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Francoeur ready to 'enjoy' NYC

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Jeff Francoeur is now officially a New Yorker.

After his trade from the Braves to the Mets last July, the Parkview graduate chose Long Island over Manhattan. Not this year.

Francoeur, wife Catie and their three dogs will be living near Central Park this season at 59th Street and Third Avenue.

"We thought that this is the time to really enjoy New York," Francoeur said. "It should be a blast. I'm sure that Catie will be going to Broadway plays a couple times a week and it will be exciting experiencing everything."

Maybe being traded by your hometown team wasn't so bad after all.

The three-bedroom, three-bath condo where the couple and their King Charles Cavaliers Bella, Brody and Bruiser will be living is in the high-rent district. But Francoeur can afford it.

After hitting .311 for the Mets following the trade, the right fielder received a $5 million contract for 2010.

"Atlanta will always be my home and I was very fortunate to play for the Braves," Francoeur said. "I needed a change, though, and New York has worked out great.

"I miss the people with the Braves, but I'm a Met now and this is the best place for me. I'm enjoying baseball again."

Francoeur is the first to admit that the pressure of playing for his hometown team and trying to live up to ultra-high expectations got to him.

"There were some days the last two years when I didn't want to come to the ballpark," Francoeur said. "And that's not me."

Now the megawatt smile is back.

"Frenchy was always one of my favorites," manager Bobby Cox said. "He's so full of life and energy. He wakes you up when you see him. I love to see that smile."

Cox still feels that way even though Francoeur is in the other dugout for 18 regular-season games each year in the National League East.

Francoeur got some early bragging rights a few days ago when the Braves visited the Mets for a Grapefruit League game.

Francoeur hit a long homer and drew a pair of walks in a 7-6 New York win. The home run was a monster shot to center field off Tommy Hanson that hit halfway up the batting eye at Tradition Field.

"We were setting him up for the regular season," Braves catcher and long-time friend Brian McCann joked.

Francoeur didn't just hurt the Braves with his bat, though. He also showed off his arm, doubling Chipper Jones off first base on a fly ball by McCann.

It was that kind of all-round talent that made Francoeur such a sensation after he was promoted to the majors during the 2005 season. He hit more than .400 during his first month and landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline "The Natural."

Ouch!

Francoeur couldn't live up to that much hype despite a pair of 100-RBI seasons and failure of any kind wasn't something he'd experienced before. After a season and a half of struggle, it became apparent that a new start would be best for all concerned and the Braves made the move. After batting .250 with five home runs and 35 RBIs in 82 games for the Braves, Francoeur hit .311 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs in 75 games for the Mets.

A career was reborn and a smile restored.

Francoeur had surgery on his left thumb after the season and couldn't swing a bat until January. But he is down to a sleek 218 pounds after a few years of bulking up and is looking forward to his first full season with the Mets.

"I think we can prove some people wrong," Francoeur said of the team's low ranking in the NL East by many forecasters. "Having that challenge always makes it exciting."

Francoeur can relate to all the hype surrounding Braves rookie sensation Jason Heyward, another local boy trying to make good.

"He hasn't even played a game yet and everyone is calling him the next superstar," Francoeur said. "Can you believe that? I feel for him. I wish everyone would give him some time."

Francoeur, of course, knows all too well the pressure of expectations. Now he's been able to move on.

"In New York, they don't care that I was a high school star or that I could have played college football," Francoeur said. "All they care about in New York is what you are doing now. If you do well, they cheer. If you don't, they boo."

Francoeur was rarely booed in polite Atlanta, but the cheers were dying out. Now his baseball career appears alive again and he is determined to enjoy his time in the Big Apple.