Smoltz back home, but it's a bit surreal
Veteran glad to be in Atlanta, even if it's on visitors' side
ATLANTA -- John Smoltz made the familiar drive to Turner Field from his Alpharetta, Ga., home on Friday, and he couldn't help but think about all the times he had made it before. Only this time, it was far different.
Instead of walking into the Braves' clubhouse, he walked past it and entered the visitors' clubhouse behind third base. Instead of sitting in the first-base dugout during the game, he'll be staring from across the field. And instead of a cursive "A" on his hat, he has an old-style "B" representing his new chapter in Boston.
Smoltz has already had one chance to get used to the fact that the Braves are no longer his team. When Atlanta was in Boston last weekend, Smoltz went across to Fenway Park's visiting clubhouse and met with his old teammates. Still, nothing could compare him for his first trip to Turner Field with anything other than a tomahawk on his chest.
"Coming in, I thought about all the times I drove in here," Smoltz said. "I love this city. It just so happens I'm doing what I love in another city."
As much as Smoltz said he is firmly entrenched in his new role as a member of the Red Sox, it's apparent that it hasn't completely grown on him. Addressing the media before Friday's game, he referred to the Red Sox organization as "they" several times without realizing it. And no matter what he said, the sight of Smoltz in a Boston uniform was certainly strange.
The 42-year-old is enjoying all the comforts of home this weekend, which began with a Thursday night spent sleeping in his own bed. Smoltz woke up Friday and cooked his family pancakes, went for a swim in his own pool and played with his three dogs. To top it off, he got hugs from his kids, whom he doesn't get to see as much now as he did when he was a Brave.
"When I left for Spring Training, I knew that would be the hardest part," Smoltz said. "It's tough being away from the kids. But I feel blessed being able to come in here for three days and enjoy the series without pressure."
That pressure is absent, because Smoltz will not be making a start in Atlanta this weekend. He made his Red Sox debut against the Nationals on Thursday night, allowing five runs in five innings in a 9-3 Washington win. Although he would relish the opportunity to pitch against the Braves some time, he's thankful it won't be this weekend.
"Last night would have been disastrous if I did the same thing in Atlanta," Smoltz said. "I would love to pitch here again. This is my favorite park to pitch in. I would love to be able to pitch in front of these fans again."
While Smoltz is relieved he won't be pitching against the Braves this particular weekend, his return to Atlanta doesn't come without regrets.
Because he's not pitching, Smoltz will spend the weekend in the dugout. That gives him no opportunity to recognize the Braves fans who supported him throughout his career. The feeling will almost certainly be mutual from the Atlanta faithful who will pack into Turner Field this weekend.
"In the dugout, there's no way for me to acknowledge these Atlanta fans," Smoltz said. "There's no way to get them a message on how important they have been to me and how much I enjoyed being here."
Smoltz's other regret is far less serious, but one that the Braves legend hopes to rectify soon. He wanted to mow the lawn on his 21 acres in Alpharetta. Riding an industrial mower, Smoltz said he once cut his lawn before every start during a seven-start home win streak while with Atlanta.
"Believe me, I wanted to cut the grass, but our landscaper was already doing it," Smoltz said. "I love cutting grass. I have a little of Forrest Gump in me."
Adam Rosenberg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.