Mark Bowman has covered the Braves and Chipper Jones for MLB.com since 2001.
ATLANTA -- There are still some vivid memories of those childhood days when my grandmother told me about how my grandfather cried every time he watched his favorite player Lou Gehrig's life chronicled in "The Pride of the Yankees."
Intrigued by this passion possessed by a grandfather I never knew, I had aspirations to be like this legendary Yankees first baseman who considered himself to be "the luckiest man on the face of the earth."
Three decades later, I still have never hit or fielded like Gehrig. But after spending the past 12 years covering Chipper Jones, I can at least relate to what the legendary Yankees first baseman was feeling when he delivered his famous speech.
If I am fortunate enough to spend the rest of my life writing about sports, I doubt that I will ever encounter another athlete like Larry Wayne Jones. He conjured memories of Mickey Mantle, walked like John Wayne and discussed hitting like Ted Williams.
With all due respect to Miguel Cabrera, that might be the coolest Triple Crown around.
When Jones took time in March to announce this would be his final season, countless memories began swirling around in my head. One that stood out centered around a conversation that took place, probably six or seven years ago, after a Spring Training game against the Astros in Kissimmee, Fla.
At one point, Chipper said something like, "My mother is pretty guarded. It takes a while for her to let down that guard."
Like Mother, like Son.
Fortunately, Jones became a little less protective over the years, allowing all of us to see the kind heart that sits behind his tough-guy persona.
Other than John Smoltz, I have never been around a more accommodating athlete than Jones, who was always at his locker after games and accessible via phone calls. If he was in a deer stand, that phone call might be returned a day or two later. But it was always returned.
And when given the opportunity to enjoy these conversations with Jones, you walked away with information that made writing that next story so much easier and enjoyable. Many times, he simply enlightened you with his vast knowledge of the game. Other times, he reminded you that he was not afraid to voice him opinions.
Sometimes, his best responses came when you least expected.
Remember when he blasted Jamie Moyer's sign-stealing accusations after a May 5 win in Colorado? Well, the only question I asked to prompt this response was, "Can you explain how [the Braves] have overcome five-run deficits three times in the past four days?"
There are so many great memories of the times shared with Jones, who was the first person I called after getting tipped that Smoltz was going to sign the next day with the Red Sox.
I wrote a quick story and then quickly called Jones, who reacted with some anger and disbelief. I vividly remember having two phone conversations with Jones around midnight that early January night in 2009.
That was the night Jones officially gained the honor of being the Braves' most tenured player. A few months later, he signed the contract extension that provided him the unique honor of spending his entire career with an organization that he genuinely loves.
As the winter months progressed, I would often pick Jones' brain about certain free agents, and in the process we would discuss what the Braves might do. Well there was the one time I slipped up on my responsibilities about a month after meeting my current wife.
After finally convincing her that we needed to eat at Five Guys the night after I returned from the 2009 Winter Meetings, I received a phone call from Jones about five minutes after we had entered the restaurant. He opened the conversation with, "You've been back from the Meetings for a day and you still haven't called."
Look, Jones loved the Braves and had a genuine interest in how the roster might look the following year.
At the same time, he has always had some interest in interacting with the fans online. After watching the NFL playoffs on a Sunday about three or four years ago, he called to ask how to reply on different blogs. I suggested he start a blog of his own. He balked at the suggestion and then waited a few more years to start his now popular Twitter account.
Jones' entrance to the Twitter world has introduced us to words like "Yickitty" and "Mammo." At the same time, it allowed him to gain a better understanding of just how much he was loved by fans throughout the baseball world.
As the final days of Jones' career unfolded, I continued to think about those days when he was in the backyard with his father learning how to hit while using a PVC pipe as a bat.
After starting out a lot like you and me, Chipper Jones became the legendary figure we had only dreamed to be.