This summer, Chipper Jones will officially join the ranks of the Braves' all-time greats. He earned it.
By CORY McCARTNEY FS South
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Chipper Jones sat in the
Braves dugout, the Champion Stadium field reflecting off his wraparound Oakley sunglasses. He was in uniform, as he had been for the last 20 spring trainings, but there were no fielding drills, no sprints, no preparing himself for the rigors of a 162-game season.
This is Chipper Jones in retirement – and he’s being clear that there will be no mid-summer’s comeback for the eight-time All-Star.
“I’m OK with the way things turned out. I’m OK with it being over,” said Jones, who is in camp for a three-day stint as a guest instructor. “I don’t have any visions of coming back in June, July, August, September. Honestly, I’ve put the cap on it closed it tight. It’s not opening back up.”
Tuesday, the Braves announced they too would be putting a cap on Jones’ career, retiring his number and inducting him into the team's Hall of Fame during the June 28 game at Turner Field against the Diamondbacks. His No. 10 will become the 10th number retired and put Jones aside the likes of Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of great names, a lot of great numbers up on that façade. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t dream about one day trying to get No. 10 up there and this morning it comes to fruition. So it’s a very proud day for myself and my family. Kind of lets us know that all those mornings, afternoons and evenings on the fields in Pierson, Fla., paid off.”
Jones played his entire 19-yaer career with the Braves, finishing with 2,726 hits, 1,623 RBIs, 468 home runs, a lifetime .303 average and an OPS of .903, the highest of any Braves player in history.
What he called a dream come true brought it all rushing back.
“There’s just this wave that comes over you, kind of disbelief and kind of a reflection of ‘Where has it all gone?’ and ‘How did it happen so quick?” he said. “It was 19 years but it seems now like it went by in a flash. I guess what we all want to do is try to leave our mark and this is certainly a good indication that you left your mark.”
Jones will become the fifth figure from the Braves’ run of 14 consecutive division titles to have his number retired, joining Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Bobby Cox and John Smoltz. While Jones won National League MVP in 1999, a league batting title and two Silver Slugger Awards, it’s their World Series runs together that Jones says came to mind wheb he was told no other Brave would ever wear No. 10 again.
“We play a team sport and our goal every year down here at spring training was to give ourselves an opportunity to win a World Series,” Jones said. “I got a chance to do that in ’95 and got a chance to play in two more World Series in ’96 and ’99 and I think a lot of players would die for three opportunities at World Series.
“Back in the ‘90s, we felt like it was going to happen every year. We felt like it was our right to be in the World Series. It’s not easy and the best team doesn’t always win, which has been illustrated. But having three opportunities and getting one under our belt, that was huge and something I’ll never forget.”
Maddux’s jersey was retired in 2009, with Glavine, Cox and Smoltz in the three years that followed. But as manager Fredi Gonzalez said, Jones’ No. 10 could be the last one retired for some time.
"Good for (Jones)," Gonzalez said. "That's no surprise to anyone or anybody. But I started thinking, who's the next guy? … But it's like whose the next guy that we have that spent 18 years with the organization."
As Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson, the players vying to take Jones’ hold job at tird base, Jones stood on the grass, his fielding now reserved to taking balls thrown over by the fielders and dropping them into a bucket at his feet.
During batting practice, Jones peered in, his foot propped up on the cage’s wheel, watching the likes of B.J. Upton,
Justin Upton and
Jason Heyward take their cuts. He would offer a few words of advice and worked with the younger players, breaking down their swings.
Jones is close to the game again, but there’s no itch to be back on the field. He’s comfortable with his new vantage point where he can visit, then return to his new life.
“I thought this week would be pretty hard. But I stand out there while they’re watching ground balls and I don’t really miss it,” Jones said, laughing. “I standing behind the cage watching them face live pitching and I see somebody hit a ball off the end of the bat and I know how that feels. You’re fingers go completely numb and I don’t miss that. When they’re conditioning at the end of the day and they’re huffing and they’re puffing, I don’t miss it.”
There are things he’ll miss; the camaraderie with the teammates and coaches and the everyday banter, but it’s one time he says he’ll miss most of all.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going to miss from 7-10 (p.m.) when the game starts,” Jones said. “But it’s all the other stuff that you have to endure during a course of a season that I’m over. So like I’ said, I’m OK with it. I’ve come to grips with it.”
His is a career that, most certainly, will end with enshrinement in Cooperstown when he’s eligible for the Hall of Fame after the five-year waiting period. He’s the only switch-hitter in history with at least a .300 average and 300 home runs and is second all-time behind Eddie Murray for RBIs by a switch-hitter.
“The accolades and whatever comes after you’re done playing, that’s really out of my control,” Jones said. “My motto in life is ‘Don’t worry about things you can’t control.’ What I can control is the resume that I put up and that’s over. ... All I know is I went out and did the best I could with what I’ve got.”