Braves eager to start new streak

From the Associated Press

Remember the Atlanta Braves?

Hmmm ... OK, it's starting to come back now. Oh yeah, they're the team that used to finish first every season.

Whatever happened to them?

Well, the Braves are still around, going through the familiar rituals of spring training at their Disney World complex: batting practice, fielding drills, bullpen work. And they're downright astonished at how quickly everyone has cast them aside as some Mickey Mouse team -- yesterday's news, finished, kaput.

Sure, they slipped badly last season. Fell flat on their faces, actually. But is that any way treat one of baseball's most dominant franchises of the past 15 years, a team that did it all except win a bunch of World Series titles?

"I'm really surprised that no one is even talking about us," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "I think we're as good as anybody in our division, which is all that matters over the next 162 games."

Most of the NL East buzz revolves around the New York Mets, who are coming off a runaway division title and have oodles of money to spend. Then there's the Philadelphia Phillies, who are talking big even though they haven't made the playoffs since 1993, and the Florida Marlins, armed with some of the game's most dynamic young players.

As for the Braves, they're viewed as a team that's past its prime -- much like the New York Yankees of the mid-1960s, another dynasty that came to an inglorious end.

There was no media horde awaiting the Braves when they arrived in central Florida. Most of those folks were off covering the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, delving into the Barry Bonds soap opera or trying to figure out the relationship between Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter.

Hardly anyone has time for the Braves.

"They've written us off," outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. "Let them keep doubting us. I love it."

Even though youngsters such as Francoeur and Brian McCann have bolstered the Braves, it's clear this isn't the same franchise as the 1990s.

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