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Braves, Cox look back on a season to savor

Braves, Cox look back on a season to savor

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ATLANTA -- More than two hours after the Giants had eliminated them from the National League Division Series on Monday night, many of the Braves were still sitting on the clubhouse couches reminiscing about a memorable season and taking advantage of one last chance to spend some time together.

Somewhere around midnight, Bobby Cox plopped down on one of the couches and simply started shooting the breeze with a group of players who managed to make his final managerial season a memorable one.

"I told Jason Heyward to look at all the guys just sitting there having fun together," third-base coach Brian Snitker said. "I said, 'You can play another 20 years, win world championships and get all kinds of awards, but you might never again be a part of a team like this."

When the Braves overcame a rough start and found themselves with the NL's best record one week after the All-Star break, they started to feel as though they were a team of destiny. Unfortunately, that destiny would lead them through the cruel reality produced by significant injuries and to the ultimate determination that they had indeed done everything they could to make Cox's final season one to savor.

"It was an honor playing with these guys and playing for Bobby in his last year," Tim Hudson said. "We thought we were going to have a good team, and we did have a good team. We dealt with a lot of adversity and injuries at the end of the year. You really have to admire how we finished. The guys showed a lot of guts and a lot of heart. We put our heart and soul in it, and we just came up short."

Still feeling the sting created by their three one-run losses in the NLDS and already looking forward to the start of the 2011 season, many of the players returned to Turner Field on Tuesday afternoon to clean out their lockers, spend some more time together and, somewhat surprisingly, have the opportunity to see Cox again.

Less than 12 hours after he'd left the clubhouse with the realization that he'd never again don a baseball uniform as a manager, Cox returned and was greeted by David Ross yelling, "Skipper!"

Before the start of home games this year, Cox was shown on the Turner Field video board saying, "This is Braves Country."

Without fail, Ross always looked to the end of the dugout and yelled, "You're [darn] right it is, Skipper."

For the first time since midway through the 1990 season, Braves country finds itself without Cox as its leader. The legendary 69-year-old figure will spend the next couple of years enjoying the freedom of the retirement lifestyle and keeping himself close to the game by serving as one of the organization's top advisers.

"One of Bobby's greatest strengths was evaluating players," general manager Frank Wren said. "When we had our planning meetings in October, he was a sounding board as we're talking with the scouts and talking with our folks about the team and potential players. That's part of what we hope his role will still be -- to consult with -- and quite frankly, we want him to be as involved as he wants to be.

"If he wants to be in uniform and be around every day, we'd love that. If he wants to have his own freedom, we understand that, too. But we're going to try to keep him around as much as possible."

As his players packed their belongings on Tuesday, Wren wasn't ready to begin talking specifics about his managerial search, though he indicated that he might be ready to provide more details within the next couple of days.

That being said, Fredi Gonzalez, who served on Cox's coaching staff from 2003 to 2006, still appears to be the heavy favorite to serve as the Braves' next manager.

"This is definitely going to be a big transition for whoever comes in," Hudson said. "Bobby was unbelievable to play for, and whoever replaces him has some really big shoes to fill. But I'm sure whoever they decide to go with, it's going to be a fairly smooth transition."

With his rotation in place and his bullpen possessing a solid base, Wren will enter the offseason looking to acquire at least one veteran outfielder to aid his offense. His wish list also includes a veteran reliever who could prove dependable and also serve as a mentor to the likes of Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel, both of whom will enter the 2011 season as the favorites to serve as closer.

During a planning meeting with some of his top aides on Monday morning, Wren began evaluating potential free agents who possess both the talent and the kind of character displayed by this 2010 club, which found success on the field and unbreakable bonds within the clubhouse.

"We played as hard as we could all season long," catcher Brian McCann said. "We never quit. When a couple of our best guys went down, the guys stepped in and played amazing. I can't speak enough about the guys we played with all season long. I'll never forget this team, ever."

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

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