NEW YORK -- As Chipper Jones sat alongside the three other newly elected Hall of Famers during a Thursday afternoon news conference in Manhattan, he reminisced and once again expressed appreciation for everyone who aided him along the path that led him from his hometown of Pierson, Fla., to Cooperstown.
"It was a pipe dream growing up in a town as small as the one I called home," said Jones, who might find the quaint nature of Cooperstown to feel a little bit like his rural central Florida hometown, which has a population of less than 2,000.
For nearly three decades, the small-town kid has been a household name throughout the baseball world, and on Wednesday night his name was officially immortalized when he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He participated in Thursday's news conference with this year's fellow electees -- Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero.
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"This is going to be a cool ride," Jones said. "I want to share it with each and every one who played a part in helping me get here."
Along with expressing thanks for the support system his parents have provided in their nearly 50 years of marriage, Jones recognized how significantly his journey was influenced by the Braves' decision to use the first overall pick in the 1990 MLB Draft on him, instead of Todd Van Poppel, Tony Clark, Mike Lieberthal or any of the other top prospects available that year.
"The year I was drafted, I by no means felt I was the best player in that Draft," Jones said. "It was just a matter of a certain team needing a certain kind of player. I was that player for the Atlanta Braves and they had the No. 1 pick. That's the only reason I was the No. 1 pick in the Draft. If they had gone with Todd Van Poppel, I'd have probably been the fifth or sixth player taken in the Draft. How much different would my career have been?"
Blessed with incredible eye-hand coordination, tremendous athleticism and a Ted Williams-like understanding of the art of hitting, Jones certainly might have become a Hall of Famer even if he hadn't had the chance to spend the entirety of his 22 professional seasons within the Braves' system. But it's nearly impossible to think about his career unfolding without the strong influence provided by Terry Pendleton, David Justice, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Bobby Cox and the other Braves figures who welcomed him to the Majors in 1993 and then kept his ego in check once he returned from a torn ACL to begin his reign as Atlanta's third baseman in 1995.
Cox certainly played a significant role as he served as the general manager who decided to take Jones with the top overall pick, and then became the manager who had the honor of putting the switch-hitting slugger in his lineup on a daily basis over the course of 16 seasons (1995-2010).
"I could have sat there in 1995 or '96 and said, 'I'm going to be a Hall of Famer,'" Jones said. "I didn't really believe it, and Bobby would have killed me if I'd have said that publicly. Bobby was good at calling me into the principal's office whenever I needed to have a foot shoved up my rear. But that was good. It kept me grounded, and I think one of the reasons why I stayed on the straight line was because I had good players around me that kept me in check.
"I'm forever grateful for that because I can sit here and see other players that maybe they didn't have the same support system that I did, and maybe they'll take it to an extreme. I'm very grateful for that because eventually I would grow up and want to smack the young Chipper upside the head."
Leading up to his July 29 induction ceremony in Cooperstown, Jones will have many more opportunities to reminisce and tell tales like he did after being joined with his fellow Hall of Fame electees on Thursday.
Before entering the news conference, Jones talked to Hoffman about some of their late-inning matchups and about how uncomfortable it was to be a third baseman with Guerrero at the plate. He and Thome shared a ride together to the MLB Network studio, and along the way they talked about a variety of topics, including meeting at the Triple-A level and competing against each other in the 1995 World Series.
"This is a tremendous honor," Jones said. "It's truly a blessing to be sitting up here in the company of greatness with these guys."