Chipper Jones has a new place in the lineup Sunday.
“I’m hitting leadoff,” he confirmed the day before his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He’s scheduled to be the first of six inductees to give his speech – for a very good reason.
Wife Taylor, whose due date is Monday, made the trip from Atlanta to Cooperstown to share the occasion (despite Jones’ attempts to talk her out of it). Such dates are notoriously less precise than a batting average. Who knows when Jones’ seventh son will arrive? Hopefully not between thanking his mom and Bobby Cox before a crowd of thousands. “They want to get me on the stage and get off,” he said.
The Joneses figure they are as prepared as they can be. They have the go-bag packed and with them should she go into labor. They know well the way to the hospital, just a half-mile from the induction site. There was some discussion about Jones recording his induction speech for use Sunday just in case he was otherwise occupied. But he figured he could play through whatever.
“I said, you know what, she’s going to be in labor for a little while. She’s in the hospital, I can shoot right over (for the speech) and get back,” he said.
Admittedly, there is something almost poetic about having a son named Cooper – Taylor’s idea as a way to further mark this place in time in his father’s life – actually born in Cooperstown. Think of the possible stories in 20 years or so when Cooper Jones makes his major league debut. “It would be kind of cool,” he said Saturday afternoon.
“Man, he better hurry up if he does. I think we’re OK if he comes today. Tomorrow, well I just hope she makes it through tomorrow.”
But, he added, “She’s been late the last two times, so hopefully she’s a couple days late again.”
Add expectant fatherhood to a laundry list of emotions that Jones is experiencing in advance of his big speech Sunday.
“I’m more nervous about the baby. I’m more nervous about Taylor, trust me. And I’m pretty nervous walking out there on that stage and imagining 40,000 or 50,000 people out in front of you. You get chill bumps.”
He already has found himself a little bit awestruck just by the thought of joining that most exclusive of baseball clubs. Re-imagining one’s self as an all-timer can be a bit of a challenge.
Even before leaving for Cooperstown, he wondered if he ever would believe he belonged in this company.
“I don’t know if that’s every going to happen,” he said.
“Who would blame Johnny Bench if he walks up to me and says go sit in the corner, dude. Speak when spoken to. That’s how major league clubhouses are. I am the rookie.
“And if I walk up to a table with Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench and Sandy Koufax, what am I going to offer to that conversation?”
Jones also has found himself caught up in the reactions of his parents – both so foundationally important to what he was able to do in baseball – as they have shared this week with him.
“They’re grinning from ear to ear like a possum eating briars. They’re beaming,” he said. They don’t hear that expression a whole lot up here in Cooperstown.
When the family was taken on a private tour of the Hall of Fame on Thursday, one stop was expected. That would be at Mickey Mantle’s plaque, the switch-hitting star practically deified by Larry Jones Sr. In his mind, Mantle is the professional template for the Hall of Famer.
“My dad walked up to Mickey’s plaque, put his hand on it and had to turn away because he was going to start crying. And I had to turn away because I was going to start crying,” Chipper said.
So, yeah, there’s a lot going on.
But Jones did shoot 75 in Saturday’s golf outing, prompting one of the more experienced Hall of Famers to predict that - the miracle of birth willing - the rookie is going to be fine Sunday.
“There’s almost like a relaxation to him now,” said former Braves pitcher John Smoltz, who also was on the course Saturday morning. “I think he’s going to do great.”
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