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Farewell, Francoeur: Parkview legend traded to Mets

Jeff Francoeur's storybook journey from Parkview High legend to Atlanta Braves' star and Sports Illustrated cover boy captivated Gwinnett and metro Atlanta for years.

But the remainder of the 25-year-old's story will come elsewhere after the hometown team severed ties Friday with Gwinnett's hometown hero.

The Braves traded the slumping Francoeur, a fan favorite whose many fans still wear his No. 7 jerseys to games, to the rival New York Mets in exchange for oft-injured outfielder Ryan Church.

"It's definitely disappointing," Francoeur told reporters in Colorado, where the Braves were playing the Rockies. "I never wanted it to happen this way."

The news was a shocking end to what began as a whirlwind Braves career for Francoeur. It had its highs and lows, but the former prep phenom has a large fan following in metro Atlanta.

"The reaction (in Gwinnett) will be, 'Oh my gosh,' because our homegrown kid will not be an Atlanta Brave anymore," said Parkview head coach Cecil Flowe, who coached Francoeur in high school football. "But it is pro baseball. It's a business. When management makes a decision, you've got to go with it.

"He'll do fine. He'll land on his feet. He's a competitor. He's not going to quit."

A first-round pick by the Braves in 2002, Francoeur received a team-record $2.2 million signing bonus to sign and pass up a football scholarship to Clemson. Three years later, he was called up to the major leagues and homered in his first game.

His hot-hitting start and his rifle arm from right field earned him a Sports Illustrated cover under the headline, "The Natural." He hit .300 in 2005, then played every game of the 2006 and 2007 seasons, driving in more than 100 runs both years.

But the rising star struggled mightily the past two seasons, prompting the trade that pulled him away from the Braves and teammate Brian McCann, a Duluth grad and one of his good friends.

"He's my best friend and I'm going to miss him," McCann said. "I've been playing with him since we were 12 years old. You don't get a chance to play together in your hometown, after growing up together. Our dreams came true together."

Francoeur hit just .239 last season with only 11 home runs last season, which included a brief demotion to Class AA Mississippi. His offseason wasn't ideal as Francoeur and the Braves appeared headed to arbitration, although they avoided it by reaching a one-year, $3.375 million deal.

Francoeur hasn't had the breakout season he hoped for, hitting .250 with five homers this season, prompting a recent three-game benching by manager Bobby Cox.

One of his best games came Thursday night with three doubles against Colorado, but a day later he was traded to the Mets. Those close to Francoeur hope a change of scenery will boost him from his funk.

"It may turn out to be the best thing for Jeff," Flowe said. "It may give him a new start."

Francoeur's legend began with his high school feats at Parkview. He led his baseball and football teams to state championships each of his final two prep seasons, starring for both squads.

He intercepted 15 passes as a junior football player, in addition to being a 1,000-yard receiver. While his football skills warranted an ACC scholarship, his baseball talents made him one of the most coveted MLB draft prospects in 2002.

In his final two seasons at Parkview, he hit 36 homers and drove in 98 runs. He hit a county-record 55 career prep homers, including an astonishing five home run, 12-RBI doubleheader playoff performance against Lassiter that gave him the nickname "Superman."

In the 2001 and 2002 state finals, Francoeur's numbers were nearly unbelievable. He was 11-for-14 with seven homers and 13 RBIs in four games.

His final high school at-bat was a grand slam to cap a state title, a storybook ending.

Francoeur and his many fans hoped for similar results with the hometown Braves.

"It's a tough thing, but he's not the first player to be traded and he won't be the last," Flowe said. "But it is tough. It's sad. It's sad for me that I won't get to see him play for the Braves."

SideBar: The Francoeur File

· Who: Jeff Francoeur

· Current team: New York Mets

· Former team: Atlanta Braves

· Age: 25

· Position: Outfielder

· Family: Wife, Catie

Noteworthy:

· Traded Friday from the Braves to the New York Mets

· Atlanta's first-round selection in the 2002 MLB Draft, earning a then team-record $2.2 million signing bonus

· Was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a Braves rookie

· Led Parkview's baseball and football teams to state titles each of his final two seasons

Timeline

2000

Intercepts 15 passes and catches 14 TD receptions for state champion Parkview football team

2001

Hits .500 with 20 home runs and 49 RBIs for Panthers' state title baseball team as a junior; has 1,035 receiving yards and 14 TD catches as senior for state champion football team

2002

Goes 6-for-7 in state finals doubleheader with four home runs and seven RBIs as Panthers repeat; selected in the first round of MLB draft by the hometown Atlanta Braves

2005

Makes MLB debut and is featured on Sports Illustrated cover with the headline, "The Natural"

2006

Hits .260, but has 29 home runs and 103 RBIs

2007

Ups average to .293 with 19 home runs and 105 RBIs

2008

Struggles with 11 homers and a .239 average

2009

Hitting .250 with five home runs, is traded from the Braves to the New York Mets