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Ballplayer by Chipper Jones

I recently finished reading Ballplayer by Chipper Jones. The book was on my immediate read list because I grew up a Braves fan, and Chipper was my favorite player. When I played growing up, third base became my primary position, and it was only natural that my admiration for Chipper grew even more.

Ballplayer Chipper Jones Baseball BooksBallplayer is a chronological memoir that follows Chipper from his days in little league all the way to his retirement after the 2012 season. Any Braves fan would love the stories and the flashbacks to the glory days of the 90’s, but I felt a personal connection reading the local names of schools and places he traveled through.

Chipper learned to be a switch hitter just like his father’s favorite player, Mickey Mantle. I think many dads (and now grandfathers) who grew up in that era viewed the Mick as one of their favorites, but Chipper had much more in common with Mantle than most other players. Switch hitter. Power. Famous for his first name. All that is left is Hall of Fame inductee.

It was amazing reading some of the game stories in Ballplayer that I could recall watching live on TV or seeing the original highlights on television. Today, every game is televised with local and national broadcasting deals, but a few decades ago the Braves were one of the only teams on television every night. Ted Turner owned the Atlanta Braves, and TBS was my second favorite TV station only to Nickelodeon.

The good feelings in the book obviously come from the game winning hits, the camaraderie with teammates, and the 1995 World Series victory. There are plenty of smiles to be had from Chipper’s recollections of interactions with players like Greg Maddux, David Justice, and Gary Sheffield. It brings back memories of great teams and great players not involving the Yankees or Red Sox (there are plenty of books covering those and other franchises).

The anecdotes in Ballplayer that I was not as familiar with were the off the field issues Chipper faced. His early marriage, multi-city affairs, going through divorce, and dealing with the pressure of being a rising star in the game of baseball. As a naïve kid watching his favorite player simply play the game, the outside drama was something I simply wasn’t aware of. In today’s game, players are far more vulnerable to stories, true or not, about their endeavors off the field. Anything they say or do could be recorded by anyone with a smart phone and posted online for the world to see. There is much less privacy and much more scrutiny of the daily lives of players away from the field. Chipper has indulged himself in the world of Twitter, but it is probably a good thing social media wasn’t around when he was in his prime.

Ballplayer Chipper Jones Baseball BooksOne of my favorite things reading memoirs by athletes is the inside the locker room talk. If you have played sports, you know that there is just as much going on before and after the game as during it. The game itself is what makes it onto the television and news articles, but the practice fields and locker room is where players develop bonds with each other.

Chipper talks about being brought up by players such as Justice and Terry Pendleton. He had run-ins on the field with Maddox but enjoyable times in the locker room. After reading memoirs by former teammates and opponents, it is funny how some players remember certain instances and others have no memory of it; or if they do there are shared stories that simply stand out to one player and not another. That is why memoirs can be so different even if players played the same sport in the same era and even on the same team.

One part of Ballplayer I thought Chipper would touch a little more on was in rivalry with the Mets and their fans. He talks about playing there to some degree, but the way the media always built up his trips to Shea Stadium and Citi Field it seemed like it would warrant its own chapter in the book. There was enough to get a feel for how Chipper felt about New York, but I’m sure there are plenty more instances that could make up a separate book devoted entirely to him playing the Mets.

Ballplayer Chipper Jones Baseball BooksThe other part of the book that I really enjoyed reading about was when Chipper played for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. He formed a bond with Derek Jeter and was able to play with some of the best players in the game. The WBC is one of my favorite events in baseball, and I have been able to watch a handful of games over the last two tournaments. It is an atmosphere unlike any other, rivaling the likes of the playoffs and World Series.

Watching all-stars from different teams come and play together is what baseball is all about. It’s like watching the all-star game from little league seeing travel ball teams with the best players from a city. The best of the best playing together and against each other. This is not to take away from the players that do not compete in the WBC. Some even turn down offers to play to focus on preparing for the MLB season. But hearing Chipper talk about playing with Jeter, Roger Clemens, Ken Griffey Jr., and Alex Rodriguez brought a smile that this is what baseball should feel like.

In the end, Ballplayer is a typical athlete memoir that gives the life story of an athlete. There isn’t any groundbreaking material that wasn’t known before (unless you were a kid who never knew the secrets). It isn’t Juiced by Jose Canseco where wild claims are made about steroids, although Chipper does give a dose of his take on the steroid era. It is an enjoyable book about a baseball player who had his ups and downs and made the most of the talent he was given.

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