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HAMMOCK: Gwinnett Braves products making MLB impact

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

The eyes of Gwinnett County, at least for the past six years, have tracked the Major League Baseball All-Star Game closely thanks to Brian McCann.

A product of Duluth, the homegrown Atlanta Braves catcher has a huge fan following in his native county, and with good reason. He's one of the best catchers, if not the best, in major league baseball.

But local baseball fans tuning in Tuesday night had more local interest than usual because of the Class AAA Gwinnett Braves' pipeline to the majors.

Two of the National League's pitchers, current Atlanta Braves relievers Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters, played frequently for Gwinnett during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Both made their all-star debuts without allowing a run earlier this week.

The success of those two guys and other players that have passed through Gwinnett with the Braves' top farm team means a lot to us here in the county. We love all of our Atlanta Braves, always have. Now we have a stronger connection to many of them because they played minor-league ball in Lawrenceville. What they do, with Atlanta or another MLB team, is noteworthy to us.

Now when local fans watch a game at Turner Field, they're watching a group of guys who were playing in our home county not long ago.

Of the players on Atlanta's current 25-man active roster, 14 have played considerably in Gwinnett. Some had brief stints (Jason Heyward), while others like Tommy Hanson, Freddie Freeman and Brooks Conrad stayed for much longer. Guys that aren't household names in other parts of the country (Cory Gearrin, Brandon Hicks) are more well known to Gwinnettians because of our minor league team.

The 14 former G-Braves on the big league club doesn't include major-leaguers who have used Gwinnett's Coolray Field for rehab assignments -- Jair Jurrjens, Tim Hudson and McCann to name a few.

While it's neat to have those established stars visit while on rehab duty, it's the bonds created by players moving through the Atlanta farm system that have become strong. The guys who move up from AA and spend the bulk of a season or more in Gwinnett, like Kimbrel and Venters, become fan favorites around here.

Because the Gwinnett franchise is still relatively young -- it moved from Richmond in 2009 -- each passing season sees more and more G-Braves alums fill the Atlanta roster. It's a great bonus to having the AAA club in our backyard, and it should give local fans more reason to like the big-league Braves.

And as we saw this week, it makes the all-star game slightly more interesting.

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, visit www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.