I'll be the first to admit it. When it comes to the professional sports teams I love, I'm what the kids of today call a hater.
After all, I'm a native of the New York City metro area, so when it comes to our local sports, the one thing we do as well—if not better than cheer for our own—is despise the opposition.
Like most things, sports is much easier when put into the context of black and white, good versus evil or us against them. The real world is so complex, there just seems to be a certain comfort in knowing that when it comes to sports and the athletes and teams we choose to root for, it all comes down to the simple perspective that if you are not with me, then you are against me.
Maybe that's overthinking it a bit, but in an essence it's true. It's why as a Knicks fan, despite him being arguably the best former player-turned-analyst on TV, it's still hard to stomach the sight of Reggie Miller, or why anyone with a lone star or wings on their helmet makes the blue blood in this Giants fan boil. It's also why, as a Mets fan, the sight of navy blue pinstripes, any furry, green mascots and Bobby Bonilla make me cringe.
It's also the reason I can't stand Chipper Jones. Until now.
Baseball is and always will be my favorite sport. It's the greatest game in the world, in my opinion, for fathers to share with their sons. Some of my best memories with my father involve the game of baseball. Even during those angst-filled years of my late teens and early twenties, years that my father and I barely had anything to talk about without it turning into an argument, we always had baseball.
Baseball has brought out emotions in me, that nothing—save the births of my children—has invoked, and despite my father being a lifelong Yankee fan from the Bronx, the swagger of Doc and Darryl in the eighties turned my blood blue and orange forever.
So forgive me if, despite my love and respect for the game, I never enjoyed the career of Chipper Jones the way I was able to for other great players of his generation who were not Mets, like Ken Griffey, Jr. I like to think I know baseball and its history well enough to know how good Chipper was, but my blind fandom made me chant "Larry, Larry" anyway, and honestly, I'm proud of that.
While I've never been the type of fan to take my New York sports pride over the edge like some, I'm also not the type of guy who is going to cheer for you if you drop 63 against my Knicks in the Garden, ho-hit my team or single handily ruin the first whiffs of the playoffs my Mets had in over a decade.
That's never going to happen.
I do believe in sportsmanship, especially in a gentleman's game, such as baseball. I will yell, boo and maybe even utter some things that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush during the heat of competition. But once the smoke clears, I'll tip my cap to you even if you beat me.
Now that the smoke has cleared on the 2012 baseball regular season, and Chipper Jones has called it a career, I can honestly say, that unlike some rivals of the teams I choose to root for, he was always a gentleman and a pleasure to watch—even when he was beating my beloved Mets.
Sure I booed, chanted "Larry," and occasionally used the word "hate" when referring to the Braves' third baseman. I also wrote in recent years, on this site actually, that he was an overrated player since winning the batting title in 2008, and while I'll stick by my argument, I'll admit that his final season once again made someone wearing a blue hat with orange interlocking "NY" bad.
Despite my disdain for old Larry during his career, his accomplishments did not go unnoticed. His career numbers speak for themselves, as both a switch-hitter and third baseman. He has an MVP as well as a World Series ring, but his significance to the game of baseball can not be measured in numbers alone.
Chipper Jones was a throwback to the days of the players my father told me about. He spent his entire 19-year career with the team that drafted him, in an age when the clubhouse doors are constantly revolving, and players are quick to switch teams in search of greater fortune and exposure. He was always a professional whose modesty deflected the praise of his success onto his teammates while never passing the buck for his failures. He also was on the short list of players from his era to never have his name linked to performance enhancing drugs, and anyone who doesn't think that is a big deal, has never seen the hurt in a boy's face when he realizes his heroes are only human.
Chipper Jones took his fair share of grief from us Mets fans, yet he always did so with a wink and a smile, even when no one would blame him for blowing his top. Sure, the fact that he usually had the last laugh made it easier to stomach the boos, but it always seemed to be more than that.
Jones never went off on some half-cocked, racist rant like John Rocker, but rather always treated New York City, the same city that Ruth, Robinson and Mays called home, with the proper respect it deserved. Jones stayed a gentleman and still wound up beating us more times than not, like a batter who gets knocked down by a high heater, only to get up, seemingly unfazed, and homer on the very next pitch. Honestly, it made every loss to the Braves sting more.
As a Mets fan, I'll never thank Chipper Jones, but I was raised to be a fan of the game first and a fan of my team a distant second. The baseball fan in me thanks you, Chipper Jones, for the player you were, and for giving all of us fans, including Mets fans, the chance to witness a player we can be proud to tell our grandchildren we watched play.
Of course, if Chipper Jones decides to pull a Brett Favre and unretire, I'm going back to chanting "Larry, Larry."