I have been a fan of the Atlanta Braves for as long as I can remember. As a child I watched all of their games on TBS and drove my parents and brother crazy spouting off random trivia about the team [did you know they're the only team to win the World Series in all 3 cities where they've played? it's true, look it up]. And for over half my life, Chipper Jones has been a steady presence of my favourite team, the anchor that's held us together through players coming and going and the stigma of winning division title after division title but only one World Series.
This past Friday, 5 October 2012, Chipper Jones played his last Major League Baseball game. And my world as I knew it has changed forever.
I don't say it to be melodramatic. I say it because it's true.
The Braves selected Chipper as the number 1 overall draft pick when I was 9 years old, and he's been a mainstay in the lineup since 1995, when he helped lead the team to its World Series triumph and was robbed [in my humble opinion] of the Rookie of the Year award by 1 measly vote [to Hideo Nomo. I rest my case]. I watched him win an MVP, win a batting title, humbly move to the outfield for a time when the team signed Andres Galaragga just so he could continue playing, and continue to show his loyalty to the Braves year after year. It's unheard of nowadays for a player to spend his entire career with the same team; the only other I can think of is Derek Jeter with the Yankees, and Joe Mauer will most likely spend his career with the Twins. But with free agency what it is, it's extremely rare. And yet Chipper has made it known that he never had any intention of playing anywhere else and has returned every year to contribute to the team and to chase that ever-elusive second championship ring.
Now, I know Chipper's not perfect. He's made some poor decisions in his personal life, I know. But I can disapprove of those off-the-field mistakes while still admiring him as a player. No one is perfect; Chipper's flaws are known because he's a professional athlete, a public figure. But he's owned up to his mistakes and has admitted that he works every day to be a better person, a better role model for his children and his fans. In fact, I like him better because he's flawed and because he admits to those flaws. Too many athletes and other public figures try to cover up their mistakes and pretend they're perfect, and it usually ends up blowing up in their faces.
But I digress.
While I always hate it when the Braves season ends, I especially hate the manner in which Chipper's season and career ended. I hate that the game involved a controversial call, I always hate losing in the playoffs to the Cardinals, and I so wish they could have made a run at the World Series for him, but I still think he's gone out in style. Even at the age of 40, he was a daily contributor to the Braves' playoff run, notching his first career five-hit game and a few multi-homer games as well. As a switch-hitter whose been playing regularly for nearly two decades, his career average is over .300 from both sides of the plate. And, I re-iterate, he's done it all with the same team that drafted him.
I've been lucky enough to see Chipper play a number of times over the years, in both Fulton County Stadium [may it rest in peace] and Turner Field in Atlanta as well as in Busch Stadium when the Braves visited St Louis. This past May, I took my mother to a game in St Louis for Mother's Day weekend, allowing us both to see him play one final time. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but I'm really thankful I was in the country for a bit of his final season and to have had the opportunity to see him play.
I digress again.
The point is this: next spring, for the first time in 20 years, Chipper Jones' name will not appear as a player on any Atlanta Braves roster or list.
I for one am going to miss him.
[nerd alert: in my sentimental state, I really want to watch my 1995 World Series video. what do you think the odds are that my mother will ship it to me in India? I thought as much]