LOS ANGELES – Chipper Jones woke in the team hotel Tuesday on his 40th birthday with a sore – but not as sore – left knee.
He said he read about 30 happy-birthday emails and texts. Slept some more. Woke and read about 30 more new emails and texts.
“I’ve got a ton of friends out there, both inside and outside the game, that thought enough to say happy birthday,” he said. “And it’s appreciated.
Then he went to Dodger Stadium, opened a pair of size-13 skateboard shoes – gift from a young Californian, Braves pitcher Kris Medlen – and didn’t open a bottle of Crown Royal (which he sat in his locker, still in the decorative box, for later).
It’s not every day, or decade, that a teammate turns 40, so the Braves had a brief team meeting/party for the third baseman they affectionately call “Battleaxe.” They gave him a cake, which looked like one he might buy for one of his four young sons.
The Braves laughed and sang “Happy Birthday” to him, adding off-color phrases.
Then the team and its birthday boy went out for batting practice before game 2 of a series with the Dodgers. Everyone seemed relieved that Jones would be able to play on his big day, after missing Monday’s series opener – a 7-2 loss — with pain in his surgically repaired left knee.
How’d the knee feel Tuesday?
“Felt good,” he said. Then smiled. “Or, better. It felt 40, instead of about 55. Which is good, because it’s an improvement over yesterday.”
Barring setbacks, Jones will play again in Wednesday’s series finale, the last game of the Braves’ seven-game trip. They’re off Thursday and open a seven-game homestand Friday against Pittsburgh. They’ll play four against the Pirates and three against the Phillies before leaving town again.
“I can’t wait to get back home,” Jones said. “I got a really cool message this morning from my four boys. Hopefully we won’t get rained out tomorrow, because my wife has a rather elaborate birthday party planned for Thursday. And if we play on Thursday, I’m not going to make it. So I’m crossing my fingers that we play tomorrow.”
The Wednesday forecast was very un-L.A. — 80 percent chance of rain.
Jones grew up a Dodgers fan — his dad was from Vero Beach, Fla., where the Dodgers trained — and has enjoyed his last scheduled visit to Dodger Stadium. He’s retiring after the season, and this week he’s been reminded of big games and moments he and the Braves had at the venerable L.A. ballpark. Same thing happened in Houston when he played his last series there a couple of weeks ago.
And even at Arizona, where Jones was honored with a between-innings video tribute Sunday and doffed his cap to a standing ovation. The Dodgers planned a video tribute to be shown after the third inning Tuesday.
“It’s going to be a long year of reflection,” he said. “Every time I walk into a stadium where I could be playing for the last time, memories will come flooding back of good games, bad games, individual plays, playoff games, stuff such as that. A lot of good memories.”
Lest anyone wonder whether he might re-think his decision to retire, don’t. He sounds as firm in his decision as anyone possibly could be who’s in his position.
“I’m glad this is it, because my body is starting to let me know on a nightly basis that I’m 40,” he said. “As a kid, you feel like you can play forever. Unfortunately, as many miles and as many innings and as many games as I’ve got on these legs, it’s coming down to the end. So it’s bittersweet.”
Gearrin recalled from Triple-A
When starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett after struggling again in Monday’s loss, reliever Cory Gearrin was recalled from Gwinnett and expected to arrive in Los Angeles before Tuesday’s game.
The sidearmer had 15 strikeouts with two walks in 12-1/3 scoreless innings over seven relief appearances at Gwinnett.
“He’s pitching well, and he gets an opportunity<” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “Obviously when Huddy [Tim Hudson] comes back on Sunday we’re going to have to make a move.”
Gonzalez noted that it wouldn’t necessarily be Gearrin sent down when Hudson is activated from the 15-day disabled list, pointing out how most had assumed it would be Randall Delgado optioned to make room for Hudson in the rotation.
Instead it was Jurrjens, an All-Star in 2011 who’s struggled ever since, including a 9.37 ERA in four starts this season. Delgado stays and is scheduled to start Saturday against Pittsburgh, with Hudson making his season debut Sunday.
If Hudson needs another day of rest after his Tuesday rehab start at Gwinnett, he would move to Monday’s series finale against the Pirate, flip-flopping starts with Mike Minor.