VENICE, Fla. — Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker held court in front of a “2021 World Champions” banner, peaking occasionally at the nearby bullpen, where World Series hero Charlie Morton threw a side session. Around the corner, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Cristian Pache pulled up in matching, glitzy-gold SUVs and posed for a photo.
“It’s like the first day of school,” October star Tyler Matzek said.
Big leaguers filed into camps across Florida and Arizona on Sunday for the first official day of spring training following the 99-day lockout, with one notable absence for the Braves: All-Star and 2020 National League MVP Freddie Freeman.
It’s been over a decade since Freeman wasn’t in Atlanta’s camp, but he remains a free agent.
Snitker texted Freeman shortly after the firewall preventing management from speaking with players dropped at the end of the lockout Thursday. He said he is unsure what the first baseman will do and that he didn’t ask. He just wanted to speak to an old friend.
“I hadn’t talked to him since we left the parade,” Snitker said. “I just said, ‘Man, I can talk to you now.’
“I was just asking how family was. There was nothing professional or business or anything. Just checking in on him. Let’s face it, he’s going to be a good friend the rest of my life, regardless of professionally what happens.”
The Braves are coming out of the work stoppage with more uncertainty than most. Acuna has been rehabbing from a torn ACL, Morton is back on the mound after breaking his leg in the World Series opener and Mike Soroka is progressing after re-tearing his right Achilles tendon last summer.
“I’m ready,” Acuna said on his way into the clubhouse.
Not quite, but the Braves are pleased with his progress. The 2018 NL Rookie of the Year suffered a season-ending right knee injury last July and missed Atlanta’s October run.
Acuna has said he’s eyeing a return to game action in May. The Braves haven’t announced a timeline yet, but Snitker is encouraged by what he’s heard and is excited to see Acuna in action when workouts begin Monday.
“I know the reports are really good,” Snitker said. “I mean really good. I guess that he’s worked his rear off.”
Morton had a plate and several screws surgically placed in his leg after being hit by a 102 mph comebacker in Game 1 of the World Series — he threw 16 more pitches after that, saying Sunday, “It wasn’t until the bone actually separated , like I actually felt separation of the bone, that’s when I was like, all right.”
The 38-year-old has resumed throwing and isn’t far off track from his normal spring regimen, although he wanted to gauge his progress a little more before committing to being ready for Opening Day on April 7.
Soroka, an All-Star in 2019, hasn’t pitched since early in 2020 after tearing his Achilles tendon for the first time. He re-tore it last year during the rehab process.
Snitker said he’s progressing well and that doctors are encouraged by his recovery.
“I know he’s excited about getting back down here and starting this thing up again,” Snitker said. “But I know a year ago today, he probably was, too.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.