Chipper, longtime friend and agent reminisce
Abbott recalls days when Jones would pretend to be in Majors
ATLANTA -- As Chipper Jones was announcing this will be his final season, he channeled fictional character Rod Tidwell and evoked memories from one of the final scenes of the hit film "Jerry Maguire."
Well, unlike the Tidwell character, he did not necessarily refer to his agent as his "Ambassador of Kwan." But genuine sincerity was displayed when Jones attempted to hold back tears as he thanks his agent, B.B. Abbott, for being with him through a journey that dates back to their childhood days.
"Probably my best friend in the world, B.B.; I can't tell you how many times B.B. and I would sit out in the backyard and rehearse everything that has happened in the past 20-something years out here on this field," Jones said as he announced his retirement last month. "We've come a long way. We've both lived out our dreams, and little did we know we'd be hand and hand in doing so."
As Jones has progressed through the first month of the final season of his storied career, fans and members of the Braves' organization have reminisced about the memories he has created since being selected by Atlanta with the first overall selection in the 1990 First-Year Player Draft.
Abbott has had the unique pleasure to travel a little further down memory lane and reminisce about those childhood days in Pierson, Fla., when Jones would put himself in many of the same situations he has experienced since making his Major League debut with the Braves on Sept. 11, 1993.
Raised the son of a Vero Beach, Fla., native who loved to see the Dodgers come to his hometown for Spring Training every year, Jones grew up dreaming of an opportunity to play at Dodger Stadium. Little did he know, he would homer at the legendary ballpark on his 40th birthday and produce a game-winning ninth-inning single in his final regular-season at-bat there the following day.
"I can't count the amount of times that he has gone through that lineup, hitting like he was Ron Cey, Steve Garvey, Dusty Baker and all of these guys he watched growing up," Abbott said. "The Dodgers were his team. Then to sit there 30 years later and hit a home run on your 40th birthday, you can't even script that."
Those days at Dodger Stadium were simply a part of the magic Jones has created during the early stages of his final season. There was an indication he was in the process of something special when he convinced the Braves that he was ready to come off the disabled list on April 10. He was just 15 days removed from left knee surgery and had not seen live pitching in a game since March 20.
But with the Braves 0-4 for the first time since 1988, Jones felt he needed to return a little earlier than expected. When he singled and homered in his first two at-bats against the Astros that night at Minute Maid Park, his veteran teammate Eric Hinske yelled, "It can't be that easy!"
Truthfully, it has not all been easy for Jones, who has been bothered by left knee discomfort much of the past month. When he was in the lineup for his last regular-season game at Wrigley Field on Wednesday, it marked just the second time this season that he was able to start on three consecutive days.
Having undergone three knee surgeries in the past 20 months, Jones could be taking even more opportunities to rest. But he has remained motivated to make one last attempt to return to the playoff scene that became so familiar when the Braves reached the postseason during each of his first 11 seasons.
"It's been quite a ride and something that has been fun to watch from the inner circle of a pretty amazing life and career that has been pretty special," Abbott said. "The last couple of years have been equal parts frustration and sadness, to see how things have gone with his injuries and whatnot. But to still see glimpses of what has made him the player he is has been gratifying and special for me."
After Jones' knee prevented him from playing in his final home opener, he returned two days later and homered in his "personal home opener." Before saying goodbye on Saturday to Coors Field, where he homered twice in his 1995 postseason debut, he registered a career-best five-RBI game for the 18th time in his career.
It has been that kind of year for the 1999 National League MVP Award winner.
"There have been some really cool moments," Jones said. "I'm really glad that I pushed it and came back."
As Jones enjoyed a much-needed off-day on Thursday, he was hitting .295 with five home runs -- four of which have given Atlanta a lead -- and an .867 OPS. The Braves are 14-4 with him in the starting lineup.
"He's playing great, but he's also leading his team," hitting coach Greg Walker said. "He's doing a great job. One of the perks of my job is to be around brilliant men, Hall of Famers. There aren't many around, and he's one of them. I've just enjoyed watching him work."
When the Braves trailed Phillies ace Roy Halladay, 6-0, in the fifth inning on May 2, Jones entered the dugout and yelled, "This guy is not going to walk us to a win. We've got to swing the bats."
Approximately two hours later, he capped an incredible comeback with an 11th-inning walk-off home run that only added to the magic he's created during the first 85 at-bats of his final season.
"I think he is truly motivated by the fact that he sees the end of the tunnel, and he wants to make one last run at it," Abbott said. "He's going to leave all he has between the lines."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.