BY: MATTHEW PRESLAR
A quick geography lesson: until the early 90’s expansion that birthed the Marlins, the Braves were the only team east from St. Louis and Kansas City, and south of Baltimore. Based on location, Braves country was the ENTIRE southeastern United States. Former owner, Ted Turner also had the Braves televised nationally on his TBS Superstation.
The greatest ATLANTA Brave in most people’s opinion is Chipper Jones.
Earlier this year Chipper released his biography titled BALLPLAYER. This book gave us a close look at the life of this legend and future Hall of Famer. He detailed growing up and beginning to be star in youth baseball in Pierson Florida, enrolling in a private school, and the stresses for a kid leading up to being the #1 pick in the 1990 draft by the Atlanta Braves.
From there, he told about the struggles of progressing through the minor leagues, constant pressures living up the the draft status, the effort involved in crafting and honing separate swings as a switch hitter, and the strains stardom puts on one’s personal life. He told great stories of teammates and opponents in the minor leagues. One of those best stories involved a bench clearing brawl as his ‘93 Richmond Braves squared off against the Charlotte Knights of Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez. Funny how rivals follow each other as a lot of these same players met in the ‘95 World Series as the Braves beat the Cleveland Indians for their loan World Series Championship.
On to being a star at the major league level. As his first marriage was dissolving, he went in to great detail about his MVP campaign of 1999. He was more physically prepared going into this season as any. He also gave a lot of credit to new Braves hitting coach, Don Baylor. Baylor coached and managed for many franchises and was a power hitting presence in his playing days hitting 338 major league home runs in his own right. Chipper credits Baylor with altering his mindset as a right handed hitter. Chipper also seemed content being a contact hitter as a righty. However, Baylor challenged him to be a run producer from that side as well. “ 'You hit third and play third base for the best team in the National League,' he continued. 'You need to strike fear in the people’s hearts-from both sides of the plate.' ”
Through more playoff disappointments and teammates coming and going, Chipper continued to be the face of the franchise. Though more personal issues arose, this man was the constant professional and did a great job of not letting the personal affect the professional. His work ethic, his charisma, and his candor made him one of the most respected baseball players around the Major Leagues. Also building his legacy, was the fact he never played with another franchise, and he never wanted to as he had offers to come out of retirement. For all of that, he always had my respect. I have never been much on singling out an individual player to be his fan, but I’ve proudly had several versions of Braves caps and multiple “Jones 10” T-shirt’s out of respect. My family growing up even named a working bloodhound Chipper.
For Braves fans, Chipper fans, or students of the game, BALLPLAYER was a great read. I highly recommend it and good luck to Chipper as he enters his first year of consideration into the Hall of Fame.