He tried retirement. It didn’t work. Played a lot of golf. Did some hunting. Spent time with family. Moved to south Texas to work on his sprawling 9,000-acre ranch. Moved back to Atlanta. But it still felt like there was still a space, once filled by baseball.
“A couple of years into retirement, I felt the tug,” Chipper Jones said. “I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. So I decided to dip my toe back into the water.”
Jones is as happy as he has ever been. He’s a roving minor-league instructor with the Braves. He works with young prospects and makes his own schedule. He’s in Florida for his third spring training since former team president John Schuerholz brought him back into the fold in the winter of 2015. On a personal level, Jones is happily married to his third wife, Taylor.
The couple had their first child, a boy, 13 months ago, and there’s another one on the way. Jones told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Taylor is pregnant with another boy. She’s due July 30, the day after Chipper’s Hall of Fame induction. That will make him the father of seven boys, ages 20 years to 13 months.
Two more, and he’ll have a starting lineup. However …
“Momma wants a girl,” Jones said. “But I’m going to have to insist that we go to a doctor. I’ve left it in the Big Man’s hands a couple of times, and he keeps giving me the male version.”
(Advanced technology now allows doctors to help determine the gender of a baby. The procedure involves taking a sample from the male, removing the “Y” chromosomes, and then inseminating it into a woman.)
Jones said he was “unhappy for so many years in my career,” stemming from two failed marriages.
“I’m not unhappy anymore. I can’t wait until the day’s over so I can go home. I was one of the few guys who prayed for extra innings so I didn’t have to go home. That’s a bad place to be personally, and it takes its toll on you. It took me three tries to find the right one, and we’re having a blast. I don’t want to mess that up by being gone eight months.”
It follows that Jones has no desire to become a manager or full-time coach, jobs that would required him to put on a uniform 162 days a year and take him back on the road.
“You could not pay me enough to manage,” he said.
He’s doing what he should be now, imparting Hall of Fame wisdom on eager young players. He enjoys coaching and one day hopes to have even greater influence with a job in the Braves’ front office. Think: Larry Wayne “Chipper” Jones, executive.
“My dream job, and in no way am I trying to push somebody out, but I always say assistant GM would be my dream job,” he said. “I wouldn’t be the guy out front who has to talk to the media and have his decisions questioned all the time. I’d still have my input, but it would be behind the scenes. But I’m nowhere near ready for that.”
He’s certainly nowhere near behind the scenes now, even if he holds a relatively low-profile position. He’s all over the Disney sports complex. He has done a flood of interviews on his impending trip to Cooperstown, and this week he caused a stir on social media with his strong comments on the need for new gun legislation.
He also has worked with a number of prospects in camp, like Ronald Acuna and Austin Riley (the Braves’ projected future at third base, the position once occupied by Jones).
“I’m working with a Hall of Famer – you can’t get any better than that,” Riley said Tuesday. “We’ve talked about glove work, how to position my body, really trying to stay on my legs. On the hitting side, he talked about trying to drive the ball, not lifting it, really trying to make barrel-of-the-ball contact.”
The Braves had so many great teams with great players in the 1990s, I’ve sometimes wondered why they haven’t encouraged more to come back as either instructors or in the front office. Former pitcher Tom Glavine certainly is someone with executive potential. (He was part of a group that attempted to purchase the Miami Marlins last year.)
Young players are “like sponges,” Jones said, and when he walks into the room, “I have instant credibility.”
He can’t work with veterans like Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis because they’re “more like my contemporaries. I’m buddies with them. I’m not coach Jones to them.”
He’s trying to keep his 45-year-old body, which was worn down at the end of his career, in shape. He runs three miles on the treadmill every morning, lifts weights and plays golf twice a week. It’s much different than when he announced his retirement during spring training in 2012, then later that morning slipped in center field during warm-ups and tore cartilage in his knee, forcing him to miss the first four games of the season.
“I woke up that next morning and it was like, I can’t do this anymore. I wanted to quit right then and there, but my pride wouldn’t let me walk out on the team, and I’m glad I didn’t because I had probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball in 2012.”
The Braves went 20-9 down the stretch that season and made the playoffs as a wild card. They won a division title the following season but haven’t been in the postseason since, and now are attempting to rebound from the worst front-office humiliation in franchise history.
Jones, having finally achieved a happy balance in his life, is trying to help them get there.
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