Bourn comfy at top of Braves' lineup
Center fielder was traded from Houston at the deadline
Baseball's schedule-maker provided the Braves with a special gift, an off-day in New York, a chance to take in a show, maybe visit the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building or Central Park, a day away from the ballpark in the country's largest city.
"I went shopping," said center fielder Michael Bourn. "I got here, and I had no clothes."
That's because Bourn was traded to the Braves on July 31, the same day the Astros returned from a 10-day road trip that took them to Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee. No sooner did Bourn land in Houston then he was off to join the Braves, who were launching a trek through Washington, New York and Florida. So, Bourn went from one road trip straight to another and from last place in the National League Central to leading the Wild card race in second place in the National League East.
"It's a big change," he said. "I have no problem with it. The players have welcomed me with open arms. I'll fit in where I fit in."
That would be at the top of the Atlanta lineup where his speed can energize a team and give the Braves a different look, one they've been seeking for a long time. The Braves have lacked the kind of speed they once featured at the top of the batting order when they had players like Kenny Lofton, Marquis Grissom and Otis Nixon. Atlanta has struggled to find a dynamic leadoff man since the departure of Rafael Furcal as a free agent after the 2005 season. Bourn changes that picture dramatically.
Bourn was dealt for four players just after the Astros traded another marquee player, Hunter Pence, to Philadelphia as part of their roster overhaul.
"I wasn't surprised after Hunter was traded," he said. "I knew something could happen. It's part of the business. You know that coming in. I was prepared either way. I had heard rumors. I was up early Sunday morning. You want to know what's going to happen."
What happened was a phone call that sent Bourn scurrying for a flight to Washington to join the Braves.
"I never got a chance to go home to get my things," he said.
So wardrobe-challenged and credit card ready, Bourn headed for another road trip and a chance to play for a team with postseason ambitions. That was an immediate reversal of fortune for him after the season-long struggles of the Astros.
"We were so far out over there," he said. "It's not easy. You're a player. You try to motivate yourself every day."
In Bourn, the Braves acquired a two-time Gold Glove center fielder who was hitting over .300 and leads the Major Leagues in stolen bases. He also leads the National League in infield hits and bunt hits. Since 2008, he leads all big leaguers in stolen bases and is approaching 200 steals over that time.
He has become baseball's premier base stealer and says the skill requires a combination of factors.
"Some of it is a gift," Bourn said. "Speed is so much of it, but I think quickness is the biggest part. Quickness gets you going. Speed gets you there. You have to have both. The quickness comes first, getting a lead and taking off. Then speed takes over."
Then there is the cerebral part of basestealing, studying the pitcher, learning moves and tendencies.
"I look at what the pitcher gives me," Bourn said. "I study their moves. I look to see what he'll give me. If he's leaning, I'm gone. It's more of a reaction than anything else."
Then there is the intimidation factor. Pitchers know what's on Bourn's mind when he reaches first base. It's not will he go. It's when will he go.
That alone often alters pitcher's pitches and that is as much of an impact as Bourn's quickness and speed.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.