Chipper Jones was part of my childhood

Published 8:31 pm 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.

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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.

Thanks, Chipper.