Rejuvenated Jones exactly what Braves need
In some ways, Chipper Jones is acting his age, which is exactly what the Atlanta Braves need.
In other ways, Jones is a kid again, which also is exactly what they need.
Listen to what the old Jones says about working with Jason Heyward. He’s full of wisdom and advice, sounding like a hitting coach as he describes swings and mechanics.
Watch him hold court in the clubhouse, the wise king on his throne. See the calming influence he has on the rookies he calls kids.
And listen to what the young Jones says about being healthy for the first time in a while. He’s full of swagger and youthful enthusiasm, still quick with that devilish grin, and geared up to take on the Phillies and Marlins.
He’s excited about the promise of spring, seemingly mentally and physically prepared for the grind of another long season.
Jones has been the soul, face and voice of the Atlanta Braves since the last of the Big Three — Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz — departed, but his role is more important than that now.
As the last link to the 1995 World Series championship team and one of the best switch-hitters in MLB history, Jones is both a visible reminder of the Braves’ glory days and a driving force behind future success.
And as he approaches his 40th birthday on April 24, Jones seems to be rejuvenated by teammates he enjoys being around — even though they might be nearly two decades younger than he — and by a team he feels will find the championship that slipped away last season.
“I have a joy for the game,” Jones said this week on “Buck and Kincade” on Atlanta’s 680 The Fan. “I enjoy going to work, and the guys on the club are responsible for that. I’ve been on teams where we hit at 4:30 in the afternoon and the guys on the team didn’t get to the park until 4. Including myself. That’s not the way successful ballclubs are going to be.
“The guys on the club here all get to the park at 1:30, 2 o’clock in the afternoon. We enjoy hanging out and (talking) a couple of hours before batting practice and we enjoy hanging out with each other on the road. It’s not just two or three of us. It’s 12 or 15 of us. It’s a pretty tight-knit group and that’s why I’m confident we’re going to be successful this year.”
Jones is entering his 19th season in the majors. He’s played 2,387 regular-season games, but hasn’t stayed healthy enough to go more than 143 in any season since he turned 31 in 2003.
But unlike other injury-filled years, Jones was healthy at the end of 2011, finishing strong.
He raised his average from .258 on Aug. 6 to .286 by Sept. 13. Jones played in 26 games in September, getting hits in 17 of them at a time when few of his teammates found their way on base.
He carried that into the offseason, hitting the weights, pounding out miles on the treadmill and wearing out pitching machines in batting cages between hunting trips.
That’s the young Jones.
The older Jones seems to have taken a personal role in fixing whatever went wrong with Heyward’s swing in 2011.
“The kid’s worked hard,” he said, slipping into mentor mode. “He’s made the adjustments. We showed him some things he was doing early in 2010 that made him successful. The mechanics were there. For whatever reason he got away from there, whether it was injury or just getting into bad habits. He got away from what was working for him.
“I’m looking for that explosion we saw in 2010 resurface here in 2012. We didn’t see it very much in 2011 because he was so screwed up mechanically.”
The Braves need both sides of Jones this year.
They need the veteran who has seen it all, who is quick with advice and knows how to win. And they need the youngster who seemingly is healthy, who is excited about what he sees around him and has already talked about playing next year.
That could prove to be a lethal combination.