Chipper Jones has never been my favorite Atlanta Brave.
He’s been a little too friendly with the disabled list the past few years, and the bulging wad of tobacco lodged between his gums and cheek never ceases to repulse me.
But in a day where athletes jump teams for money or leave college for the glimmer of a chance to go pro, there’s something to be said for a 40-year-old man who has stayed with an organization his entire career, let alone the Braves I wholeheartedly support.
Jones, who will play his last regular season game next week, is the last active reminder of what my generation considers a golden age of Braves baseball. He got to play for legendary skipper Bobby Cox and was on the same team as Cy Young-winning pitchers Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz as they earned 14 division titles from 1991 to 2005.
With the tip of a game-worn ball cap, he has now been taken aback by the standing ovations from fans all across the nation, some who have proudly booed the switch-hitting third baseman over the years. He’s accepted a cowboy hat in Houston and a surfboard in San Diego. He’s even been the design of a corn maze east of Atlanta.
As Chipper’s farewell tour starts to wind down, I can’t help but get a little sentimental. He’s been the bedrock for Braves baseball as I know it. He helped build a brand of ball which shows if you’re willing to put money and personal agendas aside, a team full of scrappy guys from all walks of life can take down the Yankees and Phillies of the world with dedication and selflessness.
He epitomizes loyalty, both to team and self. I respect that he probably should have retired when Cox did, but he wanted his old manager to have the spotlight. He took the responsibility of being the patriarch for the Braves with class as Fredi Gonzalez took over the team. Looking at current players like Brian McCann, Craig Kimbrel and Jason Heyward, I’d say he’s raised a solid new generation.
After the ovations and cap tipping after the Braves’ final out of the season, Chipper’s walk to the clubhouse will be difficult and long, yet maybe not long enough. The chalk from the third baseline will be dusted from his cleats, and the No. 10 he’s worn for decades will be taken off his back one last time. The pain in his arthritic knees will be mild compared to the flood of emotion associated with saying goodbye to an organization that has been the focus of nearly half his life. In this moment I hope baseball fans young and old go “yicketty” in celebrating the legacy he leaves upon America’s favorite pastime.