Saturday, October 06, 2012


Yesterday, the Atlanta Braves were eliminated from the Major League Baseball playoffs, thus ending the 19 season career of Chipper Jones. His career has been both remarkable and unremarkable. Remarkable in that he ranks among the best switch hitters and third basemen in baseball history by the numbers. Remarkable that he played his entire career, from draft to retirement, in one organization. Remarkable that he'll be one of the few players from the recent past to enter the Hall of Fame without talk of steroids.

That also makes him unremarkable in a way. Few people will think of Chipper Jones when asked to discuss the best players from the past 20 years. He'll come up, but it won't be first. He's been a strong, solid, consistent performer for a very long time.

At first I didn't think much of his retirement. I've never been much of a National League fan and I haven't followed baseball that closely for years. But there's a special connection I have with Chipper Jones. It's as if we grew up together.

I was the oldest child in a non-sports family. I came late to a lot of things. It was 1990 when I really began to get into baseball. One of the first baseball cards (because back then baseball cards were still something kids bought and collected) I got was Chipper Jones' draft pick card. He was selected first overall, right out of high school and he was a can't miss prospect from the very beginning. He made the majors a couple years later at the start of the Braves' dominance.

I didn't follow Chipper closely. I wasn't a Braves fan - I didn't even realize how impressive his career numbers were until I saw them in an article last week about his retirement. He's just always sort of been there.

I grew up a Yankee fan - I recognize the oddity of such a statement, and let me alleviate your concerns: the stereotypical understanding of Yankee fans just didn't exist in northern Vermont at the time, the Yankees were terrible and most people had never been to a game in the Bronx to have personal experience - I loved the history and nostalgia of the club. The pinstripes, the championships - my favorite baseball player, to this day, remains Lou Gehrig.

George Steinbrenner drove me away shortly after college. I just watched baseball to enjoy the purity and atmosphere of baseball itself. Then things got convoluted. Steroids and performance enhancing drugs were everywhere. MLB, like every other sports league, became more concerned with money and celebrity and ratings (and money) and much, much less about the game. Few people in attendance even knew the rules on the field anymore, let alone the unwritten rules of watching from the stands.

It just wasn't fun anymore.

I hung on a few more years playing fantasy - getting lost in the numbers and buying the occasional ticket when one of the dwindling number of my childhood heroes was in town. The last few years, I've just been out.

I still watch the World Series, but not every game anymore. Most of the players switch jerseys so often it's tough to keep track. A lot of the distinctives have been bred out of the game - what's more, most of those playing on the field grew up in this new era of numbers and money and showmanship. There's very little that's familiar - and what I see just isn't exciting anymore. When I want to teach my daughter about baseball, we'll go to high school or minor league games - where the game itself still matters.

All that being said, Chipper's retirement hit me hard. He's the last of the era. There is literally no one left. He's the last one who came in with me. I'm still younger than a lot of players, but I remember the beginning of their careers, and that beginning came after I was already a part of things.

As he retires, it seems my child-like wonder at America's Pastime is retiring along with him. There are still some things that excite me. I was really hoping for a good run from the Yankees and Braves so Jones and Jeter could each get one more shot at reliving the good ol' days of 1996. Grudgingly I have to admit that the things which excite me today are just those things which remind me of the past.

I really hope my daughter finds something to be as excited about in life as I was about baseball - to learn all the history, talk about it nonstop, successfully persuade her mother to stay up way, way past her bedtime because she can see how much it means just looking in our daughter's eyes - I want her to find that thing, I just hope its not baseball. I don't think I could take it.

Farewell, Chipper. All the best.

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