For players and coaches, there’s nothing normal about the six-month grind of a baseball season.
It’s a barrage of pressure-packed games and endless flights with precious little downtime. But the Royals got the rare chance to relax as a group on Monday night in Atlanta.
Right fielder Jeff Francoeur is an Atlanta native and still resides in Duluth, Ga., a suburb roughly 25 miles northeast of Georgia’s capital.
With the Royals scheduled to have an off-day before starting an eight-game, three-city road trip tonight with the first of two games against the Braves, Francoeur and his wife, Catie, invited the team to his house.
“We just built our house last year, so we’re going to have all the guys over for a little cookout and just have some fun,” Francoeur said. “It’s great when you get a chance to do that. I’ve gone to other guys’ houses when we’ve gone to their hometown, and it’s fun to see where they grew up and where they came from.”
It also provides a respite from baseball, however brief, as well as a chance for team bonding.
“When I was in Oakland, we did the same thing when we could,” infielder Miguel Tejada said. “It’s good because it brings us together and we are a family. It will help us do good this season.”
Returning to his roots remains a treat for Francoeur, but he hasn’t gotten many chances to play at home since moving to the American League.
Francoeur started his big-league career with the Braves midway through the 2005 season. The following year, he played in all 162 games, socking 29 home runs with 103 RBIs and helping the Braves to an NL East crown.
“I’m jacked,” Francoeur said. “I’m looking forward not just to being home, but to seeing my family. I haven’t played back there since 2010, so it will be good to play in Atlanta and see some familiar faces.”
Francoeur again played in every game in 2007, batting a career-high .293 with 19 home runs, 40 doubles and 105 RBIs. He was traded to the New York Mets midway through the 2009 season, then dealt again during the 2010 season to the Texas Rangers.
While there was a time when returning to Atlanta might have been as unsettling as it was exciting for Francoeur, he is convinced those days are behind him.
“It was definitely weird in 2009 and 2010 when I went back there, because it was still so fresh,” Francoeur said. “But now, I won’t feel like I did then, because it’s been three years since I’ve been back. It’s going to be exciting, but I won’t feel any added pressure.”
Besides, Francoeur is a Royal now, and Kansas City, in some ways, has become his home just as much as Atlanta.
“I love it here,” Francoeur said of Kansas City. “I’m comfortable
here. We’ve lived in the same house for three years in the same area, so I’ve gotten to know my neighbors. There were a lot of good times in Atlanta, but I enjoy being here and am excited for what this year is going to bring.”
Francoeur enjoyed perhaps the finest season of a nine-year career in 2011, his first season with the Royals, when he batted .285 with 20 home runs, 47 doubles and 87 RBIs. He also stole 22 bases, which is nearly half of his career total of 50.
Those numbers dipped dramatically last season to .235, with only 16 home runs, four steals, 26 doubles and 49 RBIs.
Francoeur’s 2013 season is off to a slow start, but he hopes to get cranked up at the plate soon and can’t think of a better place for that to happen than back where it all began.