Where there was once jealousy between the up-and-comers, there's now respect between the future HOFers.
By ANDY JOHNSTON FS South
They were both young and full of vigor in 1996, two guys barely in their 20s and just starting careers full of promise.
Chipper Jones and Derek Jeter met on the field that year as the
Atlanta Braves and New Yankees played in the World Series.
They both had the talent and tools and seemed destined for greatness, but it would have been tough for anyone to predict that they would play for the same teams for their entire careers and that they'd be headed to the Hall of Fame.
Jones and Jeter had a longstanding mutual admiration and respect for each other throughout their many seasons, but didn't get to know one another other until they played for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic in 2009.
That's when they bonded, two superstars, well into their 30s, both with the knowledge — by that time — they were Cooperstown bound. Jones was struck by Jeter's humility, and Jeter by Jones' dedication and consistency.
It's safe to say they have a mutual admiration society. Basically, they're frenemies.
"He has the world by the tail," Jones said Tuesday before the Yankees and Braves met at Turner Field. "He's the captain of the Yankees. He's won 1,000 championships and played in a World Series seemingly every year. He has every right to have his head in the clouds, and he doesn't. He's probably one of the most down to earth superstars that I've ever run across."
Said Jeter: "If you watch him play, he looks like he should be playing baseball. I don't know, really know how to explain it. He just looks like a baseball player. The way he carries himself. The way he runs. The way he swings. Everything about him just defines a baseball player in my mind."
Their names now dot baseball's record books, not only for active players, but also the all-time lists.
Jones will go down as one of the top switch-hitters and third basemen in history. With 1,585 RBI, Jones will likely soon have more than any other third baseman who's played the game – he trails Mike Schmidt by 10 and George Brett by 11.
Jones has also been the face of the Braves through 14 consecutive division titles and one world championship.
Meanwhile, Jeter is one of the best shortstops in history, one of 28 players with 3,000 career hits, the cornerstone of a franchise that has won five World Series titles since he's been there, the first coming with a win over the Jones’ Braves in '96.
Together, they have played in 4,905 games and have 5,818 hits, all while wearing a total of two jerseys.
Jones has been a Brave basically forever, since being drafted No. 1 in 1990. Jeter was a first-round pick in 1992 and has worn the pinstripes ever since.
"For them to be on the same teams their whole career is pretty cool," Braves backup catcher David Ross said. "You've got to give a lot of credit to the front office to keep those guys, to keep paying them. I think that shows a good organization when you have a staple player you can stay with and you have new guys who can come in and say, ‘This is how the Braves do it' or ‘This is how the Yankees do it.' You see how that guy carries himself throughout the day. It helps younger players and it helps the brand of an organization."
Jones said he was once envious of Jeter, who led the Yankees to four World Series titles in his first five seasons in the majors. The Braves had won in'95, but lost to the Yankees in '96 and '99 and haven't been back since, despite their long run of postseason appearances.
Jeter continued to accumulate fame, rings and endorsements while Jones grew older quicker as injuries began to take a toll on him. Jeter passed the 3,000-hit mark last summer and has 3,169 through Tuesday; Jones, with 2,649, will fall short before he retires at the end of this season.
"I can't tell you the jealously throughout the beginning of my career, that I had for DJ," Jones said. "Once I got a chance to know him and play with him, my view of him completely changed.
“This guy is such a great face for the game of baseball. I put him in that Cal Ripken type of league, as far as an ambassador for the league, an ambassador for the game, an ambassador for his team. He deserves everything he gets. I've come to respect him a heck of a lot over the last 10 to 15 years. Not just for the player he is, but for the person he is."
Jones and Jeter will meet on the field again next week, when the Braves play at Yankee Stadium. With Jones' impending retirement, it would be the last meeting between Jones and Jeter, unless the Braves and Yankees face off in the World Series.
That would be a fitting end to this long and friendly rivalry.