AJC Best of Chipper: Jones reflects on empty locker, expresses no regrets

Retiring Atlanta Braves player Chipper Jones talks to the media as he cleans out his locker at Turner Field Saturday Oct. 6, 2012, in Atlanta.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Retiring Atlanta Braves player Chipper Jones talks to the media as he cleans out his locker at Turner Field Saturday Oct. 6, 2012, in Atlanta.

Braves legend Chipper Jones is set for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday in Cooperstown, N.Y. This article is the first of a 10-part series that traces the career of the iconic Braves third baseman. This article appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. 

By Carroll Rogers

Staff writer

Reporters know that a good time to catch Chipper Jones is when he's putting on his socks. One pair of the “old man” sanitary socks, as he calls them, and two pairs of the blues take a while to put on. He's a kept audience and always a good one.

So it was strange to see Jones grabbing handfuls of socks and tossing them into a box Saturday afternoon as he stood at his locker in jeans, a T-shirt and a backward Braves cap as a retired man.

“I’m glad I don't have to wear these anymore,” he said, as he tossed a package of soft knee braces into a box. “Geez.”

End-of-the-year packing took on new meaning for the 19-year Braves veteran who normally leaves a few things behind, knowing he'll be back to start hitting again in the cages in January. But Jones had to clean out the locker completely. The Braves plan to cut it out and give it to him.

Locker-cleaning normally is a time when Jones offers his final thoughts on the season and the club's makeup going forward. Eventually Saturday, Jones was asked about it, almost by force of habit. But in his answer, “I think the Braves need some pieces ...,” Jones already was using the third person.

The separation has begun. And even though Friday’s wild-card game ended in disappointment for both Jones and the Braves, the moving on part was starting pretty seamlessly.

More on Chipper Jones

» When Braves signed Chipper Jones to record bonus 
» Jones' September 1993 call-up 
» The raising of a Hall of Famer 
» Memories over two decades in Atlanta 
» Chipper was unique among Atlanta's sports icons 
» Jones orchestrated one of the great last acts 
» Hank Aaron reflects on Chippers' career 
» Chipper and Atlanta share memorable bond

“This is a lot easier than I thought it would be than five years ago when I thought this moment would come,” Jones said. “That lets me know that I’m ready. I think if I were in here sobbing uncontrollably that it would be painfully apparent that I wasn’t ready to walk out the door, but I’m ready.”

A friend of Jones’ asked him Friday night what he would do Saturday. Jones replied that there were three things on his to-do list: go to his sons’ flag football game at 9 a.m., clean out his locker and “start a new life.”

Jones flashed one of his patented grins when he said that last part. He said before Friday's game that he would be at peace with whatever happened that night, and he kept his word, despite his costly throwing error and a 1-for-5 night at the plate.

“I saw it ending somewhat heroically, no matter whether we won or lost,” Jones said. “Man, was I in for a rude surprise. But what are you going to do? It is what it is. That’s why this is the grand game that we play. Sometimes it’s a sour pill to swallow, but I’ll be OK.”

Jones got a hit in his final All-Star game, a hit in his last regular-season at-bat and a hit in his final at-bat in Friday’s playoff game. He homered in his first game back from knee surgery, homered on his 40th birthday and hit a pair of walk-off home runs to beat the Phillies, including the last of his 468 career home runs Sept. 2 that had fans shaking the stadium in their enthusiasm.

So an overzealous throw and a couple of runners left in scoring position might have just served to confirm the rest of it was real. Not that Jones had the inclination or the need to figure it out.

Jones’ sons Tristan, 7, and Shea, 8, combined for five touchdowns in their football game, and their Cowboys beat the Falcons. Jones also scared off three bucks in the backyard of his new Roswell home.

It was just a little foreshadowing of what he’ll be doing with that famous hand-eye coordination.

Jones stopped packing and talking long enough at his locker Saturday to pull back an imaginary bow, set his sights on an imaginary deer and let it fly.