Notes: Francoeur graces cover of 'SI'

Notes: Francoeur graces cover of 'SI'

CHICAGO -- Less than two months into his Major League career, Jeff Francoeur has already been given a distinct honor that no other Atlanta Brave has enjoyed in the past 10 years.

As Francoeur was playing cards in the visitors' clubhouse at Wrigley Field on Tuesday afternoon, he was informed that he's on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated. Before he could even enjoy the shocking moment, he was getting heat from his fun-loving teammates.

"I didn't know until today," Francoeur said. "I thought it was going to be an article. I didn't know it was going to be that big of a deal."

It seemed to be a rather big deal to simply know that respected author Michael Farber was in town to do a story on some 21-year-old outfielder, who hadn't even made his Major League debut until July 7. But making it on a cover, which is headlined "The Natural," certainly made it a much bigger deal.

The last Braves players to grace the cover came in the Fall of 1995, when the magazine captured them celebrating their world championship. Since then, both John Smoltz and Tom Glavine have won Cy Young Awards. Chipper Jones has captured an NL MVP Award. But none of them have ever graced the cover by themselves.

"It's unreal," said Braves reliever Blaine Boyer, who is one of Francoeur's closest friends. "I don't even know if I can talk to him anymore."

Boyer, nor anybody else, had to remind Francoeur that he could be subject to an SI cover jinx.

"If I go on an 0-for-30 streak, I'm going to be quite [upset]," Francoeur joked.

Because Francoeur went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts on Monday night, Jones thought the jinx might have already started. But when told the magazine didn't make the announcement until Tuesday afternoon, the veteran third baseman simply chose to throw another jab at the new phenom, who has gone from hometown hero to being a nationally recognized figure.

"You need to do better than you did last night," Jones told Francoeur. "Shoot for some contact and go from there."

"I know I'm going to take some jabs from the players for this," a smiling Francoeur said. "It's part of the deal. ... Between these guys and my family, they're going to rag me and keep me humble."

Even though he entered Tuesday with a .362 batting average, 10 homers and nine outfield assists, Francoeur is still as humble as ever. Those who know him best say he's not much different than he was at age 11, when he received the SI edition that had the Braves celebrating their 1995 world championship. He still has that issue.

Before Francoeur, Greg Maddux (Aug. 14, 1995) was the last Braves player to grace the cover by himself. Smoltz's only appearance on the cover came in the Oct. 26, 1992 edition, which pictured him on his backside after he was unable to tag a Blue Jay out at the plate during the World Series.

Maddux, Ron Gant, Deion Sanders and Dale Murphy are the only other Atlanta Braves to ever be featured on the cover by themselves.

"I don't think I'll realize what's going on until after the season," Francoeur said. "Then I can sit back and look at it and say, 'Wow, what a ride it's been.'"

Old man rests: As the Braves prepared for batting practice on Tuesday, there was a birthday cake for Julio Franco in the middle of their clubhouse. Of course, by the time the veteran first baseman saw it, it's appearance had been altered.

Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton chose to switch the order of the "4" and "7", which had been originally placed in order to show he was celebrating his 47th birthday. A few minutes later, Horacio Ramirez placed a fork in front of the adjusted numbers to make it look like it was a cake for somebody celebrating their 174th birthday.

Just as he has taken many of the age-related jabs in stride over the years, Franco didn't mind the high jinks. He wasn't going to eat any of the cake anyhow. It's not really part of the diet of a man who is 47 years old and still proving productive at the Major League level.

Franco, who wasn't in Tuesday's starting lineup, didn't exactly celebrate his 47th birthday. He says he doesn't celebrate birthdays, Thanksgiving or many other holidays in the same manner that other people do.

"I don't need to wait for someone to tell me it's a holiday or a day to eat turkey," Franco said. "I eat turkey almost every day. I don't need to wait to buy something for someone."

Braves bits: Johnny Estrada said his ailing back felt better than expected when he played on Monday for the first time since Aug. 5. He'll be out of the lineup again on Wednesday, which along with Thursday's scheduled off-day, will give him two straight days of rest. ... A group in the left-field bleachers on Monday night was wearing lime T-shirts that read, "Kyle". All assumed they were referring to Braves reliever Kyle Farnsworth, who was a Cub from 1999-2004. But Farnsworth said on Tuesday that he didn't have an affiliation with that group.

Coming up: Jorge Sosa (8-2, 2.63 ERA) will oppose Mark Prior (9-4, 3.66 ERA) in the finale of a three-game series at Wrigley Field on Wednesday afternoon.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.