But tonight’s season opener at SMS doesn’t classify as “normal conditions” — and chances are, new Rome skipper Matt Walbeck won’t be the center of attention.
Rather, it will be a player in a visiting uniform, Hagerstown’s Bryce Harper, who is likely to cause the biggest stir when the Braves face the Suns tonight in the season opener for both teams.
Harper, an outfielder, was the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft, and is considered to be among the top prospects in all of minor league baseball. He signed last summer with the Washington Nationals for $9.9 million, the highest in history for a position player.
He will make his minor league debut tonight amid a massive wave of hype, with media crews from all around the nation expected to attend the game to see the “can’t-miss” prospect.
Tickets for tonight’s game are still available, and can be purchased at the SMS ticket windows or by calling 706-368-9388.
His appearance tonight is certain to add an extra element of excitement to a game that already has plenty of intriguing subplots — especially for Rome fans, who are anxious to get their first look at the new manager and the long list of new players on the team.
The list includes Rome shortstop Matt Lipka, who was a first-round supplemental pick by Atlanta in last summer’s draft and is ranked by Baseball America as the No. 6 overall prospect in the Atlanta farm system.
Also of note, the Braves will be doing something they haven’t done in three years — opening the season inside the friendly confines of their home park.
The Braves, who announced their roster on Sunday and held a public workout on Tuesday, will take the field under the direction of a new coaching staff.
In addition to Walbeck, who was named as the new manager in the offseason to replace Randy Ingle, the new staff also includes batting coach Carlos Mendez and pitching coach Derrick Lewis.
For his part, Walbeck said there isn’t anything flashy about the way he manages.
“I believe baseball is baseball,” said Walbeck. “I teach one play at a time, and I believe in playing the game the right way.”
He should have plenty of talent to work with this season, as Lipka headlines a group that also includes highly-rated prospects Elmer Reyes, Carlos Perez and Edward Salcedo, among others.
“I’m very excited to be able to manage the type of prospects we have,” said Walbeck. “We have a lot of potential, and I think the fans here in Rome will enjoy watching these guys. They’ve become accustomed to watching good talent with all the great players that have come through here.”
Rome outfielder Kyle Rose, who spent most of last season in Rome before being injured mid-season, echoed the comments of his manager.
“I think this is going to be a really good team,” said Rose. “A lot of the guys have played together in Danville and at spring training, so there’s a lot of chemistry.”
The Braves will open with eight games at SMS, four with Hagerstown and then four with the Augusta GreenJackets.
Rose said the fans will like what they see on the field in the first homestand and throughout the season.
“They can expect us to come out and give 100 percent every night,” said Rose. “We are going to go hard after every fly ball and ground ball in the field, and we are going to run it out every time we make contact at the plate.”