Gwinnett Braves center fielder Todd Cunningham walks away from a warm up prior to the start of a game against the Columbus Clippers at Coolray Field earlier this season. (File)
ATLANTA — When Todd Cunningham’s phone rang about midnight Monday night he thought he’d be moving.
He had seen the Braves trade teammate Cory Rasmus and enough time had passed since Atlanta Braves outfielder Reed Johnson had injured his achilles that the hope of his first big-league appearance had escaped his dreams.
But sitting on a dock on Lake Lanier with some of his Gwinnett Braves teammates he took the call from manager Randy Ready.
“My first thought was, ‘Where am I going now?’” Cunningham said. “It was a pleasant surprise to find out I was coming to Atlanta rather than some other ball club.”
The Atlanta Braves purchased Cunningham’s contract on Tuesday adding him to the 40-man roster and then activated him on the big-league roster replacing Johnson who the Braves placed on the disabled list. In Gwinnett, B.J. Upton will begin a rehab start today when the G-Braves begin a home series against Charlotte. Upton has been on the DL.
Cunningham had walked away from the group to take the late-night call and when he walked back he didn’t need to speak.
“It was kind of that awkward silence,” Cunningham said. “I think the grin gave it away.
“There was a lot of celebrating and hugs all around.”
Cunningham joins the Atlanta Braves and former teammates and outfielders Joey Terdoslavich and Jose Constanza; a triumvirate of Gwinnett Braves players now filling in for the injury riddled outfield.
“It’s almost like Gwinnett South now somebody Tweeted me,” said Terdoslavich whose locker is next to Cunningham and who was just recently experiencing the same big-league firsts.
“I just told him, ‘It’s awesome. It’s the same game and just be the same player you were in Gwinnett. It’s the same game,’” Terdoslavich said.
In his first Class AAA season, Cunningham grew into quite a good player. After a rough start, the everyday center fielder turned around a first month .253 batting average into a .279 average for the season and a scorching .324 June. His defense never wavered.
“It’s just a part of the progression,” said Cunningham, a second-round pick out of Jacksonville State by the Braves in 2010.
“You’d like to think it’s part of the development, you are kind of learning what it means to be a professional ballplayer. You are trying to take those steps to hopefully land in Atlanta or whatever big league team.”
Hope became a reality, and now there are new goals.
“Hopefully, I can take advantage of the opportunity,” he said. “I am not sure it’s set in yet, it’s kind of that still surreal phase. I am sure when the game starts and the crowd piles in and I get that first at-bat, whenever that may come, things will start to hit me. It’s definitely exciting, no doubt.”
When Cunningham first got to Turner Field on Tuesday he had one final hurdle to overcome on his path to the big leagues — security.
“I had to get verified so I could park. I was like, ‘I promise, they called me,’” Cunningham said. “I had to wait a couple of minutes while they called up and checked my ID and all that good stuff. I got a parking pass now, so I should be good.”