COOPERSTOWN, NY -- Along with being somewhat of a baseball savant, Chipper Jones is a romantic who wants to believe the old wives tale that the plaques speak to each other whenever they turn off the lights at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Now that he's officially a Hall of Famer, the immortalized version of Jones may soon have some of those "lights out" conversations with many former Braves teammates, one of his child favorites Eddie Murray and his father's idol Mickey Mantle, whose spirit was felt as Cooperstown celebrated the arrival of yet another legendary switch-hitter.
"I know if my plaque is going to speak he shouldn't," Jones said. "We're the rookie in the locker room now. It's time to be quiet and speak when spoken to. If Mickey and Eddie get into it, I'll throw my two cents in there."
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Speaking as cool and smooth as he had throughout his storied playing career, Jones entertained the Braves-heavy crowd that assembled as he was inducted into Baseball's Hall of Fame on Sunday afternoon. His speech was filled with heartfelt emotion and gratitude aimed toward the countless individuals who paved the way for him to share a stage with baseball's elite.
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"It's a big relief now," Jones said. "It was pretty awe-inspiring to look out and see 40 or 50 thousand people. I've spoken in front of that many people before. But I was more nervous about who was behind me [fellow Hall of Famers] critiquing the speech."
Attempting to fend off any tears, Jones resolutely avoided making eye contact with his mother Lynn and father Larry Wayne Jones Sr. His nerves were enhanced that the crowd included his pregnant wife, Taylor, who is less than 24 hours from being due to deliver their latest son -- Cooper, who will be appropriately named in relation to this Hall of Fame celebration.
"[Taylor] changed my life forever," Jones said. "It took 40 years and some major imperfections in me to find my true perfection. We've taken our two families, blended them together, and it's given me what I've been searching for my entire life. The last six years have been the best of my entire life. Tay, you made me believe in love again and changed me forever."
Since the time he was an 18-year-old shortstop taken with the first overall selection in the 1990 Draft, Jones has stood as one of the most revered and beloved figures in the Braves organization. Atlanta fans flocked to Cooperstown to see John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz get inducted to the Hall of Fame within the past four years. But this seemed to be Braves Country's top showing in Cooperstown.
"You're why I loved coming to the plate with the game on the line, Crazy Train blaring in the background," Jones said to Braves fans. "I wanted to so badly to come through for you. You believed in me since I was an 18-year-old kid, and you were still there for me during my swan song in 2012. You cheered me through the career highs and stuck by me through life's lows. I'll never forget that. You're the reason I never wanted to play anywhere else. I couldn't be prouder to go into the Hall of Fame today with an Atlanta A on my cap."
Jones thanked his parents by describing him as the greatest support team he could have ever wanted. They created the young man who Cox helped further mold as he drafted, managed and mentored this legendary figure over two decades.
While Cox might have been the most influential force throughout Jones' career, the former third baseman did not forget to mention the impact made by late Hall of Famer Willie Stargell, who demanded the use of a heavier bat after Jones struggled during his first professional season.
"[Stargell] said, 'Son, I've picked my teeth with bigger pieces of wood than this.'" Jones said. "He also suggested I swing the biggest bat I could get around against 90-mph pitches and start letting the pitcher supply the power. He looked me dead in the eye and said: 'We'll have you hitting 30 homers in no time.' I thought he was crazy, but I'll be damned if he wasn't right.'"
Jones' first 30-homer season occurred in 1996, a year after he became a mainstay in Atlanta's lineup. But his power truly blossomed after he was introduced to the late Don Baylor, who served as the Braves hitting coach during the switch-hitter's 1999 MVP season. Baylor's mission before that season was to convince Jones he needed to be more aggressive with his attempt to produce more power from the right side. The result, a career-high 45 homers by the end of that year.
"I miss you buddy," Jones said of Baylor. "Not a day goes by that I don't miss our rigorous cage sessions."
Jones shared the stage with former teammates Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz. Each of these players have expressed hope they will one day be joined by Fred McGriff and Andruw Jones, who along with Jeff Francoeur were among those who traveled to Cooperstown to enjoy this weekend and celebrate what was the greatest era in Braves history.
"For me, it all started in a little town of Pierson, Fla.," Jones said. "I was just a country kid from a town with two caution lights. The self-proclaimed, fern capital of the world. How do I, of all people, end up on a stage with my childhood heroes, the greatest players in baseball history? For me, it came down to being focused on a goal, never losing sight of that goal, and being surrounded by people who believed in me. That belief started at home."