Chipper adds to the memories created in Houston
If Tuesday night’s season debut was a foreshadowing of things to come, Chipper Jones will complete his legendary career in fitting fashion. Two weeks shy of his 40th birthday, the most successful professional athlete in Atlanta history showed us he still has the incredible natural talent that allows him to defy logic.
Admittedly, I did not understand Jones’ reasoning for not playing at least one Minor League rehab game. Other than taking some swings against Randall Delgado in a live batting practice session on Friday, he had not seen live pitching since March 20.
But given what Jones did last night, I think he could have asked The Rock to comment on my thought:
Exactly three weeks after last playing in a game, Jones directed the second pitch he saw on Tuesday night back up the middle for a single. One inning later, he looked at a pitch out of the strike zone and then drilled Kyle Weiland’s 1-0 slider over the right field wall for a two-run home run that inflated the Braves every bit as muchl as Juan Francisco’s defensive blunders had deflated them one night earlier.
Having looked unimpressive while losing each of their first four games, the Braves needed this spark provided by the man who had compiled just 25 Spring Training at-bats before undergoing surgery on March 26 to repair torn meniscus in his left knee.
Two weeks after surgery and three weeks since last seeing a pitch from an opposing player, Jones recorded hits in his first two at-bats and gave his fellow position players even more reason to believe Spring Training is too long.
When Jones returned to his locker last night, I told him he had given more players reason to believe they do not need four weeks worth of games during Spring Training. Standing within earshot, Freddie Freeman said, “Like me.”
With his John Wayne-like cool, Jones smirked and replied to Freeman with, “Yeah, you do.”
While it has been an absolute pleasure to watch Jones play on a daily basis, it has been every bit as much fun talking to him before and after games.
Jones’ presence on Tuesday night was first felt in the bottom of the first when Jordan Schafer produced a nice bunt to the third base side of plate.
Expecting to see his former teammate bunt at some point during the game, Jones quickly barehanded the baseball and threw a perfect strike that beat Schafer to first base. Immediately it was apparent this was going to lead to some good-natured trash talk.
When Schafer reached third base late in the game, he said, “It’s my job.”
Jones replied, “It’s my job to take it away from you and I see you didn’t come back down there the rest of the night.”
It was also cool to see the excitement Chipper’s father (the man wearing the blue shirt in this video) showed when the third-inning homer cleared the wall. One of the primary reasons, the veteran third baseman has always enjoyed playing in Houston is the fact that his parents have been able to make the six-hour drive from the family’s Double Dime ranch, which is located near the Mexican border, to watch him play.
Jones has experienced many memorable moments playing in Houston. One of his greatest memories is of Walt Weiss’ game-saving, diving stab of Tony Eusebio’s hot shot that bounced off the Astrodome’s turf and seemed destined to land in center field for what would have been a game-winning single in Game 3 of the 1999 National League Division Series.
There was also the crushing 18-inning loss in Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS and the defensive gem Jones completed as he tore his left anterior cruciate ligament on Aug. 10, 2010.
“There’s been a lot of good and bad things that have happened here,” Jones said. “It’s been an interesting place to play. Back when the Killer Bees were here, I think we went 10 or 12 games in a row with one-run games. They were just really close, really well-pitched games that two playoff-type teams often play against each other. That’s what I’ll remember when I’m done.”
Tonight will mark the last time that Jones plays in Houston. He has batted .336 with 13 homers and a 1.014 OPS in 66 career games in this city. But do not fear. If he has another child, I think it’s safe to assume the kid will not be named Minute Maid.