Game Day Connections with the Atlanta Braves

This post originally appeared on BaseballDigest.com

The Red Sox face the Atlanta Braves today, in the final week of Spring Training, fine tuning their rosters before the regular season marathon begins the following week. The Red Sox and Braves have had 136 players who have appeared in a game for both teams. However, the list of players who have played for only these two teams is much shorter. There are 9 players in history who have played exclusively for the Braves or the Red Sox. In the spring of 1998, and now again 2009, there is a familiar Braves face in a new camp, wearing a bright B on their cap instead of an A.

Mark Lemke was a fan favorite in Atlanta, and a postseason hero with the Braves in the early to mid-90′s. By 1996, his skills set had diminished from his earlier success, though he did manage to help the Braves avoid elimination from the ’96 NLCS with 8 hits in the final three games to send the Braves to the World Series versus the New York Yankees. By the end of 1997, the writing was on the wall, and Mark Lemke was looking for work. It would be nearly the end of spring training in ’98 before he found employment with the Red Sox.

Lemke’s Red Sox career would come to an abrupt end in May, when he suffered a concussion sliding into second base. He attempted to play in a game a week later, but would miss the remainder of the season and ultimately it would put a finish to his decade long career. While he would not find himself in the midst of the Red Sox charge towards the ’98 playoffs, Mark Lemke was a key part in the Opening Day heroics at Fenway Park on April 10, 1998. Facing Heathcliff Slocumb after 8 innings of vintage 15-K Randy Johnson, the Red Sox mounted a huge comeback that culminated with a Mo Vaughn walk-off grand slam. In order to get to Mo though, 6 men needed to bat. Lemke kept the flow of a building comeback when he earned a walk against Slocumb. 2 batters later, Nomar Garciaparra would drive in Lemke to bring the Sox within 3 runs. 2 batters after that, Mo Vaughn sent everybody home with an Opening Day victory. While Lemke’s Red Sox career seems like a minor blip, the walk in a great comeback game to start the season could be reason enough to consider it a successful year for this Brave-turned-Sox.

In 2009, the Sox have a former Brave and ex-teammate of Mark Lemke in camp, who arrived with the hope of returning to some form of past glory this season. John Smoltz has a much longer resume of success than Mark Lemke, but he is in a similar situation where the only baseball home he knew was no longer an option worth pursuing. Though Smoltz will not have a chance to contribute in an opening day comeback, the idea is Smoltz may be the source for a late season comeback, which the Sox occasionally have had a taste for in recent years. Here’s hoping his season successes are in reverse order as Mark Lemke’s, and the biggest contribution isn’t in his first game of the season, but maybe his last.

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