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Klesko talks Braves at QU event, says Atlanta should return with a vengeance in 2012

At left is former MLB player Ryan Klesko, who played for the Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants, talking to local attorney Patrick Eidson during Thursday night’s Quail Unlimited Landowners’ Appreciation Reception at the Albany Civic Center. Celebrities have come and gone at this event over the years, but Klesko is a staunch supporter of QU and returns annually to Albany. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

At left is former MLB player Ryan Klesko, who played for the Atlanta Braves, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants, talking to local attorney Patrick Eidson during Thursday night’s Quail Unlimited Landowners’ Appreciation Reception at the Albany Civic Center. Celebrities have come and gone at this event over the years, but Klesko is a staunch supporter of QU and returns annually to Albany. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

ALBANY – Even after being out of the majors for more than a decade, Ryan Klesko still felt the sting from the Atlanta Braves’ September collapse.

Klesko, the former Bravo who is also a regular at the annual Quail Unlimited Celebrity Hunt, is in town again this week to participate in the hunt and enjoy the camaraderie of fellow hunters.

“It’s a great event,” said Klesko, who spent 16 years in Major League Baseball between the Braves, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants. “The people of Albany have always welcomed us. We love being here.”

As for that blown wildcard lead last year — losing an 8½-game lead in 23 days after going 10-20 down the stretch — it pains Klesko to even talk about it.

“That was a tough feeling,” he said. “It feels like everything bad that can happen did happen. It was just bad timing for those guys, a lot of injuries, losing two starting pitchers and a third pitching through an injury.

“It was tough to see,” added Klesko, who was a former teammate of current Braves third baseman Chipper Jones, one of Klesko’s hunting partners to this day.

Indeed, the Braves did have to deal with season-ending injuries to both Jair Jurrjens, who was a mid-season All-Star selection, and Tommy Hanson, both of whom would have been counted on heavily in the fall against teams like Philadelphia and St. Louis, who the Braves went a combined 0-9 against in the final month.

“They’ve got a chip on their shoulder now because they don’t want something like that to happen again,” said Klesko, who threw batting practice at times to Braves hitters last season and was a pitching prospect out of high school.

Many fans expected to see offseason moves to help improve the team after a disappointing end to 2011, but the Braves have remained mostly quiet. The rotation should return intact with Tim Hudson, Jurrjens, Hanson, Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor back and with several big-name pitching prospects waiting in the wings.

Those include Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado and Aroldys Vizcaino, who will likely pitch out of the bullpen to start the year.

Atlanta re-signed left fielder Martin Prado, along with Jurrjens and shortstop Jack Wilson. With the re-signing of Wilson, shortstop Tyler Pastornicky, a 23-year-old who has no MLB experience, appears to be the opening-day starter.

Klesko said current players are only working to get better and can’t worry about front office activity.

“A professional athlete is going to go about his business and try to get better in the offseason,” he said. “That’s all they’re doing right now. I don’t know how many moves they’re going to try to make. They’ve got a really good team and a great bullpen. Obviously, they’re going to try to keep the starting rotation healthy.”

Pitchers and catchers report in just over a month, so the answers will come soon. The Braves also replaced hitting coach Larry Parrish with former White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker.

Klesko, meanwhile, has taken on the hunting industry full-time, hosting the Hardcore Hunting TV show and is the owner of Trophy Hunting Products, which makes bow slings and other outdoor industry products. He does conventions all over the country and enjoys spending time with his 3-year-old son.

Klesko, a career .279 hitter with 278 home runs, has also killed some monster bucks lately. His biggest Georgia buck, a 14-pointer shot in Jones County, scored 154 and appeared in Georgia Outdoor News magazine last year.