LOS ANGELES – Forty years in, nearly half of those in the big leagues, Chipper Jones is in the midst of one final pass through baseball.
His eyes say he'll miss it. His body, certainly from the hips down, says, "Run." You know, if he still could.
This week brings his last trip through Los Angeles and Dodger Stadium, home of the team for which he rooted as a child. His father, Larry, was raised in Vero Beach, Fla., spring home for the Dodgers for decades, and so Chipper grew up a Dodgers fan as well.
The ballparks and the cities will fall, one after another, Chipper saying his goodbyes. He has announced he will retire at the end of the season, and so the Dodgers wished him well over the public address system in the fourth inning Tuesday night – his 40th birthday – and Jones homered leading off the fifth, the least they could do for each other after so many years.
"It's been cool," he said before the game. "I consider myself to be really lucky to be 40 years old and still playing. It's in a lot more limited role. Thank God this is it."
He grinned. His left knee was drained about a week ago. He missed 30-some games last season, 60-some the season before that, and now he gives the Atlanta Braves what he has to give. The Braves have played 18 games this season, Jones 10 of them.
"As a kid," he said, "you think you're going to play forever."
Then, nearly 2,400 games happen. Surgeries come and go. And your prime goes with them.
"As many miles, days, innings on these legs, it's coming down to the end," he said. "So, it's bittersweet."
Funny thing: After logging all those miles, Jones has played in every major-league park but one – and Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium will host the All-Star game this summer. It would be Jones' eighth All-Star selection. If he didn't necessarily have the numbers, he'd be a nice pick for NL manager Tony La Russa.
Jones shook his head.
"I don't want any pity All-Star appearances," he said. "I don't want to take a spot away from anybody else who's more deserving. I've had my All-Star appearances. … I'd much rather earn my spot on the club."
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Regardless, Jones appears to be having a good time through this. New York hasn't said its farewells yet. Neither, of course, has Atlanta. Those will come in time. The Braves have started reasonably well, Jones has three home runs and nine RBIs in the 10 games he's played, two as a pinch-hitter.
And when it's time to go – to count up the hits that should run well past 2,700, the home runs nearing 500, and the batting average over .300 – he'll be ready.
"It's gonna be a long year for reflection," he said.
So, we asked him to start …
"I always said my favorite teammate of all time was Eddie Perez. We were teammates together starting in '92 in Double-A. He's the class clown I just admire."
Best right-handed pitcher faced:
Best left-hander faced:
Team he wishes could have gone on forever:
" '95. Yeah."
The '95 Braves were the fourth of 14 consecutive division titlists, and the only one to win a World Series.
Best clutch pitcher:
Best breaking ball:
Best "junk" pitch:
"Trevor Hoffman's changeup."
"Mo. No doubt."
Best team he played on, regardless of result:
"Yeah, I'd have to say '95 was it. The simple fact we had the big three (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Smoltz) and, man, we were solid one through eight."
At-bat he'd like back:
"The double play to end the series against San Francisco in '02. Against Robb Nen. I really thought we were going to find a way to win that game. I had a pitch in mind and I want a mulligan."
In Game 5 of the 2002 NLCS, the Braves trailed the Giants, 3-1. They'd put runners on first and third against Nen in the ninth inning, one out, Jones up, Andruw Jones on deck. The game never got to the latter Jones.
The at-bat he'd like to live forever:
"My first career home run. Shea Stadium."
May 9, 1995, ninth inning, tie score. The pitcher was Josias Manzanillo. Jones would hit 18 more home runs at Shea Stadium. Not all of them that night.
Pitch he didn't see enough of:
"My strength is the fastball away. I wanted to get extended and drive it the other way. That's what I always looked for."
Pitch he saw too much of:
"Cutter. Detest it."
Where is his World Series ring?
"It is in, under lock and key, in my valuables drawer in my closet."
When was the last time he wore it?
Best third baseman he ever saw:
"Probably Matt Williams. Nope, George Brett. Matt Williams is a close second."
Manager he would have wanted to play for:
"Jim Leyland. I look at him with the same respect and admiration as I do Bobby."
Guy he would have wanted to play with:
"Mickey Mantle. Awesome. I would even have hit second and let him hit third."
If not this era, then which one:
"Mantle's. I would've wanted to have played in that Mays, Mantle, Aaron era. That's when baseball icons truly were baseball icons."
Grand slam to win a regular-season game or bag his biggest deer ever:
"Oh, no, that's a trick question."
"The biggest deer. If you'd have said playoffs, I would have gone with the grand slam."
His largest quarry to date, by the way, is a 184-pound, 16-pointer. So there you go.
Best hitters' park:
"I gotta say Phoenix right now. Me, personally, I like Minute Maid. But I think Cincinnati is the best hitters' park.
Worst hitters' park:
"I will be in the front row when they blow up Wrigley Field. The ballpark is awful."
In nearly 200 career at-bats on Chicago's North Side, Jones batted .219. He hit .306 everywhere else.
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