Chipper Jones was one of the greatest switch hitters of all-time and perhaps one of the greatest third baseman as well. He was also my favorite player for the duration of his career. Ken Griffey Jr. was a close second, but you’ll be hard pressed to find many people who didn’t have Griffey in their favorite players list. I always felt a closer personal relationship with Chipper though.
Larry, as is his actual first name, was born in Deland, Florida, but went to high school in Jacksonville, the city where I grew up. He went to The Bolles School, a private school that is famous for its legendary football program and producing Olympic caliber athletes in various sports. Chipper might be the most famous athlete from the school, and perhaps the city. As a first overall pick out of high school, there were obviously great expectations for the young phenom.
Coincidentally, Chipper was drafted by the closet team to Jacksonville, the Atlanta Braves. This quickly became my favorite team for a few reasons. For one, they had Jones on their roster from the time I began watching baseball on a regular basis and actually understanding the game and its players. The Braves were on TBS every night when Ted Turner was their owner. I was able to watch them almost every night and see every game Chipper played in.
The baseball team I played on for many years as a kid was also named the Braves. We had the same jerseys (t-shirts) and hats as the big league club and of course I felt like I was Chipper Jones every game. I was almost a full Blue Jays fan since that was the name of my t-ball team, and they won back-to-back World Series. If Joe Carter had been from Florida, he may have ended up being my favorite player back then.
As it turned out, Chipper Jones became one of the best players in Braves’ history. He was a star right away, helping lead the Braves to a World Series win in 1995. I thought for sure it was a sign of great things to come. If great things included a historic run of divisional championships, then it was. Unfortunately, I, along with every other Braves’ fan, was disappointed by the lack of World Series championships that didn’t happen after ’95.
Being from Deland, Chipper Jones had close ties to Stetson University. I went to a baseball camp there during high school, and I remember the head coach giving us a speech during the camp that was virtually all about Jones and how much he had meant and contributed to the area. This was yet another home connection that I felt, even though I only attended one camp and Chipper didn’t actually go to school there.
Chipper’s name is definitely catchy. It was hard not to follow a guy named Chipper who was from my city, played for my favorite team, played shortstop/third base like myself, and was as good as he was. When I got a dog for the first time as a kid, I was trying to pick out a name. I chose Sport to start with, but my parents must not have liked that since they told me to think some more about the dog’s name. In case you didn’t guess, I ended up naming the dog Chipper. It was a fitting name since my favorite pet now had the same name as my favorite baseball player. A dog is always a better pet than a hamster, which I also had.
I got to meet Chipper Jones at an autograph event one year. I don’t remember much about it since I was so young, but I got a World Series ball signed and got a picture with him. I still have that ball in a case on a mantle in my room. I’ve also got a few of his rookie cards from back in the day. I have the particular ones I do because the cards have Jones in his high school uniform with his high school stats on the back, yet another reminder of where he came from.
Just like every baseball player, Chipper’s career came to an end. Last season, the Braves played a three game series in Tampa. That is where I currently live and I made sure I went to at least one of the games. Luckily for me, I decided to go to the series opener, as I thought I might make it to all three. Fortunately, or unfortunately, he ended up getting hurt that first game and didn’t play the rest of the series. I was able to see him in person one last time before his retirement. I was considering going to Atlanta for his final regular season home game, but things didn’t work out for that trip.
Chipper Jones always coming through
Watching Chipper play, he made the game look so easy. He seemed to never be trying. His swing was so smooth from both sides of the plate, and even a strike out swinging never looked bad. He was never a Gold Glove winner, but his defense was top notch – his defense in the infield. It was tough to watch him play outfield when he was trying to stay in the lineup in 2003 despite injuries he had. He was much better with dirt under his feet.
One of the big reasons I have always remained a fan of Chipper Jones is that he played his entire career with the Braves. While many players at some point in their careers end up leaving as free agents to sign with a different team, Jones remained part of Atlanta’s roster. Rather than try to keep playing in a lesser role with a new team or switch to a designated hitter in the American League, Chipper chose a set time to retire and didn’t change his mind. As much as I would have liked to see him keep playing, 40 years old is a milestone for a Major Leaguer nowadays. There is such a high turnover rate with the influx of younger cheaper players, and it is rare to see someone do what Chipper Jones did with one team.
Even if you aren’t a fan of rock and roll, you probably know Crazy Train by Ozzy Osborne if you are a Braves fan. That was the iconic walk out song of Chipper’s. I always got chills just hearing that laugh at the beginning of the song and seeing Chipper stroll to the plate. There was always the possibility of a home run and it felt like he would always get a hit. Then, if he got a hold of a pitch and drove it out of the park, he had a pretty trot around the bases that was part cocky part confidence. When you are as good as Chipper was, that trot was something you got used to every season.
The only thing I didn’t like during Chipper’s playing days was when he had “C. Jones” on the back of his jersey. This was because the Braves also had Andruw Jones. Andruw was a great player in himself, and I am glad that Atlanta had them both on the roster, but it was great to see the “C.” off the back of his jersey once Andruw left to sign elsewhere. The only place Chipper needed a “C” was on the front of the jersey. Unlike football, baseball does not really promote the use of designated team captains on jerseys.
I would have liked to see Chipper on Team USA during the World Baseball Classic, but he had already played on Team USA before. Seeing him on the same team as Derek Jeter was amazing, but I’m glad that it never happened in the Major Leagues, particularly in New York.
Baseball fans of the older generations have their heroes and idols from Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle to Ted Williams and Reggie Jackson. My idol that I tell kids about will be Chipper Jones. I’ll be that guy that can turn a 5-minute story into a 1-hour narration about Chipper Jones and how he was the best player I ever saw. Whether he is or not is beside the point. He was, and still is, my favorite player.