Chipper Jones, the Atlanta Braves’ longtime switch-hitting third baseman, will turn 40 in April. He has been in the majors for 17 years and in that time has put together a Hall of Fame worthy career. And he isn’t ready to hang up his spikes.
“As long as I stay healthy and I’m having fun, I’m going to keep going,” he said before an informal hitting session at Turner Field, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Dave O’Brien. “I sit here with three weeks to go before spring training and I’m not ready to say this is it.”
Jones was my favorite player growing up. I cherished, and still cherish a rookie card of his. I saw him play the San Francisco Giants in San Francisco with my aunt as a young kind. I wore Braves gear. I watched him play on television every chance I got, and, through TBS, I had many opportunities. He was so dependable, both offensively and defensively; hitting for average and power while picking grounders effortlessly at the hot corner. He was incredibly productive as soon as he jumped on the major league scene. And has he ever been clutch.
Not too often in this day and age do players stick with the same team for the long-haul. Jones has. He came up with Atlanta, and all signs point to him finishing his career in the same uniform. When that will be isn’t known.
The New York Mets hope it’s sooner rather than later. Throughout his career, Mets fans have called him by his first name, Larry. This has time and time again proved to be a big mistake. He hates it. And as a result New York has been tormented by his bat for nearly two decades.
Jones named his kid Shea after the Mets former home, Shea Stadium. Is there a bigger example of ‘I own you’ in sports? He had a great reason to do this. In 812 at-bats against New York in his career, spanning 231 games, he is hitting .318 with 48 homers, 154 rbi’s, a .414 On Base Percentage, and 140 walks to 130 strikeouts. At Shea, he hit 19 of those homers and drove in 55 of those rbi’s, batting .313.
In putting up those numbers, he has notably made the fans miserable; there was a time when his relationship with those thousands of people was particularly hostile. As he has aged, his desire to stick it to them has diminished. And his reaction to their boos has changed.
“Now I kind of smile,” Jones told The New York Times. “Ten years ago, I would’ve fuzzed up.”
He will keep sporting that smile and continue to do everything possible to beat New York. And he believes, as time has passed, that those fans have come to respect him.
“I just feel like they know that, over the years, I’m a pretty good dude,” Jones said. “I’m not out to hurt anybody’s feelings or anything like that. My job is to come out and beat the Mets 18 times a year.”
As the aforementioned statistics against New York suggest, he has done his part in trying to make that happen. The statistic that truly exemplifies his dominance has not been noted, however. That’s his excellence in the clutch. He has 27 game-winning rbi’s against New York–a simply torturous number. The 26th came on August 8th at Citi Field, across the street from where Shea once stood. The 27th came on September 17th at home.
For the former game-winner, Jones stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter,smiling at the jeers for the umpteenth time. The game was tied at 5. Runners were on first and second with one out. The count was 1-1 when the left-handed hitting Jones, despite looking his age, reached out and pulled an outside fastball through the right side of the infield. Alex Gonzalez scored easily. The crowd groaned. Jones had done it again.
“I hope that somewhere in the stands somebody was saying to themselves oh no,” Jones said. “Not him. Not now.”
The single on the 17th of September in the eighth inning that broke a scoreless tie added insult to injury. And he’ll have many more opportunities to keep the nightmare, and that telling quote, recurring.
He hasn’t just tormented the Mets. He has had a great deal of success against most teams, including fellow NL East foes, the Philadelphia Phillies and Florida Marlins. And for his career, Jones has 2,615 career hits, 454 home-runs, a .304 batting average, a .402 On Base Percentage, and more walks, 1,455, than strikeouts, 1,358. He is already a shoe-in for Cooperstown. Before making that hallowed trip, he knows he can still add to those spectacular numbers.
“I still feel that I can go out and play a solid third base, which I did last year,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And I still feel like I can be productive in the middle of the lineup. If it’s the 3-hole or the 5-hole or the 6-hole — it doesn’t bother me where I hit.”
If he stays healthy, he will hit well. He still has it in him to produce at a high level. And, considering amount of National League powers has dwindled with St. Louis losing Albert Pujols and Milwaukee losing Prince Fielder, Jones’ Braves will have a chance to contend for the playoffs and a championship. Along the way, the Mets will try to play spoiler once more. The former MVP and seven-time All Star doesn’t mind. He’ll be happy to face them, and any other foe, for as long as his body allows–and do so for the only team he’s ever known, for the Braves fan he helped create.