It’s a lot easier for Steve Avery to put things into perspective these days.
In the early to mid 1990s, Avery was in his 20s while performing as a key piece of an Atlanta Braves team that made it to the World Series four times between 1991 and 1996, which included a title in 1995.
That 1995 team featured the likes of Baseball Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Chipper Jones and manager Bobby Cox.
“I wish I’d experienced it when I was a little bit later in my career because when you’re 21, 22, you really don’t enjoy the things that you may enjoy more now,” said Avery, who was in Myrtle Beach on Friday as the Pelicans kicked off “Braves Weekend.” “It just happens so fast. Sometimes I tend to even forget kind of what happened.”
Andruw Jones, meanwhile, arrived a year after the Braves’ World Series triumph and went on to help Atlanta to five 100-plus-win seasons and two World Series appearances in a stretch where the team won no less than 88 games in a season during a decade (1996-2005).
“Life is all about opportunity. If you get an opportunity, you take advantage of it,” said Jones, who was the Pelicans’ featured guest for Day 2 of Braves Weekend on Saturday at TicketReturn.com Field at Pelicans Ballpark. “Good things can happen and I took advantage of the opportunity the Braves gave me and I rolled with it.”
Altogether, Avery and Jones - who were teammates for one season in 1996 - were part of Braves teams that were perennial contenders from the early 90s through 2005.
“It was just a great experience,” said Avery, whose son was playing travel ball in Myrtle Beach last week.
Both players shared fond memories of those teams, from the famous “Chicks dig the long ball” Nike commercial featuring Maddux and Glavine to the young Jones being pranked for constantly “being in the wrong seat.”
The commercial - which portrayed Maddux and Glavine training to be home run hitters having envied the attention Mark McGwire had gotten from it - was even more of a success given the fact that it featured players who were known to be some of the least outgoing personalities from the group, Avery said.
“I could have seen that coming more from me or Smoltzy, but for Maddux and Glavine to do it, it was even funnier because that’s just out of their personality a little bit,” Avery said with a laugh.
Jones rose quickly up the ranks from Class A all the way to the big leagues in 1996, becoming the young stud on a team full of veterans who’d enjoyed a ton of success. He said he’d met Chipper Jones and Mark Lemke through other engagements, but for the most part, he was like any other rookie.
“I knew some of the guys, but they were trying to humble you in a tough way, do pranks to you to see how you were going to react to the situation,” Jones said. “After that, baseball was baseball.”
Jones eventually became one of the guys, of course, but one thing he said was weird was the fact he wound up taking the job of a player he’d looked up to.
“You have some of these guys that was up there already and you look up to them. I was a fan of David Justice as I was coming up and unfortunately I was the one who had to take his job,” Jones said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
The Braves pitchers - which included others such as Kent Mercker and Pete Smith - spent a lot of time together off the field, Avery said, adding that much of it came on the golf course. Smoltz, who recently qualified for the U.S. Senior Open before missing the cut, was the best golfer, Avery admitted, while noting that the competition wasn’t far behind.
“Maddux and Glavine and me were about the same,” Avery said. “Smoltz was about a stroke or two better.”
Another of Avery’s teammates in Atlanta was Deion Sanders, who’s best known for his football career and flamboyant personality. Many assumed Sanders was a party animal, but that wasn’t the case, according to Avery.
“The first time I ever went out with him he took me to his house and he had this big pool and he handed me a BB gun. I’m like “What’s this for?” and he’s like “We’ve got a bunch of frogs in my pool,” so we started shooting at these frogs and trying to get them out of the pool,” Avery said, drawing laughter from the crowd at Dave & Buster’s. “So everybody thinks it’s this big party thing and we’re shooting frogs in his backyard.”
On Saturday, Jones was greeted by 4-year-old fan who shared his name, atypical spelling and all. Moments like those are why the elder Jones says playing for the Braves in particular was special.
“You’ve got fans from everywhere. You’ve got young fans, you’ve got old fans,” he said. “You’ve got people that follow your career for your whole career. You’ve got people that just love to watch you play. “
Avery had a boyish grin while reminiscing about his days with Atlanta. And why not? Winning is fun and the Braves did a lot of it for a long span.
“Obviously, playing with Smoltz and Glav and Maddux, you know, Bob and Chipper - that’s five Hall of Famers right there - it’s just something that I’ll cherish forever,” Avery said.