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YORK -- Chipper Jones spent a majority of his career shying away from the hustle and bustle that existed outside of his Manhattan hotel room whenever the Braves traveled to play the Mets or Yankees. As Jones prepared to spend this weekend playing his final regular-season series in New York, he counted himself fortunate to have had the opportunity to play in the Big Apple and share a love-hate relationship with Mets fans.
"The New York experience is like no other," Jones said. "Playing on this stage, I've always said is the most fun that you can have, whether it's at Shea Stadium or Yankee Stadium. This place holds a special place for me."
Jones hit his first career home run while playing against the Mets in Queens, and he felt the chills while standing in the same stadium six years later when the Braves faced the Mets in the first professional sporting event played in New York City after the 9/11 attacks.
The Mets presented Jones on Friday with a 3-D picture that highlighted his accomplishments at Shea Stadium, which served as the Mets' home ballpark through the end of the 2008 season. The Braves' third baseman batted .313 with 19 home runs and a .964 OPS in 88 games at Shea.
Jones' youngest son, Shea, is named after the stadium.
"A lot of the memories I have of Shea Stadium are not exactly good ones," Jones said. "But I respect the fact that I saw some amazing players do some amazing things there over the years."
The ballpark was also the birthplace of the love-hate relationship Jones has shared with Mets fans dating back to September 1999, when he almost single-handedly prevented the Mets from winning a division title to lock up his only National League MVP Award.
The Braves held a one-game lead over the Mets in the NL East standings when the two teams began a three-game series at Turner Field on Sept. 21, 1999. Jones homered in the first inning off Rick Reed and then hit another in the eighth against Dennis Cook. The Braves claimed a 2-1 win that night.
With Jones also hitting a home run in each of the next two nights, the Braves swept the three-game series and gained a four-game advantage over the Mets. By the time Atlanta traveled to Shea Stadium the following week, a fifth consecutive NL East title had been clinched.
"That series, I was just in a zone," Jones said. "They pitched me carefully, but there were a couple of points where they couldn't avoid me. I was just on one of those streaks where everything I hit went out of the ballpark. That put me on the map, and I guess that's really the first time that I started drawing the ire of Mets fans."
After hitting .400 with seven homers and a 1.000 OPS in 12 games against the Mets in 1999, Jones became a marked man in Queens. The level of hatred Mets fans expressed toward him was fueled by John Rocker's antics when the two teams met that same year in the NL Championship Series.
"I don't think I liked it as much as Rocker did," Jones said. "I'm one of those guys who likes to be liked. I care what people think about me, and I care what people's opinions are of me. I think it's the whole Civil War thing, the North against the South. We were the country boys who were brash and cocky."
Over the years, Mets fans have mocked Jones by chanting, "Lah-REE, Lah-REE," in reference to his real first name. This, along with the desire to stay away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, led him to remain in his hotel room when he was not at the ballpark during many of his trips to New York.
But over the past five years, Jones has allowed himself to venture outside of his hotel room and interact with the New York fans.
"There are all kinds. It's New York," Jones said. "You're going to always run into one bad apple. For the most part, everybody has been gracious and very nice. I can't tell you how many times I've heard, 'Yo, Chip-AH. Yo, Chip-AH, quit beating up on my Mets or good luck against the Yanks.' It's that kind of interaction that quite frankly 10 or 15 years ago, I didn't think was in my future."
Having grown up a die-hard Dodgers fan who learned not to like the San Francisco Giants, Jones understands the passion that has led many Mets fans to love to hate him.
"The people up here bleed orange and blue," Jones said. "They're going to do whatever they can to take the other team's best player out of his game."