‘Unicorn’ Jesse Chavez is back with Braves, a testament to a winding journey

Atlanta Braves' Jesse Chavez throws during the third inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Atlanta Braves' Jesse Chavez throws during the third inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

PHILADELPHIA – In 2009, Charlie Morton met Jesse Chavez. At the time, they were young guys who debuted the previous year. Now they are both 40 years old and still on a major-league roster – and employed by arguably the most talented team in baseball, no less.

As Morton discusses Chavez’s journey – Chavez, Morton said, is very similar now as he was then – he speaks with glowing admiration in his voice. Chavez, after all, has had quite the path to this 2024 season. He has had to grind his way to the visiting clubhouse in Philadelphia for opening weekend.

“He really has had to just keep getting knocked down and getting back up,” Morton said. “Throughout the career he’s had – I mean, (it’s) one of the best I’ve seen. It wasn’t always easy. It really never was easy for Jesse.”

Chavez’s journey is something else. Are you ready?

Since he debuted in 2008, these are his big-league stops: Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Kansas City, Toronto, Oakland, Toronto, the Dodgers, the Angels, Texas, the Cubs, Texas, Atlanta, the Cubs, the Angels, Atlanta. And before the Braves put him on their opening day roster this year, Chavez was in spring training with the White Sox, who released him because, well, Chavez and the Braves are always meant to find their way back to one another.

Chavez has endured this winding journey with his wife, Crystal, and their family. The ups and downs. The different teams. The various roles.

“I see how he’s grown up, but that he’s still true to himself,” Morton said. “That’s probably what fortifies him and enables him to keep doing what he’s doing, aside from the talent and aside from his game.”

And then Morton stops himself. He realizes something after he goes through Chavez’s entire journey.

“Thinking about that is kind of exhausting for me, personally,” he says. “Like, the thought of doing that with a family and asking that much of my family, just rolling with the punches every single year, it’s kind of tough for me to think about.”

But …

“There are spaces in baseball for people like that, and Jesse is a unicorn,” Morton said. “He’s one of those guys that has had to grit it out.”

‘Hey, there is tomorrow’

Scott Downs, a former major-league pitcher, once taught Chavez a game. Downs learned it from Scott Burnett, another former big-league pitcher. Now, Chavez uses it.

“If you give up a run, try and get your next 10,” Chavez said.

If Chavez allows a run, he’ll try and go 10 scoreless innings after that. It doesn’t always work, but it’s helped him keep a level head.

“I just try to make a game out of it now,” he said. “How many nine-inning games can I go? And we’re gonna be human, we’re gonna have human innings. But understanding that part – that you are human, that we do make mistakes and we are capable of having some bad ones, but the fact that (the more good ones we have), the better, that kind of helped me out a little bit, understanding that instead of putting so much weight on the bad ones.”

In 2010 with Bobby Cox and the Braves, Chavez learned about preparation. How to go through a routine. How to prepare himself to be his best on the mound.

He also began learning a lesson he applies to this day. It was an attitude in the organization.

“Hey, game’s over with, go home. Process it for a second, then get out of here. You got a life too,” Chavez says, reciting what people told him then. “Because I would go home and I would beat myself up for hours at a time, man. Take away from my family. No, it’s not about that. Once I’m done with the game and the last out’s made, think about it for a second and understand what you gotta do for tomorrow, so that when you get to the field, you can hammer that out, get out of that rut, get out of that mode or whatever is going on.

“So I feel like that helped me then to where now, it’s made it a little bit easier to get over games and understand that, hey, there is tomorrow. You just gotta show up the same way you did today and it’s out of your hands, because they gotta eat, too.”

To be here with the contending Braves, Chavez has had to be easier on himself. You don’t go through a journey like that without gaining perspective.

In 2018, Chavez feared the Rangers would soon release him. He told himself, “Hey, let’s drop the arm slot a little bit and see what happens. I mean, what else we got to lose?” The numbers already were not good, so he wanted to try something.

“Sure enough, I went on a run and haven’t looked back,” Chavez said.

‘Being able to retire a Brave would be nice’

You read the list of Chavez’s stops at the top of this story. He has played for so many teams – nine, to be exact, with a couple of repeats. And yet, he always felt something special with the Braves during his first stint in 2010.

“It gave me that different feel of what it was actually like to be in this uniform, and what it’s like when you walk through the door,” Chavez said. “You’re not just trying to get through the day, you’re not trying to get through the season. Their expectation is to win. This is the first place, I will say personally, where that’s the first and foremost goal throughout everybody in the clubhouse, which is huge.”

On Saturday, Max Fried recorded only two outs as he logged the shortest start of his career. Called upon surprisingly early, Chavez limited the Phillies to a run over three innings.

This is what he does. He’ll perform any role – and do it well. For some reason, his best moments in recent seasons have come with the Braves.

“Jesse Chavez in a Braves uniform is something special,” Tyler Matzek said. “That guy can go out there and he can do any job that he’s asked to do.”

But for Chavez and the Braves to find one another again, the White Sox first had to release him.

And when they did, everyone believed Chavez and the Braves would reunite.

Did Chavez?

“I wouldn’t say I had a feeling, I would say there was kind of a hope,” he said. “I’m not really one to rely on hope – it’s just fate that takes you where it wants to be. But it happened. I’m forever grateful, because everybody knows how much I like being here. Being able to retire a Brave would be nice.”