The Braves needed someone who could play third base—where Barry Bonnell and Rod Gilbreath, among others, had proved inadequate—and someone who could drive in runs. The consensus of opinion from eight scouts, plus Snyder and Lucas, was that Horner would eventually be good for 26 to 29 home runs a year.
Lucas' instinct was to start Horner off in Double-A ball at Savannah, where he could get used to his new position. In college, Horner had played mostly at second base and shortstop.
"That sounded about right to me," says Horner. "Coming out of college, I didn't want to do something I wasn't ready for. What you dream about and what comes true are two different things. I knew that when I got to the majors I would want to stay. I didn't want to have all my hopes shattered like one of them David Clydes—stay a year and then go down."
But when Horner came to Atlanta to sign, he saw things differently. "I went down to the clubhouse and out on the field," he says, "and got a completely different perspective. When you see guys like Johnny Bench or George Foster on Monday Night Baseball, they look like supermen. Unreal. Down there I saw for myself how they look and what they do. They looked just like me."
Horner went back to Lucas and said he felt he was ready to play for the Braves after all. Lucas didn't want to blow the signing and have Horner go back to school. "What if it doesn't work out?" Lucas asked Horner. "Then I'll go wherever you say," Horner replied. "He had so much confidence," says Lucas, "that I had to believe him."
Horner took his first batting practice in a Braves' uniform the next day, an off date for the Atlanta team. "Of his first 12 swings, six balls ended up in the blue seats," says Snyder. "I never felt such jubilation in my life." The next night Horner was batting fifth and playing third base against the Pirates.
"It was weird, it really was," says Horner. "Guys came up one by one and introduced themselves. Nobody knew who I was." At least one was skeptical. "I just heard the same stuff I hear about the No. 1 pick every year," says Burroughs. "I wished him good luck and hoped he wouldn't embarrass himself."
"When I walked out onto the field for batting practice," says Horner, "I felt like I was playing a different game. In a way I was, since I had been using an aluminum bat for the last three years. Then when they announced my name in the lineup I got a big ovation from the fans. That sort of shook me."
His first two times up Horner hit a grounder to short and flied out to centerfield. Just before Horner's third at bat, his father Jim, an automotive parts salesman, called the Atlanta press box from the family's home in Glendale, Ariz. to see how Bob was doing. "Hang on," said a Braves' aide, "he's coming up right now." Jim Horner heard a sudden explosion of cheers. "You won't believe this," the aide said, "but he just hit a home run off Blyleven."
Horner has been learning how to play third base under the tutelage of Clete Boyer, the former Yankee Golden Glover who also tutors the rest of the Braves' "Infant Infield"—Shortstop Jerry Royster (25), First Baseman Dale Murphy (22) and Second Baseman Glenn Hubbard (20), who has missed the last 14 games with an arm injury.