Etowah High School.
“This is a great bunch of kids,” Rome general manager Jim Bishop said. “We’ve had a couple of workouts. We helped them all get situated into housing. Now it’s time to play ball.”
Bishop is considered new to Rome, but he has spent the last 22 years as the assistant GM of the Braves’ Double-A affiliate, which has been in Pearl, Mississippi since 2005.
“I’m glad April is here,” Bishop said while talking on the field at State Mutual Stadium earlier this week.
“It’s been a long offseason for me, being with the Double-A club in Mississippi in September, starting here Oct. 9. Work has been fabulous. The people in Rome have embraced me with open arms since day one.”
This season will feature several game day promotions, including the 2016 SALLY League Championship Bobblehead Series with Kolby Allard, Ronald Acuna, Mike Soroka and Max Fried.
Three separate jersey auction games will see the Rome Braves players wear special themed jerseys, including one featuring the Rome Clocktower. Post-game fireworks are scheduled for Saturday as well as July 3, and Aug. 25.
Timothy Miller, the tenor who regularly performs “God Bless America” at Atlanta Braves games, will be in town twice this season to sing the National Anthem as well as his seventh-inning showstopper. The first time is tonight’s season opener.
On top of everything else, the Braves will host theme nights throughout the season as well as food and drink specials and giveaways during the week.