In his first public appearance as the Rome Braves' new manager, Jonathan Schuerholz linked the past with the future using the one common denominator that has always been a part of his baseball life - a love for the game.
"It feels like everything has come full circle," Schuerholz, who played on the inaugural Rome Braves team in 2003 that won the South Atlantic League championship and becomes the first former Rome player to come back to manage the team, said Monday night during the Braves' annual Hot Stove Gathering at The Forum.
"To this day, it's the most memorable season I've ever played," he said about that storybook-ending season. "I love the game of baseball and it has been good to me, and I hope I can pass that along to the kids.
"And I love the Braves organization. I was given a gift to be able to do this."
Schuerholz also knows he's been just as blessed as he opens the new season in Rome with a field staff he knows all too well - hitting coach Bobby Moore, who was Schuerholz's hitting coach back in 2003, and pitching coach Gabe Luckert and trainer Kyle Damschroder, who were both with Schuerholz in Danville.
"The comfort ability will help me out" said Schuerholz, who after ending his playing career with the Braves in 2007 became a roving instructor and transitioned into the role as a manager serving as the skipper for the Braves' short-season teams for three years, the last two with the Danville Braves. "That's a huge thing to have. I know how these guys work."
"He did a great job last year improving our players and our staff day by day," said Luckert.
"All the coaches in the organization are like family," Moore said. "We've got one thing in mind - the kids come first."
Joining Schuerholz and his staff for the Gathering were former Rome Braves who can testify to that - pitcher Chuck James, who went on to pitch in Atlanta; outfielder Jon Mark Owings; and two more recent Rome alums in Shae Simmons (2013) and Robert Hefflinger (2012), who are each moving up the Braves' farm system ladder.
The 200-plus fans on hand also had the opportunity to meet Atlanta Braves Director of Minor League Operations Ronnie Richardson, minor league training staff coordinator Mike Graus, Atlanta Braves scout Brian Bridges, former Atlanta Braves third base coach and current manager of the Gwinnett Braves Brian Snitker, and Rome Braves general manager Mike Dunn.
Schuerholz and his staff won't have long to wait to begin the new season when they report for the Braves' minor-league spring training camp on Feb. 25 in Kissimmee, Fla., where the process of putting the 2014 Rome Braves roster together.
Just who will be with team is still undecided, but odds are many of the players who were under Schuerholz's guidance last year in Danville will be in Rome.
"One thing I do know," Schuerholz told the fans. "We'll have a team on the field you can be proud of."
Schuerholz and the Rome Braves open the season on April 3 facing the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns on the road before returning to Rome for their home opener on April 10 at State Mutual Stadium against the Savannah Sand Gnats.
There will, however, be an opportunity for fans to see another Braves team play in Rome when, for the first time ever at State Mutual Stadium, the Atlanta Braves - including former Rome Braves Jason Hayward, Freddie Freeman and Evan Gattis - will play an exhibition game on Saturday, March 29 at 2:05 p.m. against the Braves Future Stars that will be coached by Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox.
Season-ticket packages, which include tickets to the Atlanta Braves exhibition game, are available now and single-game tickets go on sale on March 8.