Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – Chipper Jones has a big, new tattoo and a big, new right-handed slugger behind him in the lineup.
At 37, the third baseman still has adrenaline pumping on reporting day, even if he was later than usual Monday on account of seeing his buddy Jason Aldean play a country-music concert in Augusta over the weekend.
“The excitement is still the same,” Jones said on the eve of his 18th major league spring training. “The dawn of a new season is exciting for everybody, it doesn’t matter how old you are. You’re anxious to get in camp and see the guys you’re going to live with for the next eight months.
“It’s like the first day of school. Everybody knows what it’s like the first day of school. This is a lot like that. You’re a lot more serious about things from a personal standpoint, but the excitement is there nonetheless.”
If the pieces come together as boldly for the Braves as that new ink-etched deer head on his upper right arm, they’ll be in business. Operative word: if.
“Different teams jell different ways,” he said after reporting to camp. “Hopefully this is one that jells very quickly, and we get production out of people we are expecting production from, including myself.”
The Braves added slugger Troy Glaus to bat cleanup and play first base, a position the former All-Star third baseman has played almost never in his career.
He could be a difference-maker if the former American League home-run leader’s surgically repaired shoulder and other body parts hold up for the duration. Glaus, however, has been more injury-prone than Jones in recent years.
“As long as we stay healthy and as long as we have that pitching staff, I feel good about it,” Jones said. “We know those guys are going to keep us in games, which is all you want.”
The Braves also need a big offensive upgrade from Jones, who followed a 2008 batting title (.364) with his worst season. He hit just .264 with 18 homers and 71 RBIs.
“It’s up to the offense to come out smoking and produce runs,” he said. “That was our big problem for the first 100 games last year. We got better at the end of the season. We got some late additions [including first baseman Adam LaRoche] that helped out tremendously, that aren’t here anymore. So some people are going to have to step it up.”
The Braves have missed the playoffs four consecutive years, and the once-perennial division favorites are picked to finish anywhere from second to fourth by most pundits.
“I would love for everybody in America to know exactly what we’ve got and how we’re going to be, and for us to be the favorite,” Jones said. “[But] there’s a lot of unknowns right now…. Is this team capable of winning 90 games with the talent that’s in here? No question. Is 90 games enough to make it to the wild card? Who knows?”