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After short night, new Braves manager takes charge

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POSTED: February 16, 2011 2:57 p.m.

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — Fredi Gonzalez kept tossing and turning. Finally, at a quarter 'til 4, he climbed from bed and started getting dressed.

It was time to head to the ballpark.

Never mind that sunrise was still hours away.

The Atlanta Braves' new manager was clearly eager for the start of spring training Tuesday, and he wasted no time putting his stamp on the team after taking over for Bobby Cox.

Instead of doing most of their work in the main stadium of the Disney World complex, the Braves split into groups and made use of four fields beyond the outfield walls. There was a little confusion at first, but the players quickly figured out where they were supposed to be.

"It's different. We've got to get used to it," pitcher Jair Jurrjens said. "In a couple of days, when we get used to it, it's going to be fun."

Gonzalez was too pumped up about the first day of spring to fret about a slight hiccup, which he attributed to the signs numbering the fields being different from what the coaches had on their charts. Everyone did their necessary work and wrapped things up in less than three hours.

"It went really, really well," Gonzalez said. "We got in our reps, and everybody walked off the field under their own power."

The first day of spring training was limited to pitchers, catchers and players who ended last season on the disabled list, such as Chipper Jones and Martin Prado.

It also included the former manager.

Cox, who retired after leading the Braves to 15 playoff appearances in his two-decade-long managing career, turned up at 6 a.m. to wish his successor well. Cox returned later in the morning to watch some of the young pitchers on a back field.

Wearing a striped golf shirt, khakis and docksiders instead of a uniform and cleats, Cox said he'll be on hand during much of the spring and do whatever he can to help Gonzalez, without getting in his way.

Asked if he missed managing, Cox shook his head.

"No, because I'm still part of it," he said. "It doesn't feel any different to me. It's hard to explain. I don't know. It just feels sort of the same to me. It's baseball."

Gonzalez, who served as Cox's third-base coach before getting his first managing job in Florida, said his former boss and protege can be around the team as much as he wants. The new manager said he's eager to get Cox back in his familiar No. 6 uniform during spring training, and even joked about getting him to throw some batting practice.

"He'll be involved as much as he wants to be," Gonzalez said.

But there's a new guy in charge, and that was apparent as soon as the Braves emerged from the dugout. Instead of jogging leisurely to the outfield of the main stadium to get in their stretching — the routine during Cox's tenure — the players disappeared through the outfield wall, heading to a remote field in the farthest corner of the complex.

After about 15 minutes of calisthenics and some half-speed running, they split into their assigned groups and scattered over the four back fields. Jones and Prado, both coming back from season-ending injuries, returned to the main stadium to get in their hitting and fielding.

Gonzalez and his bench coach, Carlos Tosca, moved from field to field to make sure everything was running smoothly.

"This is the way they've been accustomed to running spring training, where they had multiple fields available," general manager Frank Wren said. "They can get in a lot of repetitions, a lot of work done on multiple fields. Fredi asked if there was any reason not to do it, and we told him, 'No, it's up to you guys. However you want to run spring training.' They want to run it this way, so that's great."

Gonzalez met with the team before the workout, but he'll save his big talk for Saturday — before the first full-squad workout.

He joked about making a "Knute Rockne speech," but said it won't be anything dramatic.

"The goal here doesn't change," Gonzalez said. "It's to win championships. That's going to continue to be our goal. Anything short of that goal is not good."

 

 

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