DURHAM, N.C. - After a six-hour overnight bus trip back to Georgia, the Gwinnett Braves will probably will be a little groggy early today.
With the excitement of their first home game, however, any sleepiness should be gone well before the scheduled first pitch of 7 p.m. against Norfolk at Gwinnett Stadium.
"I'm sure most of the players won't get much sleep on the bus coming back, and we probably won't get in until 5 a.m.," G-Braves manager Dave Brundage said before Thursday night's game against the Durham Bulls. "But that won't hamper how we perform. Not with it being our first home game. Everyone will be excited and fired up to get going."
Charlie Morton (1-0, 1.50 ERA) is the starting pitcher for the G-Braves, with fellow right-hander David Hernandez (0-0, 1.93 ERA) slated to pitch for Norfolk in the opener of a 10-game Gwinnett homestand. The stadium opener is a sellout.
"It will be real exciting," said Morton, who was named the International League's pitcher of the week after striking out 12 in six innings at Charlotte on Sunday. "It's great to be pitching in the first game. The stadium is beautiful and I know that we'll have a big crowd. It should be fun."
"The ballpark looks great and I hear that the fans are really excited," catcher Alvin Colina said. "That's important. I don't think people realize how much that fans can help a team, especially in the minors."
The G-Braves had two workouts at Gwinnett Stadium before starting the season on the road. They were impressed by the ballpark and the clubhouse facilities.
"Everything is definitely a lot better than Richmond," said infielder Wes Timmons, who played there the past three seasons for the Braves. "It is like two different worlds."
"The clubhouse is the best. It's definitely big league," said Colina, who played for Louisville in the International League last season. "There won't be a problem finding room to do anything we want."
Brundage thinks that Gwinnett Stadium will favor the hitters, at least early in the season.
"The field is hard and fast," the manager said. "That's the way it always is with new turf. The ball will get through the infield quick and the outfielders will have to play deep.
"Once the field matures, things might swing back in favor of the pitchers. It's a big ballpark. The fences are deep, just like at Turner Field."
Morton also pitched a simulated game at Gwinnett Stadium.
"Everything was great," he said. "The bullpen mound was good, the playing surface was good and the pitching mound felt really comfortable. That's all you can ask for."
The G-Braves will play Norfolk through the weekend, with Durham and Charlotte then coming in. Todd Redmond is scheduled to start for Gwinnett on Saturday night, with Tommy Hanson pitching Sunday. Kris Medlen will start Monday night in the opener of the three-game series against Durham.
"I've been spoiled because I've got to play in new ballparks at Rome, Myrtle Beach and Mississippi," Medlen said. "But Gwinnett is definitely the best. It's beautiful."
"There are a lot of nice new ballparks in this league," Colina said. "But Gwinnett might have the nicest, even better than Louisville or Indianapolis."
On opening night, the G-Braves should be wide awake to take it all in despite their overnight bus trip.
"As a player, you're always ready for the first pitch," Colina said. "You get used to the travel. It's just part of your life."
SideBar: Norfolk at Gwinnett
Where: Gwinnett Stadium
· Today, 7 p.m.
· Saturday, 7 p.m.
· Sunday, 2 p.m.