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Terence Moore

Bourn joins great line of Braves center fielders

Moore: Bourn among best Braves center fielders

Bourn joins great line of Braves center fielders
Soon after Michael Bourn spent another game on defense turning the spectacular into the routine, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said to reporters of the two-time Gold Glover, "Unless you see him play center field every day, you can't appreciate him."

You may yawn.

For the Braves, it's "Been there, done that."

In fact, during the past two decades, the Braves have featured more quality center fielders than anybody, and the list starts with Otis Nixon, who regularly used his swift feet to outrun long drives.

After that, Atlanta had the solid Marquis Grissom, and then he was followed by the brilliant Andruw Jones.

Now the Braves have Bourn, whose eyes grew wider by his locker at Turner Field while thinking about the loftiness of his predecessors when it comes to the center-field legacy.

"Yeah, I know about all of them," Bourn said, laughing and thinking, before he began analyzing. "The one that sticks out in my mind the most is Andruw Jones, because of how many Gold Gloves he won consecutively. Marquis and Otis Nixon were great also through the years, but Andruw won, what, 10 [Gold Gloves] in a row?"

Yes, Jones did. He earned them from 1998 through 2007, all with a franchise that watched its National League Cy Young Award winners Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz turn even more deadly, courtesy of Jones' spectacular fielding.

When Jones slumped at the plate, manager Bobby Cox used to shrug before saying, "He's got RBIs in his glove."

Bourn nodded.

"Andruw played shallow, and he wasn't afraid to do it," Bourn said. "He could always go back on a ball real good, but he would always take away the line drive that people try to hit. Those are hit more to me than the ones that will be on the walls, more or less.

"If a ball is hit way out there, most of the time, it's the pitcher's fault. But it's the ball that's hit on the line that you can take away from the hitter, and Andruw would get just unbelievable jumps to do that, man."

Bourn shook his head, adding, "Andruw Jones is the best I've seen in center field for a long time -- him and Torii Hunter."

Don't forget about Grissom -- which folks often do -- especially since he was the Braves' starting center fielder before Jones' mighty run. With nearly perfect instincts on anything hit between the outfield gaps, Grissom was good enough to win two Gold Glove Awards during his last two seasons with the Montreal Expos, before he joined Atlanta.

After that, Grissom continued as the NL's Gold Glove Award winner in center field during his two years with the Braves through 1996. If that isn't enough, the last out of the '95 World Series settled into his glove to seal Atlanta's only World Series championship.

"I know who Marquis is, but I didn't get a chance to watch him a whole bunch," Bourn said. "I did see him, though, so that's why I know who he is, but I was a little ... boy when he was playing."

Bourn was 10 when Grissom won his first Gold Glove Award.

Not only that, Bourn was 9 on July 25, 1992. That's when Braves fans forgot about Dwight Clark's grab of a Joe Montana pass in the final seconds to reach the 1982 Super Bowl, and also about Willie Mays running forever at the Polo Grounds during the 1954 World Series to snag a ball over his head. To Atlanta fans, "The Catch" means something else.

"You're talking about the one when Otis Nixon climbed the wall?" Bourn said, getting excited with the memory. And, yes, that catch, when Nixon preserved a 13-game winning streak for the Braves along the way to a division title and NL pennant.

Back then, after the Pirates' Andy Van Slyke ripped a pitch that was heading out of the ballpark in right-center field at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Nixon finished his sprint to the wall with a leap that left his back pressed against the blue padding, and his glove stretching high over the fence to catch the ball.

Unlike Grissom, Jones and Bourn, Nixon never won a Gold Glove Award, but he unofficially did with that catch.

"I thought that was so amazing," Bourn said, laughing. "You see, the thing is that people don't understand is that you have to get to the wall first. So he gets to the wall, and then he jumps on it at the same time. Then he leaps and makes the catch. That was something."

Look who's talking about such miraculous things: Bourn, 29, who hasn't quite duplicated "The Catch," but who has made enough acrobatic plays in center to qualify as a Flying Wallenda.

To hear Braves pitcher Tim Hudson tell it, Bourn should be just an offseason away from his third Gold Glove Award in four years.

"He's been awesome," Hudson said of Bourn, in his second year with Atlanta after slightly more than three seasons with the Astros in his native Houston, and two seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies. "I obviously thought he was a really good player before I played with him. But since I've played with him, I feel like he's a lot better than I thought he was.

"He just covers so much ground out there. He busts his butt every game. He doesn't take a pitch off."

That also sounds like Nixon.

And Grissom.

And Jones.

Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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