Joshua Mabry, Campus Carrier Sports Editor
Coming off of a 1-5 opening road trip, the Rome Braves, Single-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, will return to Rome’s State Mutual Stadium for their home opener against the Greenville Drive, Single-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, on Thursday.
Right-handed pitcher Jasseel De La Cruz will get the start for the Rome Braves. De La Cruz pitched once already this season on April 5. At this game, he gave up two runs, walked two batters and struck out three over his 2.2 innings pitched.
De La Cruz spent the 2018 season in Rome as well. He went 3-4 on the season last year with a 4.83 earned run average (ERA).
Jim Bishop, vice president and general manager of the Rome Braves, said that he is excited about the home opener and getting the opportunity to watch the 2019 team play at home.
“It looks like a good mix of both some returning names and some new names as well,” Bishop said.
Bishop said that there are several young players on this year’s team. Third baseman Darling Florentino is only 17 years old and shortstop Carlos Paraguate is only 18.
There is a 19 year old, Victor Vodnik, and several 20 year olds on this year’s pitching staff, according to Bishop.
The pitching staff will be particularly interesting to watch this season, as has been the case with the Rome Braves for the past few seasons.
“The Braves are all about pitching,” Bishop said. “I’m excited to see the rotation. From what I hear, our pitching staff is very talented. It looks like a roster that is going to have some success on the field, hopefully in first half and even more in the second half.”
The majority of last season’s team went up in the Braves farm system to the High-A Florida Fire Frogs, according to Bishop.
“We’re here to develop ball players,” Bishop said. “I’m looking forward to watching this team grow up. I think it will be a team that matures and does get better every day.”
Even though the home opener for the Rome Braves will be on Thursday, the team has already played two series on the road.
The season started off with a four-game series against the Kannapolis Intimidators, Single-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, in Kannapolis on April 4.
Rome won 9-1 on opening day, which was on April 4. This game started off with an inside-the-park home run courtesy of centerfielder Justin Dean.
The Braves then lost their next three games against Kannapolis.
After this, the Rome Braves went to Columbia, S.C., to face the Columbia Fireflies, Single-A affiliate of the New York Mets. The Braves fell in both games to the Fireflies.
Even though the product on the field this season should be successful, Bishop said that he is also excited how things will operate from the fan perspective this season.
“We’re all about the fan experience,” Bishop said. “We’re in a true Braves market. They enjoy watching these kids grow up.”
The Rome Braves front office staff wants fans to come out to the ballpark for three or four hours every day to enjoy good food, entertainment and good baseball, according to Bishop.
Melanie Hardy, season ticket holder, said that she is looking forward to watching the players grow both individually and as a team this season.
The best thing about attending Rome Braves games goes well beyond the game itself, according to Hardy. She and her husband Rick enjoy getting to know and talk to the fans who have become not only friends but family.
“There are a group of us that tailgate on Saturday night home games,” Hardy said. “That is a highlight of the week.”
First pitch for Thursday’s game is at 7 p.m. with gates opening at 6 p.m.
All fans through the gates will receive a free magnetic schedule.
Every Thursday home game this season will feature Wing Night and Thirsty Thursday as well.
Fans may purchase 10 wings for $5 from the pizza concession stand on the third base side of the ballpark and $2 16 oz. fountain drinks and draft beer from any concession stand.
Berry students may receive $2 off of their ticket when they present their student ID at the box office for any home game this season, excluding May 9 and July 4.