06/19/09 7:41 PM ET
Smoltz visits with Braves
Boston righty reunites with ex-mates before series opener
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
But with the Braves at Fenway Park for a three-game Interleague series this weekend, Smoltz has at least already taken advantage of the opportunity to relieve the awkwardness of wearing his Red Sox uniform while interacting with Braves skipper Bobby Cox, Chipper Jones and some of the other figures who had been with him for most of the past 20 years in Atlanta.
About four hours before the start of Friday night's series opener, Smoltz entered the Braves' clubhouse and reunited with the guys whom he'd called teammates before this January, when he opted to sign with the Red Sox.
"I wanted to be as professional as I could without getting too crazy about it," Smoltz said. "You can't erase 20-some years, and I'm not pretending to and I don't think they are."
While serving as the general manager in 1987, Cox orchestrated the trade that brought Smoltz to the Braves organization. Over the course of the 22 years that have followed, he developed a unique bond with the hurler who called Atlanta his Major League home from 1988-2008.
"It's weird seeing him wear a different uniform, just like it was weird to see [Tom] Glavine and [Greg] Maddux wearing different uniforms," Cox said. "It usually hits you the first day of Spring Training when you look for them and they're not there."
Coming back from the right shoulder surgery that ended his season in June of last year, Smoltz is scheduled to make his regular-season debut vs. the Nationals on Thursday, one day before the Red Sox begin their three-game series in Atlanta.
Understanding that a rainout could alter the makeup of the Red Sox's rotation, Smoltz understands there's still a chance that he'll pitch against the Braves. But he still admits that it's best that the doesn't make his first start against them.
"I'm not afraid of any challenge or anything that comes about," Smoltz said. "It's just, I've got to be realistic to see that this scenario would have been much more than just a regular first-game start."
While there are still some bitter feelings about the limited communication that he had with the Braves this past offseason, Smoltz said that he doesn't hold any resentment toward the organization as a whole.
"I'm not really mad about them not having me back," Smoltz said. "It's just really about how it was portrayed afterwards. That's not me. I kept my mouth shut."
Earlier this week, Jones said that despite all of the playful jabs they'd exchanged during their 15 years as teammates, he didn't think that he and Smoltz ever envisioned or truly looked forward to the day when they were challenging each other during a game.
"I love challenges, but I would face him like I would face any great hitter in the game -- very cautiously -- and hopefully make the best pitch selection I can," Smoltz said. "It would be an ultimate challenge."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.