Kotchman all smiles in Braves camp
First baseman getting to know team amid easier circumstances
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The smile that was understandably absent during the two months Casey Kotchman spent with the Braves last year has been seen a little more frequently during the early days of Spring Training.
Kotchman arrived in Braves camp earlier this week looking forward to truly getting to know his teammates amid circumstances different from the ones that were presented after the Angels traded him to Atlanta for Mark Teixeira at last year's Trade Deadline.
"It was difficult to leave the teammates you've known for years at a moment's notice," Kotchman said. "But it's something, as a player, you can't control, so you just roll with it. I was looking at it like it was a great opportunity for me to start something new here with this new group of guys."
Growing up in the Tampa, Fla., area, Kotchman followed the Braves regularly on TBS and developed aspirations to one day play for Bobby Cox. When the opportunity suddenly presented itself last year, the first baseman found himself beginning a two-month stretch that he now describes as a "blur." Three weeks after leaving an Angels team that owned the Majors' best record to join a Braves team that had a chance to be involved in a pennant race, Kotchman received word to return home immediately to be with his mother, who had just suffered a brain hemorrhage.
While Kotchman spent the next two weeks with his mother, he received regular phone calls from Cox, general manager Frank Wren and some of his new teammates.
"When that thing happened with my mom, and even before then, everybody here made me feel like I'd been here for a while," said Kotchman, who had spent the first eight years of his professional career in the Angels organization.
When Kotchman was traded, he received phone calls from Fred McGriff and other Major Leaguers who told him about how much he'd appreciate the opportunity to play for Cox, who has always been known for his ability to make his players feel like they're wanted.
"He comes as advertised," Kotchman said. "He's a legend. He's been doing this before I was even a thought in my parents' minds. To have the opportunity and the privilege to be here, it's neat on my end.
"[Cox] is genuine. As players and people, you love that and respect that. There's just a sincere, genuine feeling that he gives off to everybody. That's something that's admired and greatly appreciated among the players and the public."
Kotchman's mother, Sarah, has continued to make steady progress in her rehab, and she's looking forward to the opportunity to personally thank Cox and the other Braves who remained supportive of her son while he stayed with her during her early recovery process.
"As a mom, she's just happy that I'm happy doing what I love to do," Kotchman said.
With the arrival of Spring Training, Kotchman has been able to get better acquainted with his teammates. The first baseman looks forward to beginning this season in the same manner as he ended last year.
After hitting just .149 with a .459 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) in his first 22 games with the Braves, Kotchman batted .321 with an .827 OPS in his final 25 games.
"I could see him settling down during the last couple weeks of last year and doing what he's capable of doing," Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton said.
Kotchman wants to prove that those final three weeks were just an indication of the consistent production he can provide this season and beyond.
"I'm looking forward to contributing significantly," Kotchman said. "We all want to win here. That's what we show up for. We're not coming in here to be mediocre. We're coming in here to win, and that's obviously everybody's goal."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.