By just about every defensive metric known to the baseball world, Braves’ shortstop Andrelton Simmons had one of the greatest seasons we’ve seen in a long time. In 2013, his first full season in the majors, the 24-year old saved an ML-best 41 runs. He consistently made the impossible look ordinary and the difficult look easy (here’s 25 minutes of Simmons being Simmons). “Simba” won the NL Gold Glove at his position and the Platinum Glove as the best fielder in the National League. His season was so good, I’m sure he would have won the glove for whatever rare metal is more precious than platinum if it existed.
Simmons is the latest Braves’ defensive great to come from the small Caribbean island of Curaçao. The second-year shortstop follows in the footsteps of Andruw Jones, who won ten Gold Gloves patrolling center field for Atlanta from 1998-2007. Simmons and Jones are among two of the current and former major league players from Curaçao gathered this week for a baseball homecoming for the first annual Curaçao Baseball Week at beautiful Blue Bay.
We caught up with Simmons to talk about coming home to Curaçao, his defensive prowess, playing with Chipper Jones, and staying grounded.
Amanda Rykoff: What does it mean to you to be back here for Curaçao Baseball Week among your peers and players you grew up admiring?
Andrelton Simmons: It’s an honor. Growing up I looked up to guys like Andruw Jones and Hainley [Statia]. There are a lot of guys who maybe didn’t make it to the big leagues but who were good on the island. Growing up it’s an honor to be next to them right now. I feel like it’s a must for me to give back to the island, to the kids and give them my insights on the game and try and get them to become better baseball players.
Amanda Rykoff: What advice do you have for the kids in Curaçao?
Andrelton Simmons: Just to listen. Be open to what we’re saying. We have a decent, good idea of what we’re doing. Just listen. We have the talent — we have a lot of talent here but if we just get some more knowledge and some more instructions I think we can make Curaçao baseball even bigger in the big leagues or Japan or wherever.
Amanda Rykoff: How much pride do you take in your defense?
Andrelton Simmons: That’s my main job. When I go to the field my first thing I have to do is catch the ball and make plays. I got Andruw Jones that played with the Braves and won 10 Gold Gloves so I’m in the shadows of a great defensive guy so I try and keep up with him.
Amanda Rykoff: What MLB players inspired you growing up?
Andrelton Simmons: Andruw Jones was definitely the biggest from Curaçao. Being a Braves fan since I was a kid, Chipper Jones. Derek Jeter was really good when I was younger. Growing up those were the main guys I looked up to and I try to model [myself after them] when I’m out there right now.
Amanda Rykoff: You had a chance to play with Chipper last year in his final season. What was that like for you?
Andrelton Simmons: It was awesome. It’s a dream come true for me. When you’re little, you dream big and that was one of my dreams. When you grow up, you see he’s getting older so he’s probably going to retire soon, so I never thought it was going to happen. Somehow he kept playing. I told him a year before, “Don’t quit yet!” Because I was feeling I was getting a little close to the big leagues and I wanted to play next to him and fortunately I got to do it.
Amanda Rykoff: How does it feel to be already regarded as one of the all-time greats at your position?
Andrelton Simmons: It’s a great honor. It’s the greatest of honors because this game has been played for so long. But I still feel like in order for me to consider myself as one of the best, I’ve got to keep doing it year in and year out. The guys who are considered great defenders do it pretty much every day and I’ve got to do that for 10, 20 more years. I still have a lot to do.
Amanda Rykoff: Do you want [Braves manager] Fredi [Gonzalez] to let you pitch?
Andrelton Simmons: Yes. Maybe not in a blowout. We had a long long game against the Nationals this year, it went like 16 innings or so. I was hoping. We ran out of pitchers. We used Medlen and I was hoping he had a limit and I was coming in sometime. Unfortunately, not yet.
Amanda Rykoff: Do you have any trick moves or trick plays that I can’t do in an actual game?
Andrelton Simmons: I don’t think so. To be honest, I don’t think there’s a play that can’t be done in a game. There’s definitely a time and place to do weird stuff but I don’t think there’s anything I can do in practice that you can’t do in a game. If the time comes and the situation comes that I’m reaching out and I have no time and I go between the legs — I’ll go behind the back. You’ve got to get it done somehow.
Amanda Rykoff: What is the song on your iPod that you don’t want anybody to know about?
Andrelton Simmons: I can’t tell you! I like Eminem’s Beautiful. It’s a song whenever I’m relaxed, I like listening to it. It keeps me grounded, it gets me going. It tells me that I’ve been through a long path and don’t forget where you came from.
Amanda Rykoff: What pieces of baseball memorabilia have you already kept?
Andrelton Simmons: I have Chipper Jones’ glove — one that he gave out — signed. A Fred McGriff baseball. I still have a couple — I need to get Mr. Bobby Cox on it, Terry Pendleton on it. I got Andruw Jones on a shirt. I have my first home run ball, my first walk-off hit. Obviously the glove that was used this year for the Gold Glove. Hopefully I’ll get more stuff.