NEW YORK -- I know what you're thinking. Who is this Andruw Jones character, anyway? Why isn't he listed in my Baseball Register? And what's with the odd spelling of his first name?
Good questions. To the casual observer, it must seem as if the kid sprang up out of nowhere -- created by the television moguls to add a sense of novelty and intrigue to this year's World Series.
The fact is, people in baseball have long been aware of Andruw Jones. The Braves knew about him when he was 14, living on the island nation of the Netherlands Antilles, off the coast of Venezuela.
Jones was so good, the Braves kept inviting him to the United States for a tryout. Three times he refused. Finally, on Atlanta's fourth entreaty, he relented.
He ran a 6.6 in the 60-yard dash for the Braves scouts that day. His father, who accompanied him to the tryout, ran a 7-flat, just to show where his son's ability came from.
Atlanta signed him to a free-agent contract when he was 16. Last year, as an 18-year-old, he was named minor league player of the year by several publications after hitting 25 homers, driving in 100 runs and stealing 56 bases for Class A Macon.
Jones began the '96 season in 'A' ball, at Durham, then began his inexorable ascent through the Braves system. He rose to Double-A in Greenville, then Triple-A Richmond, battering pitchers every step of the way.
Finally, in August, Jones arrived in the big leagues with Atlanta. One day later, he homered off Pittsburgh's Denny Neagle, who later became his teammate. A week later, he became the youngest player in 35 years to hit two home runs in a game.
Jones homered in the final game of the NLCS. So he was hardly an unknown coming into the Series. Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said he had no reservations about using him, and raved about his power.
"He hits the ball hard even when he misses," Cox said. "He has all the tools. Run. Hit. Throw. Power. This kid can hit the ball as hard as anyone around."
Still, no one expected a 19-year-old kid to turn the Series on its ear the first time he played in it.
All week long, the baseball experts had talked about the importance of experience in the World Series. Until you've been in one, the thinking went, you can't comprehend the pressure.
Playing in Yankee Stadium would only accentuate the pressure. The tradition was everywhere. The history, the monuments, all those former Yankees -- it was enough to reduce some veterans to jelly.
But they forgot to tell left fielder Andruw Jones to act his age.
No one informed him the Series spotlight was like the liquor cabinet -- off-limits to teen-agers.
In his first Series at-bat, in the top of the second inning, Jones turned on a high fastball from Andy Pettitte and drove it 388 feet into the left-field stands for a two-run homer.
The homer gave the Braves a 2-0 lead and sent them on their way to a 12-1, series-opening triumph. It also made Jones -- at 19 years, 6 months and 28 days -- the youngest player to homer in the Fall Classic.
He broke the record of the late Mickey Mantle, who was 20 when he hit the first of his 18 Series homers in 1952. Incidentally, Sunday would have been Mantle's 65th birthday.
An inning later, Jones hit a hanging slider from Brian Boehringer over the left-center field fence for a three-run homer, making it 8-0.
"That was a good night for anybody," said Atlanta's Chipper Jones. "But to be 19 and hit two homers knock in five runs and get us off like that -- those could be the two biggest at-bats of the year."
Andruw Jones didn't seem that moved by his performance. He didn't follow baseball much as a child on the island. He didn't seem versed in Yankee lore. Heck, he was six months old when Reggie hit the three homers in the '77 Series.
"I watched the Braves lose the World Series one year," Jones said. "I never thought I would be here. I never thought I would hit two home runs in a Series.
"I was nervous when I came up to the big leagues for the first time," he said. "But I wasn't really nervous tonight. I just tried to block the fans out and go play."
There's nothing like homers in successive innings to silence a crowd. The Yankee Stadium fans were especially juiced for this game, having waited six days to see it played. But the 8-0 deficit took the life out of them.
It's just one game, but they have to be reeling, and wondering if the Braves are ever going to stop hitting.
After falling behind, 3-1, to St. Louis in the NLCS, Atlanta has won four straight by an aggregate score of 44-2. In Game One, the Braves picked up where they left off against St. Louis, playing as if still one game from elimination.
The Yankees knew they'd have their hands full with Chipper Jones, Fred McGriff, Marquis Grissom and Javy Lopez. Now they have Mr. Teen-age October to worry about.
"He's as good a prospect as you'll see coming into any organization," Cox said. "He's a bright kid. Sometimes, pitchers aren't setting him up. He's setting them up. He's got a lot of talent. It doesn't take a genius to figure that out."
Jones didn't have a lot to say about his performance. He said he speaks four languages, including Dutch, but his English is spotty. He said he doesn't know why his parents decided to spell his first name with a 'u' instead of an 'e', though 'Andruw' is presumably the Dutch variation.
His talent speaks for itself.
"I really don't lift weights," he said. "God gave me natural things, so I just try to use them and . . . they help."