Chipper Jones Heads Into the Home Run Trot of His Career

Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE

This almost seems like a penultimate column, since the Atlanta Braves have at least one more post-season home game, but the fact is that for all intents and purposes, Chipper Jones has finished his run at Turner Field.

With just three games remaining in the 2012 regular season, the countdown to the finale of Chipper’s career becomes more and more real.

Hopefully the Braves will have a deep October-November run so fans not only in Atlanta, but also in other cities will get one last chance to see Chipper play.

But in the playoffs, there are no guarantees.

So I write this knowing that fact, and knowing that there may not be many more chances to watch Larry Wayne Jones man his station at the hot corner, or dig in at either side of the plate.

I’m not going to spend time going over all the gaudy numbers and amazing statistics. I wont bother waxing poetic about the lists of legends that he has passed in so many categories. You’ll see all of that plastered across your television and computer screens many times over the next few weeks.

What I want to focus on here is what one man has meant to a city.

There are certain professional athletes that you simply associate with a town.

Mickey Mantle and the New York Yankees, Ted Williams and the Boston Red Sox, Johnny Bench and the Cincinnati Reds.

Those players will forever be linked to their team, and to the city in which the team resides. Street names, bar names, commemorative plaques, statues, and all sorts of other tributes can be found for those players in those towns.

When you think of the Braves, you think of Henry Aaron (still the home run king in my book), and Aaron’s place will forever be secured in Braves’ lore.

But when the 2012 playoffs are done, and the Braves have closed the door on the season for better or worse, there will be a new name associated with MLB’s longest continuous operating franchise.

When you think of the ATLANTA Braves, you’ll undeniably think of Chipper Jones.

For two decades, Chipper has thrilled fans, made headlines (both good and bad), and at times, carried this team on his shoulders. And when he announced this past March that 2012 would be his last season, it almost seemed surreal.

As the season progressed, the outpouring of emotion, love (and hate), and tributes from the fans, and even other teams, was unlike any I’d ever seen in my life. As much as I wanted to be a part of it, I chose to take a step back and just watch. I wanted to see the accolades and arguments from an outsider’s point of view, and I think that may have been a good decision.

When the words “Chipper Jones” appeared in the headline of any article I wrote, it was like plucking a taught string on a guitar. The waves went out like ripples on a still pond, and then came back to me two-fold. If I said something even remotely negative about Chipper, even if completely true, it was as if I had waged a personal assault on the fans, and they stood up prepared for a battle.

Everyone knew that the Braves organization would plan a “Chipper Jones Day” and undoubtedly have giveaways and special promotions to honor their hero.

But the fans didn’t need the Atlanta Braves promotion department this year, they came up with some fantastic tribute ideas of their own. But the one that caught on like wildfire, and that really showed me what Chipper meant to this town was the Twitter, “Wayne Jones”, movement.

Twitter users nationwide changed the name that was displayed on their individual twitter accounts to whatever their real first name was, followed by simply “Wayne Jones.”  It was as if every fan of Chipper and the Braves wanted to be a part of his family.

I don’t know if there is anything that speaks as loudly about your love and devotion to a person than wanting to be a part of their family. The most amazing part was that Chipper completely acknowledged and embraced his new extended family, tweeting out to them with his appreciation on a nightly basis.

The network of Chipper fans on all forms of social media was staggering; planning tailgates and gatherings. They had special T-shirts made up, and Instagram and Twitter were inundated with hashtags relating to Chipper.

Chipper has easily become the pulse of the city of Atlanta during the 2012 season. The town has breathed, lived, and died not only with Braves wins and losses, but with each individual accomplishment and failure of the retiring 3rd baseman.

It’s been a sight to behold.

Chipper personifies Atlanta better than many may realize. He’s a laid-back country boy who speaks his mind and never seems to get very emotional. But when you get him riled up, he’ll let fly.

He’s never afraid to tell it like it is, good or bad, to the media or the fans, even when his words might not be what people want to hear. Some think of him as a bit of a curmudgeon, and others just think he only says what needs to be said. Never more. Never less.

For the most part, he let his bat and his glove do the talking, which is what makes him what he is.

I’m lucky. I got to watch Chipper’s entire career, start to finish. I got to see a legend, a sure-fire hall of famer, and arguably one of the best switch-hitters to ever put on a pair of spikes. For those of you who shared in that joy with me, we all should be thankful.

Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones’ career is rounding third, and digging in towards home. It doesn’t matter the call at the end, as long as we all get to see the play at the plate.

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