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Chipper's legendary career honored by Braves

ATLANTA -- Growing up in a rural Florida town, Chipper Jones spent countless hours dreaming of the opportunity to play for the Dodgers. Three decades later, he is nearing the end of a legendary Major League career with the delight of knowing it was spent entirely with the Braves.

"You always dream about whether the grass is greener on the other side or how you would be thought of or revered different had you played in a huge major market," Jones said. "That being said, I wouldn't change my experience in Atlanta for anything. I've gotten a chance to influence an entire region."

While the Southeast might be Braves Country, the widespread love for Jones extends far beyond the western and northern borders of Tennessee. Hank Aaron stands as the only other player to experience as much success and fanfare during his days with the Braves.

"I don't know what baseball is going to be like without Chipper Jones," said Daniel Ward, 27, of Covington, Ga. "For the last 17 years, I've been watching Chipper Jones almost every day."

Ward was part of the overflow crowd of 51,910 that packed Turner Field on Friday night as the Braves honored Jones during a pregame ceremony that stirred the emotions of the veteran third baseman. Though he thoroughly enjoyed the festivities, he admitted he felt uneasy while going 0-for-4 in the 3-1 loss to the Mets.

"I try to stay as even-keeled as possible," Jones said. "That's how I play the game the best. Tonight, I was just too overwhelmed and too emotional to be able to go out there and play effectively. Every pitch they threw up there, I wanted to hit 10 rows deep. You can't do that. Hopefully, it will settle down and I'll be able to do my job a little better."

Some of the notables sitting alongside Jones during the on-field pregame ceremony were his parents, former manager Bobby Cox, Aaron and legendary scout Paul Snyder, who made the decision to take Jones instead of Todd Van Poppel with the first selection in the 1990 First-Year Player Draft.

"It's not often that guys get to be as good as you think they have a chance to be," Snyder said. "This was one time that it did."

Over the course of the past 22 years, Jones evolved from first overall selection to a seemingly cinch first-ballot Hall of Famer. It was a journey enriched by the guidance and discipline instilled by Larry and Lynne Jones, who introduced their son to the game that he so greatly enriched over the past two decades.

When Jones took the microphone during Friday night's ceremony, he first thanked his parents and then expressed gratitude toward his teammates, the entire Braves organization and the fans, some of whom still likely have vivid memories of him arriving at the Major League level as a bright-eyed shortstop late in the 1993 season.

Some of those fans were seen Friday night with signs that read "Thank You for 19 Years" and included the words "Yicketty" and "Mammo" -- words that Jones created since joining Twitter in July.

"I think I had a tear planted in the corner of my eye basically all night," Jones said. "It's pretty tough to hit when you're misty like that."

During his days as the team's general manager, Braves president John Schuerholz played a central role in the negotiations that gave Jones the opportunity to spend his entire career with Atlanta. On Friday, Schuerholz took the honor to reveal what the club would give Jones for his retirement.

Along with planning to refurbish 10 youth baseball fields and rename them in his honor and give him his clubhouse locker, the Braves will send Jones on a trip to Hawaii. To signify his presence as a cornerstone for the organization, they will also present him with a piece of art that is shaped like home plate and made of bricks from around Turner Field.

"He had demonstrated that 'it' factor when he was a high school player and Major League clubs were deciding who was the guy they were going to take," Schuerholz said. "Obviously, the Braves took the right guy."

Long before Jones won the 1999 National League MVP Award, garnered eight All-Star selections and won a batting title in 2008, Snyder and current scouting director Tony DeMacio were among those who saw Jones' tremendous talents as he played for Bolles High School in Jacksonville, Fla.

Snyder vividly remembers that longtime scout Hep Cronin was the first to issue a report on Jones. Some early concerns centered around the high school shortstop's hesitance to show his ability to switch-hit by batting from the left side of the plate.

More than 22 years later, Snyder still gets excited when he thinks about the day that Larry Wayne Jones Sr. informed him that his son had agreed to hit left-handed during that particular day's game.

"He said, 'You can stay right here tonight fellows, he's going to hit left-handed,'" Snyder said. "The first swing he took that night, it was a line drive right out onto the street."

Standing within earshot of this conversation, Lynne Jones reminisced and said, "I was taping it. That's how I kept myself sitting, by keeping the camera on my shoulder."

As Friday night's game unfolded, she was among the tens of thousands of fans who rose to their feet each time her son came to the plate and felt the kind of overwhelming appreciation that few ever experience in life.

"I'm glad it's over," Jones said. "I've been pointing to this day and been nervous about this day. With all of the friends and family in town to watch, I just want to concentrate on baseball. All of the attention needs to take a backseat so that we can focus on the job at hand."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for
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