Enjoy the home opener!
The Braves’ massive roster overhaul has left only four of the players who started on Opening Day a year ago, and only two of the players who were watching from the bench. That’s pretty astonishing. Fortunately for Braves fans, one of the few who remain is #19, whose defense at “shortstop” (defined as any position in the field he can reach before the ball can) may end up being one of the biggest reasons to keep watching this team this year as the dog days of summer roll around. I mean, the guy is on the cover of the Fielding Bible. We are watching history here.
Before this season moves beyond Opening Week, we must wrap up our winter project. I present you the unveiling of the official Braves Journal Andrelton Simmons’ Highlight Rankings; may you enjoy these extraordinary highlights one last time.
Honorable Mention: The Pop-Up Throw:
Editor’s Pitch: Double plays are one of the prettiest things in baseball, but when Andrelton Simmons is involved their beauty is worthy of masterpiece status. This play is just so smooth, yet it involved running, sliding, getting up, and throwing. He did all of those things so well he killed two Cardinals with one stone. That alone is worthy of accolades and adulation.
Honorable Mention: 180˚ Genius:
Editor’s Pitch: Simmons’s instincts on this play are crazy. After he was forced to change his route, he still wanted to try to get two. The problem was, he had to run back to the bag to get the first out, which put his back squarely toward first. How does he choose to compensate for that? By jumping and spinning 180˚ and throwing mid-air. Seriously, who does that? The throw wasn’t great, but it was certainly catchable. Had Freddie been able to catch it, this would have been one of the coolest double plays I have ever seen.
Editor’s Pitch: Take a screen shot at 0:28 of this clip, throw a cape on the man, and you’ll discover the true identity of Superman. Clark Kent has nothing on Andrelton.
9: Run At Your Own Risk
Editor’s Pitch: When a ball splits the gap and bounces away from even the most accomplished of outfielders, you pretty much concede the runner on first will score and focus on keeping the hitter held to a double. Not Simmons. Michael Cuddyer was over halfway home, but Simmons, well onto the outfield grass, threw a perfect strike to the plate to nail him. The ball could not have landed in a better place for Brian McCann had Simmons walked it in and handed it to him. Just wow.
8: Glove: Optional
Editor’s Pitch: In Minnesota this year, that will be a hit against Ervin Santana. Last year in Atlanta it was top of the 5th, one down. The catch itself is insane enough, with Simmons making the call to barehand it to give himself a chance to throw the runner out. Then, when the ball bounced slightly differently than he seemed to be anticipating, he stayed with it and nailed the runner with a perfect throw. Perfection on a diamond.
7: The Video Game
Editor’s pitch: The video is worth a thousand words of commentary, so just watch it again. Okay, now watch it one more time. Can a mere mortal even bend like that? He’s covering the bag, bends against his momentum to catch the ball, and then flips back to tag the base. The baserunner was already running and was nearly on top of him…and he got the out. This play defies the laws of physics and it made his pitcher laugh in disbelief. The cherry on top is he tried to turn the double play and was disgusted with himself that he couldn’t. Unbelievable.
6: The Jeter
Editor’s Pitch: With the Braves clinging to a 3-2 lead with 2 outs and a runner on 3rd in the bottom of the 8th, Jordan Walden got Travis d’Arnaud to hit a ground ball. Unfortunately for the Braves, it was headed toward the hole and looked destined to tie the game for the Mets. Fortunately for the Braves, they have Andrelton Simmons playing shortstop, and he ranged to his right, snagged the ball, leaped, and threw the runner out with nanoseconds to spare. ESPN will tell you this type of play was patented by Derek Jeter, but there are some notable differences between Jeter making the play and Simmons making the play. Jeter would leap because, unlike Simmons, he did not have a strong enough arm to take the time to plant himself and get the throw off in time. Simmons leaped because he had ranged so far to his right that he was able to get to a ball Jeter never would have even thought to try to get to, and, with as far as he had to run, had he tried to stop his momentum to plant himself and fire across the diamond, he probably would have fallen over. Although he made this look easy, it was anything but.
5: You Shall Not Pass
Editor’s Pitch: I’m really not sure how Simmons got to this ball. He had to dive, obviously, but then he had to reach up to actually catch it. I wouldn’t have guessed his arms were long enough to make this play, but the one lesson I have learned from watching Andrelton for three years is to always expect the impossible. And this certainly looks impossible.
4: Slip ‘n Slide
Editor’s Pitch: Simmons not only kept up with the path of the ball when his feet slipped out from under him, he caught it and threw it from his knee without any hesitation, as if he had planned to do it that way all along. His arm is strong enough that he got the out. From his knees. On the outfield grass. With a throw that was chest high when Freddie Freeman reached out to catch it. Chip Caray’s “Are you kidding me?” was spot on.
3: Taggin’ Fool
Editor’s Pitch: This astounding tag has gotten a lot of well-deserved publicity. Freeman’s throw was awful on what should have been an easy pick-off play, but through an instinct unique only to him, Simmons was able to apply the tag where he caught the ball–between his legs. I can’t find a clip of it, but I remember later on in that broadcast they showed an angle from centerfield that clearly showed Simmons got the tag down. How he was able to do that will remain one of life’s great unsolved mysteries.
2: Shortstop…or Left Fielder?
Editor’s Pitch: No one saw this coming. All eyes were on Justin Upton, wondering if he would get to the ball in time, since the left fielder is really the only person who has a chance at that ball. The only problem is, Simmons does not think like the rest of the world, and he seems to be out to prove he could man the entire left side of a baseball field without any assistance if he needed to. He not only ran at full speed with his back to the infield toward a fence, he dove toward that same fence to make the catch without thought to personal safety. As if the effort itself wasn’t incredible enough, he actually made the catch and hung on for the out. That just doesn’t happen.
The Jadeite Jewel: A League of His Own
Editor’s Pitch: Simmons was moving toward third base with the pitch, so he had to reverse his direction to get to the ball. He somehow caught the ball anyway, managed to beat the runner to second, then threw to first while his entire body was still heading toward right field, and somehow got enough on the throw to turn a double play. In a tie game. In the bottom of the 14th inning. He’s not fair. He’s really just not fair.