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The Life of Riley

May 19, 2019

Hugh Atkins

This past Wednesday Austin Riley became the latest Atlanta Braves player to hit a home run in his first game in the Major Leagues. On his second trip to the plate, Riley homered off right-hander Michael Wacha of the St. Louis Cardinals in the bottom of the fourth inning. With that long ball, at the ripe old age of 22 Riley joined a not-so-exclusive club of Braves who hit home runs in their first game.

I could not find a list of Braves who hit home runs in their first game, but I seemed to remember quite a few, so I checked retrosheet.org for verification.

© T.C.G.

Bob Horner is the first Braves player I remember hitting a home run in his first game. Horner never played in the Minor Leagues; he came to the Braves straight from Arizona State University, joined the Braves on June 16, 1978, and hit a home run in his third at-bat off Bert Blyleven of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Horner hit 23 home runs that season and was the National League Rookie of the Year.

On May 17, 1993, Jermaine Dye hit a home run in his first big-league at-bat off Marcus Moore of the Cincinnati Reds. Dye hit 12 homers that season and looked as if he had a promising career ahead of him, yet the Braves traded him to the Kanas City Royals where he became one of the most feared hitters in the American League before retiring after the 2009 season with 325 career homers.

On July 7, 2005, Jeff Francoeur hit a home run in his second at-bat, a three-run shot off Glendon Rush of the Chicago Cubs. Francoeur had a couple of good seasons but began to struggle with consistency, and by 2009 he began to bounce around both leagues, changing teams with regularity. He was out of baseball at the age of 32 after the 2016 season.

On Opening Day of the 2009 season, Jordan Schafer hit a home run in his first at-bat, and it was pretty much downhill for him for the rest of his career. He bounced around for parts of six seasons with three different teams and wrapped up his career in 2015 at the age of 28 with 12 career home runs and a .228 batting average.

© T.C.G.

On Opening Day 2010, Jason Heyward hit a home run in his first at-bat against the Chicago Cubs. He had a good rookie season, hitting .277 with 18 homers and 72 runs batted in. Heyward slipped to .227 with just 14 home runs in 2011 but seemed to be on the upswing the following season when he hit 27 homers. Heyward followed with two unremarkable seasons, and the Braves traded him to the Cardinals where he had one lackluster season. For some reason, the Cubs then gave Heyward an eight-year contract worth $184 million.

Evan Gattis got sidetracked on the way to his first Big League game; he was 26 years old when he arrived in Atlanta in 2013. Gattis hit a home run in his second at-bat off Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies. Despite playing only part time that season, Gattis hit 21 homers and followed that with 22 in 2014. The Braves traded him to the Houston Astros, where in four seasons he hit 96 home runs and was on a World Series Championship team in 2017. For some reason, Gattis is without a team this season; I hope one picks him up soon.

I’m fairly certain there have been other Braves who homered in their first game, but these are the only ones I remember.

(All statistics are from baseball-reference.com; all game details are from retrosheet.org.)

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