Hopefully change will aid Francoeur

Folks in Gwinnett County hurt a little deeper than most Friday night when the Atlanta Braves dealt Jeff Francoeur to the New York Mets.

We remember Francoeur, the thin and always grinning high school kid. The one who brought four state titles and a glut of media attention to Parkview.

Yet there we were Friday night, watching a grown-up Francoeur deal with a face full of microphones and reporters questioning him about the departure from his hometown team.

Welcome to the business side of baseball.

The situation, and trades in general, are tough for any player. But it's especially tough on Francoeur given his background.

Probably the most-hyped high school athlete in Georgia history - few players take starring roles in leading their final two baseball and football teams to state championships - he was glorified for his talents.

He was a 1,000-yard receiver in football who intercepted 15 passes as a junior. He hit 55 high school home runs, including a five-homer, 12-RBI playoff doubleheader against Lassiter. He was 6-for-7 in his last high school series with four homers, the last a grand slam in his final bat.

A first-round pick by the Braves in 2002, his fame rocketed to massive levels and was fueled even more by a Sports Illustrated cover story. Fans flocked to buy his jersey.

But then something happened. As most players do, Francoeur began to slump. The past two seasons, he has slumped mightily.

When he struggled, he struggled in front of his hometown fans. It's not the glare of the New York media he now must endure, but it was a different sort of pressure.

He wanted to do well for his hometown team. He wanted to give his family and friends in the stands a show. He wanted to make the kids wearing the No. 7 jerseys proud.

But for all the energy he put into it, Francoeur just couldn't find an answer the past two seasons. His struggles were frustrating, and they were right there for his hometown fans to see.

"Frenchy was our guy from right out of high school. It's hard to move guys when you sign them like that and when they've been around," Braves manager Bobby Cox told the Associated Press after the trade. "Maybe a transition over there in a Mets uniform will get him going again."

So that's all we can hope for now. Francoeur isn't a Brave anymore. He's not our Brave. He's a Met.

But he's still skinny, smiling Jeff Francoeur from Parkview to a lot of Gwinnettians, folks that will be behind him no matter what uniform he's wearing.

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays.