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As the yellow Mustang convertible inched its way through the
streets of Willemstad, in Curacao, the greatest baseball player
in the history of this island in the Netherlands Antilles sat on
the top of the backseat, laughing and waving and having the time
of his 19-year-old life. Let the Yankees have their ticker tape
and Canyon of Heroes. Andruw Jones had an entire nation. Who
could tell how many of Curacao's 150,000 citizens had lined the
streets to turn a 10-minute homecoming trip from the airport
into a two-hour lovefest for the Braves' up-and-coming star? But
afterward most agreed that Jones's homecoming was bigger than
any visit from Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, bigger even
than the stop by Pope John Paul II in '90. Of course, Queen
Beatrix is not a five-tool monarch, and His Holiness, for all
his accomplishments, has yet to hit two home runs in a World
Series game.

Jones has. In October he homered in his first two at bats in
Game 1 at Yankee Stadium, supplanting Mickey Mantle as the
youngest player to go deep in the Series and setting the bar
ludicrously high for his own embryonic career. If Jones, who
doesn't turn 20 until April 23, has considered the possibility
that he has already done the greatest thing he will ever do on a
diamond, he doesn't let on. There is the tacit assumption--by
Jones and the Braves--that he can do much more.

There's little question that he will be a major contributor to
the Braves this year, although Atlanta's crowded outfield
(veterans Marquis Grissom, David Justice and Ryan Klesko are
back, along with second-year-man Jermaine Dye) may force Jones
to beat up pitchers in Triple A at the start of the season until
the Braves move a player. Atlanta would rather have Jones
hitting in the minors than playing part time in the majors.
"People wonder if we're rushing him or not," Braves manager
Bobby Cox says of Jones. "What it all boils down to is, if you
can play, you can play. And this kid can play."

There is little of the kid in Jones. He is usually reserved and
businesslike, reflecting the mood on baseball's most
professional team. "He looks like a guy who's been here six,
eight years," third baseman Chipper Jones says. "Andruw looks
like he knows something about this game that no one else does."

Some of the Braves are reserving judgment. "Let him fill up the
back of one of these first," pitcher Mike Bielecki says as he
reaches for a baseball card. But Jones's jump from Class A to
the bigs in five months and his contributions once he got to the
majors (five home runs, 13 runs batted in and four outfield
assists in his 31 regular-season games down the stretch, plus
six RBIs in the World Series) impressed others.

"He's like Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett," reliever Mark Wohlers
says, comparing Jones with the players who recently jumped from
high school to the NBA. Even Jones, an outfielder who hit a
total of 42 home runs in four leagues in 1996, says the call-up
last August after 12 games at Triple A left him speechless,
which is unusual because he speaks four languages: English,
Spanish, Dutch and Papiamento, the island tongue.

And after seeing him play, many major league pitchers no doubt
were also left tongue-tied.




CF Marquis Grissom
Four-time Gold Glove winner plays shallowest CF in NL

2B Mark Lemke
.205 road average was the worst in the league

3B Chipper Jones
After batting .309 in '96, his goal is to hit .320

1B Fred McGriff
Lefty batted .325, had .555 slugging percentage against southpaws

RF David Justice
Healthy after missing all but 40 games last season

LF Andruw Jones
Ryan Klesko starts if Jones opens season in Triple A

C Javier Lopez
Power numbers have increased every year in majors

SS Jeff Blauser
Career in decline after second straight poor season

Ace John Smoltz
Allowed NL's lowest on-base percentage (.260) in '96

Closer Mark Wohlers
11.6 strikeouts per nine innings led NL relievers


Over the last six seasons the Braves have had a .607 winning
percentage (550-356), the highest by any major league team over
that long a stretch since Cincinnati's Big Red Machine had a
.612 percentage from 1972 through '77. In fact, the only other
team in the expansion era (since 1961) with a higher winning
percentage than the Braves over any six-year span was the
Orioles, who won at a .610 clip from 1968 to '73 and from 1969
to '74.