Thursday, March 22, 2012

Looking Forward to a Finale

I have been a Braves fan for my entire life. I remember the rotten years of the 1980s when all we had was Dale Murphy rocking his mullet and nothing else. Then in 1991, the Braves started to become a dynasty in the National League with back-to-back pennants and World Series heartbreak. 1993 brought disappointment back to the Braves Nation. If not for the strike of 1994, we would have seen the Braves' consecutive division titles streak snapped by the Montreal Expos.

In 1995, a 23-year-old switch hitting third baseman was given a full time spot with the Braves. That man was Larry Wayne Jones, Jr., or "Chipper" as he would be known for the next 18 seasons. Chipper won the NL Rookie of the Year Award and helped lead the Braves to their first World Series Title in Atlanta. I loved watching Chipper play because it always looked like he was having fun. His smile was seen almost constantly that year and would become a trademark. Baseball wasn't a job for him; he was able to play for a living and have fun at it.  And to a thirteen-year-old Braves fan from Kissimmee, Florida, he was a hero.

My mom bought me a white t-shirt emblazoned with a picture of Chipper's Upper Deck trading card and took me to the downtown Kissimmee sports memorabilia shop to seek out his Topps Trading Card. I never missed a Braves game on TBS or ESPN, so I could always see that switch hitting marvel. I despised the Mets and loved when Chipper would go to Shea because I knew he was going have at least two hits that night. Chipper loved playing the Mets because he knew he was in every single one of their pitchers' heads. In fact, he later named one of his sons Shea after the now defunct Shea Stadium.

Now I know that Chipper is only human and not a perfect person. I overlook the fact that he cheated on his first wife with a Hooters waitress and ended up knocking her up with his first son. Over the years his body has taken a beating, and I have to wonder if it was due to bad genetics or steroids.  I will always give Chipper the benefit of the doubt because I am his fan. I still own a Chipper Jones 10 jersey that hangs proudly in my closet. I wear it every opening day and to pretty much any Braves game I attend. I even wore it to the first night of my film class in college, where it helped me make a really nice first impression on my now wife. I have watched many a Braves game on the West Coast into the wee hours of the morning while they trailed in the 9th inning knowing that Chipper was coming up and would knock in the winning run. (And more times than not, he did!)

So this morning when the story broke that Chipper was going to retire, I felt sad, but I knew it was going to be a finale worth remembering. We had an end in sight, and he wouldn't become a problem for the Braves the way Favre became for my beloved Packers. Chipper would get the farewell tour around all the NL parks the way Bobby Cox did. Maybe the Braves can capture lightning in a bottle and claim a World Series title for Chipper like the Broncos took Elway out on top. I will probably be a very tired individual during the season, because I will watch every game that Chipper plays this year. I don't want to miss any potential homeruns, RBIs, and especially any of those Chipper smiles after big hits and great catches.

While it is always sad to see a hero retire from the game, it's good to know that he will have played for 18 seasons with the same team and will go down as one of the greatest Braves of all time. We won't have to see him finish his time up with the Phillies and Colorado Rockies wishing he'd hang it up and not tarnish his legacy any more. Chipper will put everything into this season and will hopefully keep his career batting average above .300 and get to 475 homers. I will head to the Ted as many times as I can this year to see Chipper have some of his magic Chipper moments, and hopefully, that great smile.

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