Kansas City Royals' Jeff Francoeur reacts after being called out on strikes during the first inning of a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox in Chicago, Friday, Aug. 12, 2011. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
ATLANTA -- Jeff Francoeur arrived at Turner Field on Tuesday with a big smile and left on Wednesday with an ever bigger one.
As homecomings go, his two-game and five-night return couldn't have gone too much better.
"I've had a blast," Francoeur said. "I used to feel a lot of pressure coming back. But not anymore. It's just a lot of fun."
The former Parkview two-sport star and former Braves first-round draft choice looked a lot like the standout major leaguer he was once projected be in Atlanta while helping Kansas City gain a split of the two-game interleague series.
Francoeur drove in the run with a two-out hit in Wednesday' 1-0 victory that snapped Atlanta's 10-game winning streak, went 3-for-8 with two RBIs in the series and showed off his arm from right field again by throwing out a runner at the plate in the opener.
But it wasn't just what happened on the diamond that had the 29-year-old smiling so much.
Rarely does a major leaguer get an in-season chance to reconnect like this. The Royals arrived in Atlanta on Sunday night and Francoeur, given permission to stay behind for an extra day, won't rejoin his teammates until Friday in Boston.
"I get to sleep in my own bed for five nights," said Francoeur, who lives near the fourth hole at The River Club in Suwanee.
His wife, Catie, accompanied him from Kansas City and will stay for a baby shower on Sunday. They are expecting their first child, a girl who will be named Emma Cate, in late July.
"These are good times," Francoeur said. "Really good times. We're so excited."
The couple had the Royals and others over for a catered cookout and a few holes of golf on Monday evening.
"We just built our house last year and we wanted to get over there and have some fun," Francoeur said. "It's great when you get a chance to do that. I've gone to other guys' houses when we've gone to their hometown. It's fun to see where they grew up and where they came from."
That cookout prevented Francoeur from seeing his alma mater play rival Brookwood on Monday, but the 7-1 victory over the Broncos paid off for the Panthers.
Parkview coach Chan Brown told his players that they could skip practice Tuesday if they won and go to the Braves-Royals opener.
The players and staff, wearing Parkview orange shirts, watched batting practice from behind home plate and then sat in the lower right-field seats behind Francoeur during the game.
Wednesday night, it was Francoeur who wanted to do the watching. After the Royals' victory over the Braves, he headed to Archer to see Sam McCoy, Catie's brother, pitch for Parkview against the Tigers.
Francoeur, traded to the New York Mets by the Braves in July of 2009, hadn't played in Atlanta since 2010 and that series in late August ended with a trade to Texas.
"It didn't work out too bad," Francoeur said. "I got to play in the World Series."
The stay in Texas, though, was a short one. Francoeur signed with Kansas City in 2011 and parlayed a .287 season with 71 extra-base hits, 87 RBIs and 22 steals into a new two-year contract worth $13.5 million.
But Francoeur slumped at the plate in 2012 and needs a bounce-back season to stick around in Kansas City, which is something he'd like to do.
"I'm comfortable there," he said. "We've lived in the same area, so I've gotten to know my neighbors. I enjoy Kansas City and I'm excited for what this season is going to bring."
The Royals, 8-6 after splitting with the Braves, don't look ready yet to challenge Detroit for first place in the American League Central, but a winning record is certainly possible.
"When you first come up you imagine playing in Atlanta forever, but things change," Francoeur said. "I'm happy. We're playing well. We've got a good team. We've got a great pitching staff. Our city is excited about this team, and so am I."