As soon as he left the dugout carrying the lineup card, Chipper Jones received a warm hand from a few Mets fans who noticed the second he set foot on the top step.
He was hoping to hear it from them one last time once the game started, too. Jones was out of the lineup for his last game in New York because of soreness that has bothered him all season, part of the reason he’s making his 19 major league season his last one.
Jones did hear those cheers one final time when he came up to the plate as a pinch hitter in the top of the ninth inning with the scored tied. Jones coaxed a walk and was replaced by a pinch runner. The Braves would win an inning later 3-2.
Jones has received farewells in other ballparks this season, but for him, there’s no place quite like New York.
Mets fans feel the same about him. After spending most of the last two decades loving to hate him, fans in Queens have softened. So has Chipper, and he can’t wait to feel the love from the Mets’ crowd one final time.
"I’ll be pleading to be the first guy off the bench today for my last at-bat," Jones said before the game, noting that he felt better than he did Saturday, when he told manager Fredi Gonzalez he might need the day off.
Getting to take the lineup card out is usually a gesture reserved for players who aren’t expected to see the field. Jones finished with 49 homers and a .311 average in 242 games against the Mets. Those aren’t too much better than Jones’ career numbers, but try convincing Mets fans, who remember him hitting four home runs against their team in the 1999 NLCS. And that series came shortly after Jones, the 1999 MVP, helped eliminate the Mets from the NL East race.
That might as well be ancient history. Since then, Jones has spoken often of his respect for the city of New York, and it was more than just talk. In 2004, he named his son Shea, after the Mets stadium where he always hit so well — and hit the first two homers of his career.
"I’ve had a gradual changing of my perception of the fans the last five or six years," Jones said. "They’re certainly a lot more cordial."
Mets fans used to chant Jones’ given name, Larry, to get under his skin. (It worked, too.) But on Saturday night, Jones heard something different.
"I’m not using to hearing that particular chant that I heard last night," Jones said. "It’s usually `Larry.’ Last night it was `Chipper,’ so that was cool."
Earlier this weekend, Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon presented the Atlanta star with a piece of 3-D artwork, and a memorabilia dealer gave him the Braves flag that flew over Shea Stadium and a framed piece of the outfield wall.