It’s still too early to know if Chipper Jones will make it all the way back from knee surgery, but the Braves veteran showed Tuesday he still can literally knock the cover off the ball.
While hitting in an indoor batting cage at Turner Field, the 38-year-old third baseman hit a baseball with enough force to unravel the stitching and leave the cover hanging loosely from the ball’s core.
“I think this one’s done,” Jones said, pausing to hand the ball to a team official before continuing his hitting session.
The Braves began their annual pre-spring training pitching camp this week at Turner Field. While pitchers took turns throwing from a mound under the tutelage of pitching coach Roger McDowell, plenty of curious eyes turned towards the rehabbing veteran hitting on the other side of the netting.
After Jones finished, Braves president John Schuerholz was examining the tattered ball cover when Jones smiled and said, “That’s what you’ve got to look forward to this year.”
Older baseballs, sometimes slightly damaged, are typically used during batting practice, but it’s still uncommon to see a cover torn off a ball in such a manner. While he wasn’t facing “live” pitching Tuesday, the sound of balls exploding off Jones’ bat was impressive nonetheless.
Jones, who’ll be 39 in April, is attempting a comeback from August surgery to repair a torn anterior crucial ligament in his left knee. He tore the same ligament in 1994 spring training and had surgery that pushed back his rookie season until 1995.
When he was injured making a spectacular defensive play at Houston in August, many believed it would end Jones’ career. Less than six months since surgery, his goal of returning to the lineup for opening day looks reasonable.
Jones said he would likely begin agility drills later this week, and doesn’t expect to have any restrictions when the Braves begin full-squad spring training workouts Feb. 19.
After he said Monday that he’s had minor tendinitis lately in the surgically repaired knee, some skeptics on baseball blogs and Twitter opined that Jones would not stay healthy and have a productive season.
When told Tuesday about those doubters, Jones smirked and said, “Tell them I’m going to be in the opening day lineup.”
Then he headed to the batting cage for his hitting session, with Braves bullpen catcher Alan Butts throwing to him and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez watching from about 10 feet away.
Gonzalez has been encouraged by Jones’ progress, and said every possible lineup that he’s made includes Jones – that’s how confident he is in the comeback. Jones is in his usual third spot in every one of those lineups, Gonzalez said.
Jones also revealed Tuesday that he will wear low-top spikes this year, after years of playing in high-tops. He was wearing high-tops both times when he blew out his left knee.
“I’d much rather sprain an ankle than do that [again],” he said. “So I’m going to low-tops, and I’m pulling up the pants. I’m going old-school.”
He’ll roll his pants near the knees and wear them with solid blue socks provided by his longtime endorsement company, Mizuno.
And if Jones does need to go back to high-top spikes, you can expect the pant legs to come back down.
“I can’t stand guys that pull their pants up and wear high-tops,” he said. “Bad. Just a bad look.”