From ‘Ballplayer’: Chipper Jones drew scout’s eye as eighth-grader

The Braves drafted Chipper Jones with the first overall pick in baseball's amateur draft in 1990. He retired after 19 seasons with the team in 2012.

Credit: Jason Getz

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The Braves drafted Chipper Jones with the first overall pick in baseball's amateur draft in 1990. He retired after 19 seasons with the team in 2012.

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

This excerpt from Chapter 2 of “Ballplayer” details Chipper Jones’ first workout for a professional scout when as only an eighth-grader he got the idea that his major-league dream could become a reality. “Ballplayer” by Chipper Jones and Carroll Rogers Walton, to be published April 4, 2017, by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Ten Ventures, Inc.

My first year on varsity opened up more doors for me than I ever imagined. During my eighth-grade season, scouts came to see some of my older teammates and got a glimpse of me in the process. That spring George Zuraw, a scout for the Cincinnati Reds, gave me my first taste of the big time. He invited me to a workout for the top 14- to 16-year-olds in the area.

The Reds were the team B.B. (Abbott, Jones’ longtime friend and agent) grew up cheering for; my imaginary Dodgers had played his “Big Red Machine” in the backyard for years. This was huge. I didn’t know much about how the scouting system worked, but I knew it was one of those “you’re on our radar” workouts. If you did well, they’d keep following you. Mom drove me an hour south to Sanford, Florida, outside of Orlando.

I was nervous. There were probably twenty other kids there — from Orlando, from Altamonte Springs, from that Babe Ruth tournament in Sarasota. Seeing familiar faces must have put my mind at ease because I had a good day.

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I hit from both sides of the plate, and I hit well. I had one of the best defensive workouts I would ever have. They hit me slow rollers at shortstop, and I made a bare-handed play where I threw from down under — gloved it and got rid of it in the same step — a play I became known for as a major-leaguer.

I could feel everybody there go, “damn.”

It wasn’t until I became a third baseman my rookie year in Atlanta that I made the bare-handed play very often. As a shortstop coming up through the minors, you’re taught to glove slow rollers and transfer the ball to your throwing hand, not barehand them. At third base, though, on do‑or‑die bunt plays like that, you have to come in, barehand on the run, and throw accurately.

Out of the three or four plays I got at third base during a game, one or two were those slow rollers, especially with the pitching staff we had with the Braves. I can’t tell you how many swinging bunts Maddux got or how many guys tried to pull that Smoltzie slider off the outside corner and only got enough of it to hit me a weak ground ball.

I took great pride in not letting guys bunt on me. If you’re going to get on base, you’re going to have to hit it by me. I’d bet 60 to 70 percent of the highlight plays I made on defense were on that bare-handed play. I guess I’d had it in my back pocket all along.

I was already feeling pretty good at the end of that workout for the Reds. Then, when I got to the parking lot, Mr. Zuraw called Mom and me over to his car.

He opened up the trunk, where he had several boxes of wooden bats. “I’m going to give you two of these bats to start hitting with,” he said. “And I’m going to give your mother contact information so you can order more. You need to start getting used to these because after you graduate high school, that’ll be the last aluminum bat you ever use.”

Whoa, wood bats? He actually thinks I can play professional baseball.

When Mom and I pulled out of that parking lot, my head was huge. Even my mom, who’d been skeptical of Dad’s compliment after the Altamonte game, told me she was about to pop her buttons listening to Mr. Zuraw. We didn’t see him open his trunk for any other player.

Until that day, I’d swung nothing but aluminum bats and PVC pipe, unless you count dry swings in front of the den closet with Dad’s old Mickey Mantle bat.

It was time for a new challenge. I was excited. I didn’t know enough yet to be scared.

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