Thirty six hours after getting the phone call saying he had been elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame, former Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones was decompressing in his hotel room in New York on Friday morning after a whirlwind trip of interviews, photo shoots and meet-and-greets. After staying up late Thursday night responding to some 200 congratulatory text messages and voicemails, he still had about 100 more to go.
As much as Jones was swept up in his feelings of gratitude toward friends, family and fellow athletes like Jeff Gordon, Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Atlanta Hawks broadcasters, the entire Atlanta United team, and the list goes on of people who reached out, he had Atlanta fans in the forefront of his mind. One of Jones’ first tweets following his election announcement was a thank message to “everyone in Pierson and (Jacksonville, Fla.) and to all of Braves Country, no matter where you might live WE did it! Thank you so much for all the years of support and let’s ALL enjoy this ride together.”
In a phone call with AJC contributor Carroll Rogers Walton, Jones expanded on that message to Braves fans. Here’s what he wanted to tell them, in his words.
“This is bigger than me. I really want everybody to share in this with me because you never forget where you came from. This one is for all the small-town kids that dream big. You can literally fit everybody in my hometown in this hotel room. It’s one of those towns that you drive down the road, you know everybody. You wave to everybody. Nobody would have ever believed that a big leaguer would have come out of that town, let alone a guy being inducted into the Baseball hall of Fame but it can be done. I told my mom at a very early age that I wanted to play Major League Baseball so it’s all about the focus, it’s all about the heart, it’s all about the determination to just do it. The fact that you’re from a one stoplight town, don’t let that be an excuse.
“As far as Atlanta, man, you could have turned on me a bunch through the years, but you didn’t. I had to grow up a lot through the years, and you were right there behind me the whole time. I’ll be forever grateful for that. The outpouring of love and gratitude since I retired, just people walking up and saying thank you, has been amazing. I played baseball for goodness sake. I played a kid’s game and I’ve got people walking up and saying thank you for entertaining us for two decades. Thank you for doing it right. Every time you get that it sends a chill up your spine. People tell me their entire days revolved around what time the Braves were playing on TBS or Fox or whatever. It’s really cool that you let me into your home and it meant something to your grandma or meant something to your granddad. That never gets old. I wouldn’t have wanted to play anywhere else but for Braves Country.
“Before I left Atlanta (the morning of the selection, my wife) Taylor, (my best friend and agent) B.B. (Abbott) and I went to breakfast. I needed to get out of the house, I needed to breathe. We went down to Avalon to eat at Goldberg’s (deli) there. The place was pretty dead and we were walking out to get in the car at valet and this guy just walks up and I catch his eye, and he sticks out his hand he goes, ‘Man, today is a big day for you, huh? I was surprised to see you here.’ And I go, “I gotta eat. I’ve got all this nervous energy.” He goes, ‘Oh, you got nothing to worry about. It’s going to happen. Congratulations. Thank you for all you did here in Atlanta.’ It just kind of hit me. It was one of those times when I was thinking about the Hall of Fame, but I realized so many people in Atlanta were on the edge of their seats, too. Fans were really living it with me, and that’s why I really wanted to include you, the fans of Atlanta, the people that I grew up with in Pierson and the people who really meant so much to me in Jacksonville while I was there. The old phrase it takes a village to raise a child. It’s taken huge villages to raise this kid.
“When I first got called up we were on the only team in the southern United States. I think that’s why we have such a big following. And Braves Country extends well outside the southeastern United States. I’m also speaking to you Braves fans in Denver, Colorado and Houston, Texas and San Diego, California. It was an honor to go to all these away parks and during BP look up above our dugout and see fans stacked 10, 15, 20 deep just trying to get a glimpse, get an autograph. That was really cool. TBS and Fox allowed our games to be broadcast all over the country all over the world. I got daily messages on social media from people from all over, and I’m thankful for each and every one of you, for your support and loyalty to our team and our organization. It’s hard to imagine playing for anybody different. I know it’s a movie quote — it was one of the younger brothers of one of the football players in Varsity Blues; he was starting a cult and he goes, ‘These are my people.’ You are who I play for; who I live for.
“Going into the Hall of Fame is going to be the biggest present I could ever give my parents. When I think about something that’s meant so much to the family as baseball has over my entire life. And I sit here and I talk about fans of Atlanta and planning their days around what time the Braves play, multiply that times 100 for my parents. They didn’t miss a game. They didn’t miss an at-bat. They had a vested interest in what was going on. And now to share this with them. … I can’t tell you how many times in last 36 hours I’ve flashed back to being out in the backyard with a piece of PVC pipe and tennis ball or down at the high school field with dad throwing and hitting, mom in the outfield shagging, my granddad in the outfield shagging. … It’s those memories that come floating back. It’s not the walk-off homers and curtain calls and things like that. Not that I discount those by any means, but the first memories that come to mind are those very first memories of me playing the game as a youngster.
“I expect to see a lot of you from Braves Country (at the induction in July.) We kid about opening our own wing in Cooperstown, but we could literally do it (with all the Braves inductees) over the last four or five years. It’s a magical place, a place every baseball fan should go. What’s great about this class, you’ve got the surfer guy from So Cal in Trevor Hoffman. Then you’ve got big donkey-strong corn-fed Midwesterner in Jim Thome, who’s got a huge following in the Midwest. Then you’ve got the Dominican guy in Vladimir Guerrero, who’s got the weight of an entire region on his shoulders. All Latin players put this guy on a pedestal. Then what’s a party without a couple of rednecks? We’re going to have a little southern influence up there as well. It’ll be fun.”