Chipper Jones knew it was going to be tough. His former teammates, opposing players and legends were going to sing his praises as his No. 10 jersey was retired and as he entered the Atlanta Braves’ Hall of Fame.
And all Jones wanted to do was to avoid looking at his parents.
“I know if I would have I would have probably lost it,” Jones said Friday.
Jones held up pretty well. It had to be emotional, just a year removed from playing the game, seeing his name and number put up among the greatest Braves ever.
“It still doesn’t seem real,” he said. “I play baseball. It’s not like a cured cancer or anything. It’s almost embarrassing to be getting all this attention and all the accolades. It’s so humbling.”
Jones wasn’t in the same shape he had been in as a professional athlete, but it’s not like he has let himself go, either. He looked relaxed and content, spending time with his four sons and being a full-time father for the first time. Someone who has been in a uniform his entire life seems to be adjusting well to life outside of baseball.
“I’m having a great time,” Jones said. “The reason I want to take away some time from baseball is I want to rekindle that flame. At the end of last year, I was done. I didn’t want to play anymore.”
Yet it’s natural to wonder if Jones misses the game now that he’s away from it. He admitted it happened only once -- on opening day in April. But that feeling didn’t last long.
“I woke up the next morning after opening day and was thrilled I didn’t have to go to the ballpark,” Jones said. “There have been many instances since where I’ve been thrilled I wasn’t on the road. I think that’s a good sign. I made the right decision.”
Everybody knows this time away from baseball is just a short-term thing. Jones has it in his blood to be in the game in some capacity, and even he believes that itch to return will hit him at some point.
“I think it’ll come back,” Jones said. “I’m not in a hurry. When it does come back, I’ll make a phone call and say I’m ready to do this or that, and hopefully there’ll be a spot for me somewhere.”
Jones has all the statistical data to prove that one day he’ll be in baseball’s Hall of Fame. That’ll be five years from now. But there’s something else that stands out about his career that he’s proud of and that separates him from the other Braves Hall of Famers. When someone looks at the back of Jones’ baseball card, it has only one team on it -- the Braves.
“Whenever people talk about the Atlanta Braves, they think about Hank Aaron. They think about Dale Murphy,” Jones said. “But even those guys didn’t do it. Those guys are icons in this organization; they always will be. I doubt some fans could even tell you who those guys got traded to because they’re such avid Braves fans, and they think of them in that way. I didn’t want them to even consider having to think about another team when it came to me. This is where I wanted to play. I was born in this organization. They brought me up the right way. It’s the only team I ever wanted to play for.”
The end for Jones was much cleaner than for some of the other Atlanta stars who had to play elsewhere at the end of their career. That was very much by design.
“I didn’t want to make the end a big deal,” Jones said. “I didn’t want to go through maybe a (John) Smoltz or a (Tom) Glavine had to go through for the simple fact they wanted to play another year or two. Could I have played another year or two -- skill-set wise? Yeah, I probably could have, but it wasn’t worth it to me to put that pressure on the organization and go somewhere else.”
And for that, Braves fans will be forever grateful. He loved that Braves uniform, and Jones respected the tomahawk and everything it stood for. That’s why he felt the love from the Atlanta fans on Friday night.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.