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Cory Gearrin is a graduate of Rhea County High School and played for the Cyclones in the fall of 2005. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Atlanta Braves in 2007. In 2011, Gearrin was called up to the big leagues to be an active relief pitcher for the Braves.

Try not to hate Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Cory Gearrin too much as you attempt to scrape the snow and ice from your car windshield this morning. It's not his fault he's, um, bravely adjusting to the 70-degree temperatures of Orlando, Fla., instead of shoveling the white stuff from his family's Rhea County driveway.

This is his job. Braves pitchers and catchers report to ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex today for spring training. Workouts begin Friday. Gearrin couldn't have stayed behind to gun a few side-armed snowballs at friends and neighbors if he'd wanted to.

"I am anxious to get started," he said a couple of weeks ago. "I think we all are. We lost a couple of great players -- I already miss Brian McCann -- but we've still got a winning team, a division championship team. I think we're all excited to see what we can accomplish this season."

Gearrin's understandable confidence notwithstanding, there are legitimate questions about these Braves, beginning with the loss of the catcher McCann. Yes, Evan Gattis was superb in a backup role last season. And as Chipper Jones famously said of the White Bear's tornadic swings, "The ball just sounds different coming off his bat."

But McCann's worth wasn't only confined to his considerable talents both at and behind the plate. Both he and pitcher Tim Hudson were the team's clubhouse glue guns, capable of holding a young, combustible team together at all times.

Now both are gone -- Hudson back to the site of his early glory in Oakland, McCann to the Darned Yankees -- and each one must be capably replaced both on and off the field if these Braves are to repeat or better last year's 96-win record and their East Division crown.

Beyond that, the Braves haven't won a playoff series since sweeping the Houston Astros in a 2001 division series before falling to the Arizona Diamondbacks in that fall's NLCS. So there is still much improvement to be made .

"We were right there last year," Braves outfielder Justin Upton told earlier this week. "We ran into a hot Dodgers team and didn't really get a chance to get rolling. We have a good team, a good ballclub. Everybody has another year under their belt. Our pitching staff is getting better. Our hitters are getting better. I think, for the most part, we are headed in the right direction."

And for those who think the contributions of Hudson and McCann on the field can't be replaced, consider this from that same article: The Braves produced a majors-best 39-21 record after July 24, the day that Hudson suffered his season-ending ankle injury. During this 60-game span, McCann hit just .217 with seven home runs and a .661 OPS.

That, as much as anything, screams that the kids -- 35 of the 39 players currently listed on the team's website as being a part of the 40-man roster are under 30 years old -- are all right and ready to take the next step to returning the franchise to the World Series for the first time since 1999.

Yet Gearrin's concerns as spring practice begins aren't only limited to his right throwing shoulder last season. Shut down by noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews the final two months of the season, the 27-year-old (he'll turn 28 on April 14) went through non-surgical rehabilitation in Boston through most of the autumn and early winter.

Regarding his shoulder, he says he's now, "100 percent healthy."

But emboldened by the World Series success of the Boston Red Sox' "Beard Brigade," the baby-faced Gearrin decided to put his razor in storage. His cheeks, chin and upper lip are now blanketed with dark brown hair long and full enough to make Santa jealous.

"Being in Boston in the off-season, it gets a little cold," said Gearrin with a grin. "And I may have also thought that if I grew a beard some of the Red Sox' success might rub off on me."

And it might. But having a beard to keep you warm in Beantown is not the same as sweating through a Florida spring and Atlanta summer with half your face smothered in fur. Hairy is nary seen on the Braves for more reasons than the club's grooming preferences.

Then again, a few friends have already told Gearrin that he now reminds them of the warriors in the "300" movies, a reference point the pitcher deems, "pretty cool."

But it's his mom, Geri, who probably best spoke for all of Braves Nation when she said of her son's blossoming beard, "If it helps him win games, I'm fine with it."

If nothing else, we should all be fine with the notion that pitchers and catchers reporting is the first unofficial sign of spring, no matter how far south you have to travel to find a 70-degree day.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at