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Chipper in awe of honors bestowed by Braves

Atlanta icon joins team's Hall of Fame, has No. 10 retired before game at Turner Field

ATLANTA -- Chipper Jones has had time to gain a better understanding of all that he accomplished during a storied playing career that concluded last year. His achievements have placed him in a category reserved for the greatest of greats and earned him the unique honor of drawing praise from the legends he idolized during his youth.

But while the Braves and the baseball world will forever recognize him as a legendary figure, he still seems to view himself as the young kid from Pierson, Fla., whose parents taught him to play baseball for the love of the game and not necessarily for the glory and riches it could bring.

"I played baseball," Jones said. "It's not like I cured cancer or anything."

In the process of proving great while playing the game he loved, Jones also established himself as one of the most beloved players to don a Braves uniform. His popularity was legitimized yet again as fans from all over the country flocked to Atlanta this weekend to celebrate his career.

More than 1,300 fans packed a ballroom at Atlanta's Marriott Marquis on Friday afternoon to see Jones officially inducted into the Braves' Hall of Fame. Many of these same folks were also part of the standing room only crowd that saw Jones' No. 10 jersey retired during an on-field ceremony that preceded Friday night's game against the D-backs at Turner Field.

"I'm a little sheepish," Jones said as he addressed the crowd during the luncheon. "I'm almost embarrassed, because I don't believe I deserve all of this. I really don't. I play baseball. I do one thing better than most of you all here. To get all of these accolades and to get all of this attention and to have all of this happen is really awe-inspiring to me."

It seems perfect that Jones' No. 10 is the 10th jersey number to be retired by the Braves. His name and number will also fittingly rest along the second-level façade located along the left-field line, overlooking the third base position that he manned for most of the past two decades in Atlanta.

Jones was happy that he kept his emotions in check when his number was unveiled as he sat on a stage with his parents, sons and other Braves dignitaries during the pregame ceremony.

"The hair on the back of your neck stands up," Jones said. "You get chill bumps. I made it a point not to look my mom and dad in the face, because if I did, I probably would have lost it. I take great pride that I made it through that whole thing without shedding a tear. It was tough."

Down the right-field line, the Braves have placed the retired numbers of their legends from yesteryear -- Hank Aaron (44), Warren Spahn (21), Eddie Mathews (44), Phil Niekro (35) and Dale Murphy (3). The left-field line has been reserved for the legends of the glorious 1990s -- Greg Maddux (31), Tom Glavine (47), John Smoltz (29), Bobby Cox (6) and now Jones.

"This is the era that Braves Country for the last 25 years has related to," Jones said. "I find it kind of special that I'm the last face on that wall from those teams of that decade."

During the afternoon festivities, Jones was entertained by a video that included David Wright, Jeff Francoeur, Smoltz and Adam LaRoche roasting him with comical one-liners. Jones also added to the laughs when he recognized former Braves owner Ted Turner, who has not attended many of these events since being inducted into the club's Hall of Fame in 2000.

"It was a lot more entertaining when you were here," Jones said while looking at the eccentric Turner.

Some of the best compliments provided during the luncheon came from Aaron and Cox, who was the Braves' general manager who selected Jones with the first overall selection in the 1990 First-Year Player Draft and then served as his manager in Atlanta from 1993-2010.

"Chip, I just want to say what a thrill it was for me to be with you all of those years," Cox said. "I miss the clutch hitting. The one thing I really miss about Chipper Jones is the way he ran the bases. He reminded me of Mickey Mantle when he did run those bases. The other thing I miss a lot is as a third baseman coming in on those chopped balls and those bunted balls and barehanding them. Brooks Robinson, I thought was great at that. But I'm going to put you ahead of that when you get to the Hall of Fame."

Cox also paid Jones tribute by saying that he was sure that his longtime third baseman was clean while playing his entire career in the steroid era.

"I'm sure that Hank and Chipper have many things in common," Cox said. "But one thing I do know that they did have in common was that they did not need any help during their careers. They did it all on their own."

Aaron echoed this sentiment and also took time to compliment Larry Wayne Jones Sr. and his wife, Lynne, for the way they raised the boy who would become a Braves legend. Jones' parents and his four sons were all in attendance to hear these words spoken by a man many consider to be the greatest to ever play baseball.

"Hank Aaron acknowledged my parents," Jones said. "That's crazy. He was looking me in the eye and I was blushing. I can't imagine what my mom and dad were doing."

Like so many, they were likely reminiscing about all the great moments experienced over the past two decades. Jones made his Major League debut two years later, and then after returning from the first of two major knee surgeries, he became a mainstay in Atlanta's lineup at the start of the 1995 season.

Two decades later, Jones still vividly remembers the awe he felt when he was brought into the Braves' clubhouse for the first time in 1990. Just a few weeks removed from the end of his high school career at the Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla., he found himself shaking hands with Murphy and other players he had only previously seen on television.

"Murph was a god to me," Jones said. "I was looking straight up at Murph. I was like, 'My goodness, he is huge.' Then Ronny Gant gets up and he's Popeye. I'm thinking to myself, 'I'm not in this class. I've got a lot, a lot of work to do.'"

Somewhere in the midst of winning an National League MVP Award and earning eight All-Star selections, Jones reaped the benefits of his efforts. He is the only switch-hitter in Major League history to hit at least .300 and compile more than 400 home runs.

Jones also stands with Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig as the only players in Major League history to record at least 2,500 hits, 1,500 walks, 1,500 runs, 500 doubles, 450 home runs and 1,500 RBIs while hitting .300 with a .400 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage.

With these numbers in mind, it is easy to see why Cox, Aaron and so many others are already looking forward to the summer of 2018, when Jones becomes eligible to receive baseball's greatest honor of being enshrined in Cooperstown.

"All you want to do as a person is to feel like you walk away from something feeling like you left that mark," Jones said. "Today is one of those days."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for
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