Braves legend Chipper Jones on team’s core, stars, coaching

Credit: AJC file photo

Credit: AJC file photo

NORTH PORT, Fla. – As many of the Braves’ regulars took batting practice at CoolToday Park Monday, manager Brian Snitker and hitting coach Kevin Seitzer kept a close eye on the proceedings.

There was another onlooker who knows a few things about hitting -- Braves legend and baseball Hall of Famer Chipper Jones.

“Tell you what: Watching a big-league BP, that don’t get old,” Jones later said. “All these boys can flat out rake.”

Jones arrived at Braves spring training on Monday. He has rejoined Atlanta’s coaching staff as a major-league hitting consultant, a role in which he served in 2021.

On the field, as different Braves went through batting practice, Jones talked about the team, his excitement to return and more.

Behind Jones, Braves fans seeking autographs yelled his name and the names of current players. Just as they were when Jones played, these Braves might be the heart of Atlanta sports.

The Hawks are mediocre and dysfunctional. The Falcons are rebuilding. Unlike those two franchises, the Braves are winning. They’ve captured five consecutive National League East titles and a World Series since president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos took the job in Atlanta.

Braves fans once rooted for Jones, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Andruw Jones and others for a long time. Now, thanks to Anthopoulos, Braves fans will cheer for Michael Harris, Austin Riley, Ronald Acuña, Matt Olson, Sean Murphy, Spencer Strider, Ozzie Albies (and potentially others) for a long time.

“I think Alex has taken it a step further than what we did,” Jones said. “You gotta keep these guys here a long time. These people back here (fans in the stadium), they relate to the players here in Atlanta because they’re here for a long time. They get to know them. I think Alex has done a phenomenal job building this young core. And not just that, but getting the pieces around the core as well to help round out the ballclub.”

One of the members of that core, Harris, grew up a diehard Braves fan. Each night, he watched Jones and the other Braves face their opponent for that day. Now Harris is a fixture in Atlanta, someone who has embraced fans and the community.

“Michael Harris is a superstar – no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Jones said. “Saw him coming up and I immediately thought he was a left-handed Ronald Acuña. He’s just a phenomenal kid, works hard. Kind of guy you really pull for.”

And over the past couple years, Riley has ascended toward baseball’s elite tier. He might be someone who can play at an MVP level year in, year out. He also plays the position Jones once held in Atlanta. Jones said he’ll sometimes text Riley saying he’s proud of him.

“I still think there’s more in the tank, I really do,” Jones said. “I don’t think he’s hit his ceiling yet. The main thing that I like is the consistency. He goes to the post every single day, is out there at third base, is hitting third in the lineup, and is looked upon to knock in 100 (runs) and hit 30 (home runs) and score 100 (runs) and play good defense. He’s done that.”

Jones will serve his role as he did two seasons ago. He’ll work with the Braves’ hitters before home games. He isn’t expected to travel with the team.

This is the flexibility Jones wanted. “It’s really the best of both worlds for me,” he said. He can work in baseball to the extent he desires, but still be home during evenings and nights to be a dad for his three children.

Last year, MLB required managers and coaches to be vaccinated, and Jones was not part of the Braves’ staff. It appears MLB will lift that requirement for 2023.

Braves manager Brian Snitker has known Jones since managing him in Macon in Jones’ first full season of professional baseball in 1991. He could tell Jones was different. Nowadays, Snitker goes to Jones for ideas or input, and even seeks out his opinion on certain players. Snitker is excited for his players to be able to learn from Jones.

“They’d be remiss if they don’t tap into everything he brings,” Snitker said. “I was tickled to death when Alex (Anthopoulos) called and said he wanted to come back. I said, ‘Absolutely.’ I want him back as much for me as I do the hitters.”

“Oh my God, it’s Chipper Jones!” Strider, a starting pitcher, thought to himself after looking over and seeing Jones during Monday’s 7-0 win over the Blue Jays at CoolToday Park.

In 2021, the Braves went on a magical run that ended in a World Series trophy. “Those guys, they started smelling it there in mid-September,” Jones said. But in October and early November, Jones wasn’t around the team.

MLB required non-playing personnel to be vaccinated. So when the Braves won the World Series, Jones was hunting in Iowa. He sat at a table and watched them win it. “I had tears in my eyes,” he said.

Now, Jones is back with the Braves. He will impart knowledge on hitting and everything else.

Jones, who played for a lot of talented Braves teams, is excited about the 2023 group.

“The core is here,” Jones said. “These guys are going to hit. A lot of times as a hitting coach, you got to know when to stay away sometimes more than step in and say something. These guys, they know what they’re doing.”