For 23 years, Chipper Jones has been a professional baseball player. But, sadly for Braves fans, there will not be a 24th.
On March 22, the Atlanta Braves third baseman announced that the end of the 2012 season would mean the end of his career. Jones was the first round draft pick by the Braves in 1990 before he began his Major League career at Atlanta in 1995. In the years since then, Jones has not played a day for another organization. Understandably, he says one of the things he will miss the most will be his 23-year home: Turner Field.
After nearly two decades of dealing with the physicality of an seven-month season in the big leagues, Jones says his body told him it was time to retire. The former National League MVP celebrated his 40th birthday on April 24th, and has been plagued by knee problems. He sat out part of spring training and the beginning of the season to recover from surgery for a torn miniscus.
While his health contributed to his decision, Jones says the need to spend more time with his family was an even more important factor. Jones says he has never had a normal family life with his four sons and wife, Sharon – and he’s ready to change that.
His desire for a family connection could have something to do with how much his family meant to him growing up. After all, Jones attributes the person he is today to his parents. He was born and raised in Pierson, Florida where his dad Larry, a former minor league player, taught him the mechanics and the fundamentals of the game. Even after he left Pierson to attend high school at Bolles in Jacksonville, he says their influence continued. Jones credits his mother Lynn, who is a competitive equestrian, for teaching him how to carry himself with confidence on the field.
Jones’ parents now live in Texas, and when he hit a homerun against the Houston Astros in his first game back from knee surgery earlier this season, they were there to see it.
Despite the meaningful role his father has played in his life, Jones feels like he has not been able to play that role for his sons. He has spent most of their lives on the road, traveling to and from baseball games. Chipper says he plans to make sure his step back from Major League Baseball will mean a step into the Little Leagues.
As Chipper takes his leadership from the field to his family, the Braves must go on. In his time with the organization, he has tried to lead by example and teach younger players the importance of persevering through failure. But Jones believes the role of senior leader will not go unfulfilled when he leaves. He says Catcher Brian McCann will no doubt step up to the plate.
In the meantime, Jones is still dedicated to his team. In his first year in the big leagues in 1995, Jones helped lead his team to a World Series win over the Cleveland Indians. Last year, his team came close to a playoff appearance, losing the Wild Card spot to the St. Louis Cardinals who went on to win the World Series. Jones says the success of the team is what means the most to him, and he would love to end his career the same way he started it.
The Braves are currently first in the National League East Division with an 14-8 record. Jones has contributed three homeruns so far this season and is batting .293. In just five months, baseball will see whether it is enough to bring the Braves back into the postseason, and possibly earn Chipper Jones one last World Championship.