Young guns help dynasty roll on

Baby Braves get quick taste of success

ATLANTA -- It took until Sept. 27, but the Atlanta Braves' remarkable rookie class of 2005 finally showed that they still had a lot to learn.

"I was just sitting there kidding around with Chipper [Jones] about [how] maybe we should have a meeting for all the rookies about proper etiquette on how to celebrate a division," said outfielder Kelly Johnson prior to Atlanta's 12-3 victory over Colorado on Tuesday, which ended shortly after the Phillies' loss to the Mets had wrapped up the Braves' record 14th straight division title. "I asked him if there was a dogpile and he just shook his head, 'No,' and looked at me like I was stupid. But, honestly, I really don't know what we're supposed to do."

Johnson wasn't alone in being unprepared for his role in what has become a rite of fall in Atlanta during the Braves' record-setting 14-year run.

"I can't taste it yet, because I've never tasted it before and I don't know what it tastes like," said infielder Pete Orr, with a laugh. "I'm just excited. My situation's not a very pressure-packed situation. So it's fun to just sit back and enjoy it."

Braves manager Bobby Cox will probably cut Johnson, Orr and all the rookies some slack, however. After all, without the contributions of the 17 newcomers -- 12 of whom made their Major League debut in 2005 -- the Braves might be making plans for the offseason, not the postseason.

In celebration, as they did all season long on the field, when the time came, the rookies proved to be quick studies. They brought energy and passion to a group that had in the past been considered cold and unemotional.

Youngsters like Jeff Francoeur, Kyle Davies and Macay McBride chest-bumped and then doused Brian McCann. Texas high school foes Johnson and Ryan Langerhans joined Blaine Boyer in making their way around and dousing anyone in their path. Brayan Pena, Andy Marte and Wilson Betemit laughed and playfully doused each other.

"To celebrate with these guys in here and be able to have a huge win like that, any kid dreams of that," said Francoeur, who was born in Atlanta. "It's huge for us to be able to do it like this."

"Words can't describe this feeling I'm having right now," added catcher McCann, who was teammates with Francoeur and current Braves rookie pitchers Boyer, Davies and Anthony Lerew, all of whom made their Major League debuts this season, for the South Atlantic League champion Rome Braves in 2003. "I remember last year they put the 2004 one up. I was thinking how cool it would be there at one point in your career. It's come to this. It's pretty neat."

Braves ace John Smoltz, 38, put a unique spin on the age gap between himself and some of his baby-faced teammates by telling Turner South how the Baby Braves might spend their day on Wednesday leading up to the regular-season home finale with the Rockies.

"We did it with 6, 12, 14 rookies." Smoltz said. "Tomorrow they're going to be watching Bugs Bunny."

The youthful enthusiasm that the kids brought to the field spread to the veterans.

"We were all equally excited," said Orr. "It's cool because you see the veterans, Smoltzie's done it 14 times and he still gets excited. So it's pretty neat."

"This is unbelievable," added Boyer. "To be in the same clubhouse as these guys who have won 14 straight, I can't say enough about this team; what the veterans have done, what the rookies have done."

Now that the rookie class of 2005 knows how winning a division is done, they'll need to learn to sustain that success.

After all, there are guys like Chipper Jones (class of '95), Andruw Jones (class of '96), Rafael Furcal (class of 2000) and Marcus Giles (class of '01) who have never missed the postseason.

"They don't know what it's like [to miss the playoffs], and I don't want to be here when they find out," said Johnson.

Jon Cooper is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.