Chipper Jones was part of my childhoodPublished 8:31pm Tuesday, October 2, 2012
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that a lot of people resent it when “young” people say “Boy, do I feel old.”
Well, I guess I’m probably going to make a lot of people resent me right now. Because I feel old.
This past Sunday, I had the very special opportunity to see the final regular-season home game started by Atlanta Braves third baseman Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones Jr. When Jones broke into the major leagues in September 1993, he was 21, and I was 10. Unlike some boys, I did not grow up fondly enjoying sports until about the fourth grade or so, so when I started to follow the Braves it was as Jones was literally just starting his career.
I still remember being a kid in 1995, watching Jones and the rest of the Braves celebrate the World Series. I remember thinking to myself, “This is neat, and we have so much talent, I bet we’ll win a whole much more of these World Series things!” Ah, the naiveté of youth.
I eventually grew to enjoy other sports teams, but the Braves were definitely my first love. When our cat had five kittens, we gave them all names of then-Braves players: “Tucker” (for Michael Tucker), “Mordecai” (for Mike Mordecai), “Javy” (for Javy Lopez), “Klesko” (for Ryan Klesko) … and, of course, the Siamese-looking kitten was dubbed “Chipper.”
I know that Chipper Jones had his faults, including a well-publicized and messy affair with a sports-bar waitress. But I also know that he seems to be an otherwise good person. He’s retiring because he wants to spend time with his children, and I couldn’t help but smile when I watched him hug his parents in the stands after the Braves’ win Sunday. He wasn’t a perfect role model, but I can think of much worse people for a boy to idolize.
As a fan of the Braves, I have slowly watched familiar faces move on. When Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine signed with different teams, I wondered if it would feel like the same Braves. When manager Bobby Cox retired, I wondered if it would feel like the same Braves. Yet through all the turnover and turmoil, there was always a steady force in that Atlanta clubhouse — Chipper Jones. I can think of nothing that would be more special than to have the Braves win a World Series in his last year.
I will always love the players that wear the Atlanta Braves uniform, but after Chipper retires it will definitely feel like the end of “My Original Braves,” the ones that I grew up rooting for — the great pitching of Maddux, Glavine, and John Smoltz, the rocking of pitching coach Leo Mazzone, the distinctive voice of Skip Caray, Cox’s goofy nicknames for players, and so on.