In this week’s edition of “Conversations with Clayton,” we catch up with Running the Bases podcast co-host Tucker Wells. Running the Bases is entering its fourth year as one of baseball’s top podcasts.
Based in Atlanta, Running the Bases has made its mission reconnecting with “baseball-loving audiences the world over,” in the words of Wells. RTB aims to “put the focus on the human element of baseball, and move past this ‘statcast’-era obsession with just the numbers.”
I spoke with Tucker during the first season of “Conversations with Clayton,” in one of our most stimulating interviews of 2017.
In this interview, we discussed the Braves’ new stadium, the breakout stars of the 2018 Major League Baseball season, and his glory days on the softball diamond.
Clayton Trutor (CT): What grade would you give Brian Snitker as Braves manager thus far?
Tucker Wells (TW): C-Minus. He’s a good company man, lots of baseball experience (most with the Braves organization), but we need someone who really knows something about pitchers. The guy I wanted all along was Bud Black, and look what he did in one year with the Rockies. Second would’ve been Callaway, and sure enough, the pitching-flush Mets got him, which will be a real game changer for them. “Stinky” is fine, but not close to the long-term answer.
CT: How are all of those outstanding prospects in the Braves system going to work out?
TW: Ronald Acuna is about as sure a thing as I’ve seen in forever, with the Braves, especially for a hitter. He maybe the most sure thing going into a spring training since Kris Bryant a few years ago, so if he doesn’t produce ROY numbers, I’ll be shocked. But even if he gets off to a slow start, that kid is going to figure it out, or else everything we know about scouting should be thrown in a dumpster fire. After Acuna, I think Austin Riley, the other big hitting/position prospect, is going to be the everyday third-baseman by next year. This is why we didn’t go after a Moustakas in free agency. As far as pitching, well… On paper, we have a wealth of riches, but I’m really tepid on how the organization has been developing the arms to this point. I think Gohara pitched well in spots, last year, so I think he’ll be in the starting 5 to stay by mid-season. I’ll be excited to see Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka, our firstround picks from 2015, pitch at some point this season, but it’s tough to feel confident about any of the pitching prospects until they show results.
CT: What’s SunTrust Park like?
TW: The ballpark itself is painfully uninspiring. The concourses are far too narrow, way too many bottleneck areas, and it’s really hard to navigate to the upper decks. The Braves took such pains to cram the park on that small real-estate footprint, it’s claustrophobic trying to walk around. The seats on the lower level are way too close to the field, and the seats are not angled towards the plate! 2017 stadium, and I’m still craning my next to see the action… and the outfield is like sitting in a fishbowl, which is wierd. The food is uninspired as well. They did the Hall of Fame area pretty well, but it’s a bottleneck as well. That said, all the thought and interest went into the Battery development around the stadium, which is still bland to me (an old-school baseball fan). So what we end up with, is a nice mixed-use development with a boring baseball field included.
CT: Give me your all-time Braves starting nine. Not the greatest Brave to play each position, but your favorite player to play each position for the team with a little explanation of why.
TW: Love this one, play it with Coach Bounds all the time, here we go:
1. Otis Nixon - CF - Best lead-off hitter we ever had, made the most memorable catch in Atlanta Braves history, looked like he was 60 years old.
2. Mark Lemke - 2B - His ’91 World Series is legendary, one of the greatest performances in the Classic of all time, period, amen. He is an all-around good guy, played hard every day, steady production, and he’s still with radio team and always has time for the fans.
3. Hank “Bad Henry” Aaron - RF - Um… Yeah. Never saw him play, but I mean, he’s the lone figure that gave you National Pride about the Braves before ’91. Until ’91, he was our only true achievement in Atlanta.
4. Dale Murphy - LF - Putting him in left, even though he thrived in center/right. 2-time MVP, deserves to be in the HOF, did his job every single day, and he was the lone bright spot of the dismal 80’s in Fulton-County stadium. Also, he was my grandmother’s favorite.
5. Terry Pendleton - 3B - NOT CHIPPER, you may notice. Again, loving deep on the ’91 Worst to First team, but he’s just a professional hitter, through and through, an MVP, played solid defense at 3rd, apologies to Eddie Matthews.
6. Freddie Freeman - 1B - Off the current-era Braves, he is the leader, an MVP if he can stay on the field more, best defensive first baseman we’ve had in Atlanta, gotta love how tall of a target he is, and that infamous dancing GIF.
7. Javy Lopez - C - Tough not to take Eddie Perez, here, but Javy is the best all-around catcher we’ve had in Atlanta, possibly franchise history. Never fully replaced his production, not even with Brian McCann. Plus, he was Glavine’s personal catcher, and that comes into play in a moment.
8. Jeff Blauser - SS - Lots of good options, here, including Furcal and the recently traded Simba, but Blauser was the young kid of the Team of the 90’s, and he signed a card for me at my Dad’s recording studio.
9. Tom Glavine - LHP - He’s my starter, no question, the crafty lefty/Team CPA. Always was my favorite, even given his Villain status during the 94 strike. His 1991 and 1992 seasons were incredible, he was the Ace before Maddux, more the Smoltz. And of course, 1995 World Series, Game 6, 1-hitter to bring it home, 6 foot strike zone and all. Also, #47 is the ultimate random number.
CT: Rank the counties in Metropolitan Atlanta using whatever criteria makes sense to you at this very moment.
1. Fulton Co., because that’s where I live, and is still the city that makes Atlanta thrive. It supports public transportation, which I support.
2. Dekalb County, because of Decatur, Old Fourth Ward, etc. Best for arts, culture, food, etc. Wish it were easier to get to…
3. Cobb - The Braves, I grew up there, and youth baseball. Plus, you get some good nature trails/mountains in northern Cobb County.
4. Henry County, only because it’s not really in Atlanta, I don’t spend much time there.
CT: What three famous Atlanta athletes past or present would you like to have dinner with?
TW: 1. Neon Deion Sanders! Without question, most entertaining dinner ever, but he’d probably only talk about himself…
2. John Smoltz, because again very entertaining, and probably the most open book of the “Big 3” Braves.
3. Kevin Willis, from the Hawks, because he was just around the NBA for freaking-ever, and I am a secret basketball nerd. I’d love to ask him about going up against Jordan, Showtime Lakers, Bird Celtics, etc.
CT: Who will be the breakout stars in the American League and National League this year?
TW: Oooo…. I will say Ohetani and Acuna, as far as the stand-out rookies are concerned (although mark my words, Acuna will hit more home runs…) Gotta think someone from the Dodgers wealth of prospect riches will bust out, like they seem to do every year, so I’ll say Seager has a comeback year for the ages. Have to look to the White Sox and think that Moncada will break out this season or next, and if not him, then possibly their outfield prospect Jimenez. One more prospect to watch is Torres on the Yanks, but really, Judge and/or Stanton will be Busting out all year. Look for Ozuna to play huge in St. Louis, as well.
CT: Describe your greatest moment as a baseball player.
TW: Haha!! I was pitching in a softball league in St. Louis, one time, and I snagged a lasercomebacker to the mound for the 3rd out of the inning. I walked off the mound like I owned the joint…
CT: What non-baseball sporting event would you most like to see in person.
TW: Either Wimbledon championship rounds or Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. That’s just in a vacuum, because Game 7 NBA is great, but I’d put that ahead only if the Hawks were somehow miraculously in the thing. Super Bowl/Football is better on TV…
CT: Besides your own, what are your favorite podcasts.
TW: Oh man, so many…
1. Bill Simmons Podcast - Going back to the BS Report days as well, that dude is just so dialed in and natural when he’s talking sports.
2. Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History - One of the most gifted, intelligent writers in decades, and his points are deeply fascinating.
3. The Lowe Post - My NBA fix.
4. The Jonah Kerri podcast for a while, but really, not many “great” baseball podcasts that I find. Maybe that’s why I’m doing this, here...
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