Some athletes love autograph sessions and will chat up fans with ease, while others wear their preference to be elsewhere all over their faces.
And there’s the group that’s in the middle.
Chipper Jones hinted that such events don’t inspire exclamation-point-filled Facebook updates when he shared a funny story Tuesday night at Mercer’s “First Pitch Classic” dinner.
Mickey Mantle’s nightmare, he said, was to be at the gates of Heaven, and God needed a dozen baseballs signed before Mantle was admitted.
So Jones may not be a chatterbox when lines wind around a room, but he was the complete opposite in front of the 49 tables on the University Center floor.
Jones is a polarizing figure to die-hard Atlanta Braves fans. For a player who is at worst a second-ballot hall-of-famer, he doesn’t have nearly the popularity that typically would come with those accolades.
Still, even those on hand Tuesday who don’t have him as their screensaver had to be pretty happy and entertained listening to Jones, who was personable, witty and genuine throughout his short monologue and long question-and-answer session.
And he was humorously honest in admitting that there are some pitchers who will keep him awake at night deep into his eventual retirement.
“I was 0-for-27 against Hideo Nomo,” he said of the right-hander who spent seven-plus seasons overall with the Los Angeles Dodgers and finished with a career record of 123-109. “He beat me for the National League Rookie of the Year my rookie year. And for about five or six years, every time I faced him, he let me know why.”
The lack of success wasn’t the only indignation.
“It’s not necessarily that I struck out, you know, 15 or 20 times,” Jones said. “I hit some balls hard off him. I hit into two triple plays off him. You don’t hit into two triple plays in your whole life. I hit into two triple plays off (one guy).”
Jones put Mariano Rivera, Kerry Wood and Randy Johnson into the “I don’t know why I’m walking up here, I have no chance against this guy” category.
But one still stands alone.
“Now, you say, who do I hate facing?” Jones said. “A fellow Georgian named Kevin Brown.”
And Jones just whistled.
“He had something for ya,” Jones said with a little countryspeak. “He was 93, 94 (mph), would sink, four-seamer, slider, cutter. Whew.”
Brown was in Jones’ head when the rotation was announced and stayed there.
“Most guys, if I do my homework and sit down and really formulate a game plan, really concentrate on what I’m going to do against this specific pitcher, more times than not, I’ll have good at-bats or (have) modest success off him,” Jones said. “It did not matter. This guy just ...
“I got him a couple times. Blind luck. As far as stuff, he was the one guy that I was like, ‘I got no chance.’’’
Brown and the others are reminders that the 30 percent success rate that’s the benchmark in baseball is there for a reason. Some make connecting 25 percent of the time feel grand.
Brown and Johnson are retired, with Wood and Rivera nearing that stage.
And Jones knows who is high on the list of successors.
“(Wood) and (Stephen) Strasburg have similar type stuff,” Jones said of the young Washington right-hander. “This Strasburg kid, he’s the real deal.”
Jones gets to wait until the visit to D.C. on June 1 before he’s reminded of the next generation of nightmare-makers.
Contact Michael A. Lough at 744-4626 or firstname.lastname@example.org