Francoeur traded
Braves send right fielder to Mets for Church

Jeff Francoeur's storybook journey from Parkview High legend to Atlanta Braves' star and Sports Illustrated cover boy captivated metro Atlanta for years.

But the remainder of the 25-year-old's story will come elsewhere after the hometown team severed ties Friday with its hometown hero.

The Braves traded the slumping Francoeur, a fan favorite whose many fans still wear his No. 7 jerseys to games, to the rival New York Mets in exchange for oft-injured outfielder Ryan Church.

The rare deal between NL East rivals came with both teams below .500. The Mets are desperate for a spark with stars Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and Carlos Delgado on the disabled list and also are looking toward 2010, preferring Francoeur's right-handed bat and strong throwing arm in right at spacious Citi Field.

"What's just weird is you imagine to be traded, but you never imagine to be traded to maybe your biggest rival," Francoeur said in Denver, before the Braves played the Rockies.

Discussions began only this week, and Church was told when he came in from batting practice Friday, just before he was to get taped up. The Mets receive $270,218 as part of the trade to equalize salaries.

"As a front office, we're going to continue to try to do things to, you know, shake it up a little bit, not just be complacent and say this is it," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said. "I'm hoping that between here and the All-Star break, you know, we have other things that we talk to teams about, and they may come to reality."

Church is hitting .280 with two home runs and 22 RBIs. A solid right fielder with a good arm, he got off to a terrific start last year in his first season with the Mets before he was slowed by a second concussion. Church collided with teammate Marlon Anderson during spring training, then was accidentally kneed in the head by Braves shortstop Yunel Escobar while trying to break up a game-ending double play at Atlanta on May 20.

Church was stunned by the deal.

"Shocker. Came out of nowhere," he said outside the Mets clubhouse. "The good thing is I get to play these guys next week."

New York opens the second half at Turner Field on Thursday. Church immediately sent Chipper Jones a text message.

"They're going to have to change up a lot of signs. I know everything," Church said. "I'll definitely fill them in."

The news of Francoeur's trade likely will hit hard in his native Gwinnett County.

"The reaction (in Gwinnett) will be, 'Oh my gosh,' because our homegrown kid will not be an Atlanta Brave anymore," said Parkview head coach Cecil Flowe, who coached Francoeur in high school football. "But it is pro baseball. It's a business. When management makes a decision, you've got to go with it.

"He'll do fine. He'll land on his feet. He's a competitor. He's not going to quit."

A first-round pick by the Braves in 2002, Francoeur received a team-record $2.2 million signing bonus to sign and pass up a football scholarship to Clemson. Three years later, he was called up to the major leagues and homered in his first game.

His hot-hitting start and his rifle arm from right field earned him a Sports Illustrated cover under the headline, "The Natural." He hit .300 in 2005, then played every game of the 2006 and 2007 seasons, driving in more than 100 runs both years.

But the rising star struggled mightily the past two seasons.

He hit just .239 with only 11 home runs last season, which included a brief demotion to Class AA Mississippi. His offseason wasn't ideal as Francoeur and the Braves appeared headed to arbitration, although they avoided by reaching a one-year, $3.375 million deal.

Francoeur hasn't had the breakout season he hoped for, hitting .250 with five homers this season, prompting a recent three-game benching by manager Bobby Cox.

One of his best games came Thursday night with three doubles against Colorado, but a day later he was traded to the Mets. Those close to Francoeur hope a change of scenery will boost him from his funk.

"It may turn out to be the best thing for Jeff," Flowe said. "It may give him a new start."

Francoeur's legend began with his high school feats at Parkview. He led his baseball and football teams to state championships each of his final two prep seasons, starring for both squads.

He intercepted 15 passes as a junior football player, in addition to being a 1,000-yard receiver. While his football skills warranted an ACC scholarship, his baseball talents made him one of the most coveted MLB Draft prospects in 2002.

In his final two seasons at Parkview, he hit 36 homers and drove in 98 runs. He hit a Gwinnett County record 55 career prep homers, including an astonishing five home run, 12-RBI doubleheader playoff performance against Lassiter that gave him the nickname "Superman."

In the 2001 and 2002 state finals, Francoeur's numbers were nearly unbelievable. He was 11-for-14 with seven homers and 13 RBIs in four games.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.