Chipper Jones has been my favorite player for as long as I can remember.
Sure, there have been other players who I have liked a lot (mostly Atlanta Braves), but nobody has really gotten me excited for baseball the way that Chipper has. Even if I am unable to watch a Braves game on TV, I can guarantee that I am on my laptop or my phone religiously watching EVERY Chipper Jones at-bat.
Sometimes kids have trouble picking a favorite player when they are younger, but for me it was an easy choice. Chipper was drafted into the MLB the same year that I was born (1990), and was breaking into the major leagues right around the time that I was realizing how much I loved the sport of baseball. I already thought that the Braves were the coolest thing in the world (besides Dunkaroos) because they were always on TBS, so it worked out perfectly.
I tried to emulate Chipper in every way possible growing up. I copied his batting stance, tried to get a cool nickname for people to call me (Nipper didn’t catch on, no matter how many times I pinched my teammates nipples), and even tried switch-hitting in practice a few times. Though, while Chipper was originally a shortstop who moved over to third base, I decided that I would stay at shortstop throughout little league. My reasoning behind this was that in case I got really good and the Braves drafted me, I didn’t want to take Chipper’s position on the team (see, I was a very considerate fan).
I remained a huge Chipper and Braves fan throughout my childhood, even though I lived in Houston and everybody treated me like I had cooties for weeks whenever Braves eliminate the Houston Astros from the playoffs. I eventually quit playing baseball though and began to live my baseball dreams vicariously through Chipper. I remained a fan ever after the run of 14-straight division titles ended, and Philadelphia Phillies fans came out of hiding to make Hooters jokes more often, brushing them off like it nothing bothered me.
I stayed with Chipper through his (relative) struggles in the last few years, through the injuries, missed games and uncertainty around the future. I stuck through it all, and here I am today at the end of his career. And to be honest, not much has really changed. I still have Chipper posters on the walls of my room, I still watch every at-bat religiously, and I still talk about him too much around my family and friends. In fact, as I’ve gotten older I have really begun to feel Chipper’s pain when it comes to getting out of bed everyday. Sure his pain may be in his knees due to too many tears and cortisone shots, but my stomach feels the same way sometimes due to too many beers and Corazón shots.
Now that his career is finally over, I feel like I might be more saddened by it than he is. I never really wanted to imagine the day that Chipper retired, because it would signal the end of something special. The end of one of the greatest careers by any baseball player ever, the end of a special relationship between player and fan, and basically the end of my sports-childhood.
The excitement I feel every time that I see Chipper at the plate was matched only by the excitement I felt when I came up to bat during little league. Chipper is a much better hitter than I was though, so I have been able to put more faith in his own abilities than I was ever able to put into mine. He still hasn’t let me down. This last season has been something special, full of memories that not only Chipper can cherish when he retires, but memories that I can as well.
Two walk-off homers against the Phillies, a 5-for-5 game the day he was added to the All-Star roster, the All-Star Game appearance itself, and even hitting a home run on his 40th birthday. In addition to his heroics, the amount of gifts he has received around the league has been great to watch. From a surfboard, a fly-fishing set, the Braves banner from Wrigley, and enough third-bases to build his own field at home, Chipper has been honored left and right this season (fitting for a switch-hitter).
While I know that this article is just one the thousands written about Chipper during his final season, it is one that I tried to put off as long as possible. I don’t know what I was hoping for. Maybe for him to change his mind about leaving the game behind or maybe so many rain-delays that the season never actually ends, I don’t know. I just knew that I didn’t want to be hit by the realization that Chipper is about to be gone.
I know that I have gone through droughts without watching Chipper play before. He has missed plenty of games over the span of his career, which meant that I had to survive without checking the Braves box scores dozens of times a night. But those were just temporary Chipper-less stretches, I knew that in no time at all he would be healthy, and back to hitting homers in
batting practice, games against the New York Mets.
This is a real goodbye though. Both the Braves and I will both have a tough time replacing Chipper. They need a new franchise player to lead them over the next two decades, and I need a new role model. What i’m afraid of is that both the Braves and I will be unsuccessful in our searches. The Braves have a great farm-system sure, but players like Chipper don’t come around very often, and if they do they head straight for the hills (or Boras) when the money is somewhere else. Chipper stayed in Atlanta though, so I stayed with Chipper.
As selfish as it may sound, I think that both of us deserve a reward for that loyalty. The Braves have already rewarded us with a trip to the playoffs this season (even if that run begins with a one game play-in), and I am hoping that is only the beginning. Chipper and the Braves have a chance to send him out on top of the game, and I could not imagine a sweeter going away present for Chipper (besides maybe new knees).
In a season full of memories, I was forced to look back on my own and recognize just how important a role Chipper has played in my life. I understand that when this season concludes, the only place I will see Chipper every night is on my wall, immortalized in a poster that I used to hide my boogers behind (sorry about that, Chip). I may not be able to give him anything as great as most of the teams around the league gave him, but this article can be my own goodbye gift to him.
Thank you for making me love baseball Chipper Jones. Your career may be coming to an end, but you’re legacy isn’t. I will always have tons of memories of you even if we both have to grow up and move on.