LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Former Braves left-hander Steve Avery is in spring camp for his first stint as a special pitching instructor for the Atlanta Braves. The veteran of 11 major league seasons and four World Series trips with the Braves in the 1990s spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about his impressions of the Braves’ young pitchers, the upcoming Hall of Fame inductions of former teammates Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, his life since retiring and his legacy as a Brave.
Avery, 43, the 1991 National League Championship Series MVP, makes his home in Dearborn, Mich., where he is full-time father to son Evan, 19; daughter Emma, 16; and son Owen, 9.
QUESTION: How did the Braves talk you into coming down for this?
ANSWER: I’ve been coming down for the fantasy camp with the Braves. This is the first time I’ve come down for something like this. (Traveling secretary) Bill Acree gave me a call and asked if I’d be interested. I didn’t even really have to think about it. Michigan is miserable this time of the year. Eventually I wouldn’t mind getting back into it somehow, but I just have a hard time leaving the kids right now. But this is a good way to get your fill of being in the clubhouse. It’s so fun to be around the clubhouse.
Q: What have you been up to in retirement?
A: I’ve been done for 10 years already. It goes quick. My 19-year-old, I coached all his teams all the way up, baseball and basketball, and I start back over with my 9-year-old. I’m coaching him again. My 19-year-old, Evan, pitches in college, so I’ll spend a lot of spring going to watch him play. He’s a sophomore at a small school, (Division III) Adrian College. He’s a lefty. He has fun with it. He’s never going to go outside of that but it makes the college experience a lot better.
Q: What has it been like to see major league pitching again?
A: It’s funny because I’ve been out for so long, I almost forget that I pitched. I was down in the bullpen watching the guys throw and the plate seems so far away. I throw (batting practice) to the kids now and stuff, but to watch these guys throw you’re like, ‘Man, there’s so much talent.’ The ball just seems like it’s coming out of their hand so fast. That was the biggest surprise, just how hard these guys are throwing and the stuff that they have. They have a lot of talent here, a lot of young guys that are trying to build a reputation. It kind of reminds me when I was coming up.
Q: Alex Wood said he got a kick out of your watching his last bullpen session. Can you relate to him, as a young left-hander making an impact so early?
A: I do, yeah. He’s so young (23). He’s just got great stuff and a world of talent. I like the way he’s got something different about him too. His windup is different and that’s always an advantage if he can keep that under control. Hitters don’t like to see that. When you watch him throw, his fastball just gets on them a little bit quicker because of that “differentness,” that funkiness. He’s got a great breaking ball, a good demeanor. I’ve heard he already got kicked out of a game (for arguing balls and strikes), which you got to like in some ways and not in others. I always liked that. I was always an intense guy out there, and I think that kind of competitiveness is going to take him a long way.
Q: How excited were you to see (Greg) Maddux and (Tom) Glavine get into the Hall of Fame?
A: It’s great. I’m so happy for those guys. Obviously they were no-brainers to go in. Their numbers speak for themselves. They were great teammates, great friends and I’m taking my boys up there. I’ve actually never been to Cooperstown, which will be cool to experience that.
Q: Does it make you proud to have been part of such a special rotation with those two and John Smoltz?
A: Yeah, we pushed each other. I think we went a couple years where we didn’t even miss a start, which is unheard of. It’s great to see a friend of yours be able to experience something like that and, in a small way, feel a part of it.
Q: Safe to say you were the best hitter of the four?
A: There’s no doubt about that. I mean, if I would have tried to hit singles I could have, but I always tried to hit the bombs. I could have done like Glavine and slapped it to left field all the time. But I wanted the glory. My average didn’t always speak to how good of a hitter I was. … We took batting practice every day and that was probably the most fun of the day for us. We were pretty competitive even in that.
Q: Do you feel a little cheated, like a lot of fans do, that your shoulder injury cut your career short? (He attempted a comeback at age 33 with the Detroit Tigers.)
A: The game was so fun when you feel great. If I felt healthy, I would have never wanted to give it up but injuries drag you down. I probably could have kept pitching, but I wasn’t the same pitcher. … I don’t have any regrets. I pitched in four World Series and felt like I was part of the start of something that is never going to happen again. Nobody is ever going to win 14 division titles in a row. I pitched long enough and I still get to watch my kids grow up. A lot of guys miss out on that who pitched for 20 years. I feel like I got the best of both worlds.