The Nationals honored Chipper Jones on the field Wednesday night, acknowledging the third baseman’s final trip to Washington in his Hall of Fame career. The team, represented by Ryan Zimmerman, Mark DeRosa, Adam LaRoche and Mike Rizzo gave Jones the third base bag from Monday night’s 13-inning contest signed by the entire team, a picture of Jones with former teammates DeRosa and LaRoche, and the bat he used to hit the first home run in Nationals Park history — which had been on display in the park.
Before the ceremony, a few Nationals players reflected on Jones’ career and what he’s meant to them and major league baseball.
Here are some of their quotes:
On Jones’ impact: “For me it was just coming up as an infielder and taking ground balls with him, just being around him, picking his brain about different things. I was always a guy that was hungry for knowledge about the game so, he’s one of the better teachers of the game. He could be a great manager if he wanted to be.”
On if his desire to share his knowledge is why he’s so beloved: “Yeah, absolutely. I think why he’s so respected is not only has he had a Hall of Fame career, but he speaks his mind and he’s a guy’s guy. He enjoys being around the guys at the field, he doesn’t alienate himself from his teammates. He’s just one of the boys, he just happens to be really, really, good at what he does, you know? I think for a lot of the younger guys who have come into the league, he was one of the cult figures in their youths so for a lot of guys just to be able to get a chance to play with him is special. I know for me, he’s one of the 3-5 guys that I’ll look back on and be thankful that I got a chance to play with him.”
On if it’s weird to know he’s coming to the end of his career: “It’s weird to think that we’re all… I don’t know. I think about it everyday. I truly do. I drive to the field everyday and think about it. You want so bad, your mind tells you that you’re just as good as you were when you were 28 but the numbers dictate a lot differently. It’s one of those things. It’ll be really, really, really weird to see another third baseman for the Braves.”
On if the ceremony will be emotional: “We go (to Atlanta) one more time so that’ll be a little different, knowing it’s our last time on the field with him, because of how much time I got to spend with him playing. I think it says a lot about the Nationals, I know all the other teams have done it too, but to go out of their way to do something for an opposing player that’s done a lot of damage, it’s neat.
“Players don’t get this all the time. Not every player that retires has the kind of respect to be cheered for everywhere they go their last run, getting gifts from teams that acknowledge that he had a great career. It just says a lot about how he handled himself throughout his career.”
On why Chipper is held in such high regard: “When he came up, everybody watched the Braves because of TBS and down in the south, all those states down there who don’t have major league teams all grew up Braves fans, forever. All over the country. Everybody grew up watching Chipper and he was like the golden child, really, for a lot of states and a lot of areas. They just loved him. Loved the way he played. Clean cut, young third baseman. Been doing it every since. Just got a lot of respect.”
On his relationship with Chipper: “I still call him. I’ve actually had him go back and look at at-bats a lot, even when I’m on a different teams. Because he can pick apart an at-bat, I’ve always joked with him to be my hitting coach. He’s seen me enough where I may not even ask him, he’ll just shoot me a text, ‘Hey you’re pulling off on this, get back to seeing the ball, hit it the way it’s pitched, be more aggressive,’ whatever. He has a knack for seeing these things. We’ll talk about opposing pitchers. He’ll face somebody that we’re going to face and we’ll talk about it, ‘Hey, just faced this guy last week, this is what I’m seeing, this is what he did to me.’ It’s a pretty cool relationship. I can’t say enough about everything he taught me.”
On how he views Chipper: “He was like one of the guys growing up that everyone looked up to, and he doesn’t really appreciate when I say that because it makes him feel really old but I always say it because he is a great player. I think he plays the game the right way and I think that’s why people look up to him like they look up Derek (Jeter). When you have a player who’s that good and does seemingly everything the right way, people look up to him.”
On how his relationship evolved with him: “To get to know him more as I played against him the last 7-8 years, he’s exactly the way you’d think he would be. I wouldn’t say we text and talk all the time but we talk pretty much every time we play. It’s been fun to play him so much and get a chance to watch him play in person.”
On knowing he’s coming to the end of his career: “It’s weird. You almost second-guess it now. He’s hitting .320 (.311) or whatever. He’s one of the best third basemen, best switch hitters, to ever play the game. Any time someone like that is hanging it up it’s tough for the sport because you like to see them play.”
On his admiration of Jones as a kid being a switch hitter: “As a alittle kid the only switch hitter that you knew was Chipper Jones, Chipper Jones, Chipper Jones. He was the best. So when I was in Little League, it was always ‘I want to be Chipper Jones.’ You play with your friends and you’re like calling names out of who you wanted to be so I was Chipper. I always looked up to him. I thought he was an unbelievable ballplayer.”
On when he first met him last year: “I just went up to him and said it was a pleasure to meet him. I’ve looked up to him and watched him play forever and it was an honor to be able to meet him and be on the same field as him. It was nothing huge, just wanted to say hi to him and introduce myself. It’s cool.”
On knowing he’s about to finish his career: “Yeah, it is kind of weird. It’s weird to think next year we’re going to go out to play the Braves and he’s not going to be on the field. He’s the Braves. He is the Braves.”
On the idea that Chipper will no longer be playing soon: “I think it’s crazy. When I was growing up, he was on TBS all the time because of the Braves, so being able to watch him play and see him now as one of the greatest switch-hitting third basemen to play this game, it’s just such an impressive career. It’s going to be sad to see him go. I think the whole baseball world will be sad to see him go. It’s going to be weird to look over at the Braves and not see him at third base, not see Chipper anymore.”
On the Nationals’ ceremony honoring him: “I think he deserves that. I think everybody thinks he deserves that. To have him around this game for the 20 years the way he’s been playing it, he deserves all of it. We’ll acknowledge him here and really just set aside time to show that he belongs in the Hall of Fame.”
On if he has any Chipper memories: “Yeah, the homer he hit off me the last time they were here. It’s kind of funny; I laughed about that home run. It sucked at the time, you know, but when I think back I’ll always have the memories, telling my kids, my grandkids some day that a Hall of Famer hit a home run off me.
“I grew up watching him. To actually be on the same field as him is a really cool experience. Probably I would think him and Derek Jeter are the two best players of our generation. So it’s an honor to be on the field with him.”