First hit at Turner Field holds special place for Chipper Jones

Chipper Jones delivered 1,223 hits over 1,119 games at Turner Field.

Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — "Give me that ball," Chipper Jones told first base coach Bobby Dews after the Braves third baseman lined a first-inning single off the Cubs’ Kevin Foster.

This hit was one he didn’t want to forget.

"It was the first hit in the stadium and the fact that I was able to do it … that ball is still on my mantle," Jones said Monday of making history at Turner Field on April 4, 1997 against the Cubs, comments that came hours before the final Opening Day at the stadium.

Never before, Jones recalled, had he wanted a starter to get through an inning clean than he did Atlanta starter Denny Neagle ,who did just that. A bunt groundout by Brian McRae and two long outs to center by Doug Glanville and Ryne Sandberg completed that part of the formula.

"When (Neagle) did, I had to dodge two more hitters," Jones said.

But a popfly by Kenny Lofton and Michael Tucker gave Jones, who had delivered the final hit at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium — a double off the Yankees’ Andy Pettitte in Game 5 of the World Series — his opportunity.

"Even then, the pressure is on to go out and get the first hit and you’re hunting a specific pitch," Jones said of that at-bat against Chicago’s Kevin Foster. "I knew what I wanted to do with it and it was lucky enough to fall in."

Jones would follow with a tie-breaking, two-run single in the seventh inning to put the Braves up 4-2, and provided another RBI single in the eighth inning in that 5-4 victory.

That was the beginning of the 1,223 hits Jones had over 1,119 games at Turner Field, and the park would also provide the stage for the future Hall of Famer’s final home run.

Two outs, the bottom of the ninth, the Braves trailing the Phillies 7-5 with Jonathan Papelbon on the mound, and Jones smacked a three-run shot to give Atlanta an 8-7 victory.

"If you’re going to have a last one, let it be in comeback form in the bottom of the ninth against a hated rival, a pitcher like Papelbon throwing as hard as he does, a fierce competitor," Jones said.

"To be able to hit that ball out of here and to be able to enjoy it and run around the bases here at the Ted … I can’t tell you how many times in the almost four years that I’ve been retired I’ve kind of gone back through the archives and relive that moment because it was a spine-tingling moment.

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His book, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ comes out April 12, 2016., and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners’ will be released Nov. 1, 2016.