SAN FRANCISCO – Chipper Jones has been around a lot longer than most current players, and so his memories of playing in San Francisco aren’t limited to AT&T Park, which opened in 2000.
The Braves’ retiring third baseman can recall like it was yesterday playing cold, windy games at old Candlestick Park, which the NFL’s 49ers still call home. The clubhouse was located all the way out near the right-field corner.
“I remember hitting my 40th home run in 1999 there, off Joe Nathan – that was obviously a big plateau to reach,” Jones said Thursday afternoon, 3-1/2 hours before the opener of his last scheduled series in San Francisco.
He hit his 40th – the first and only time Jones would hit that many in a season – on Sept. 12, 1999, on a 66-degree, sunny day at the ‘Stick. Jones homered off Nathan that day, and Barry Bonds hit his 31st of the season that day off reliever Derrin Ebert. Nathan got the win that afternoon and Greg Maddux took the loss to go to 18-7.
Jones would finish the season with 45 homers and won the MVP award. Bonds, who was 34 and weighed 225 pounds back then, hit 34 homers in 102 games in that injury-plagued season. That was 39 fewer than the bulked-up colossus would hit two seasons later.
What were Jones’ other memories of Candlestick?
“I remember just sitting across the diamond from one of my childhood idols, Dusty Baker [then Giants manager],” he said. Then he smiled. “I remember having to walk all the way down the right-field line to the clubhouse, and I remember seeing Bobby [Cox] make that lonely walk many a time during the middle of a game.
“That’s got to be the most humbling walk after an ejection you’re ever going to get. We all tried to stay away from being ejected at Candlestick because we knew we were going to have to make that long walk and just endure whatever it was the fans were going to give us.”
It was the left-field fans who would give Jones an earful years later after the move to AT&T Park. Jones played left field full-time in 2002 and 2003 in order to open a spot for Vinny Castilla at third base.
“I was playing left field when [Bonds] hit both of those walk-offs,” Jones said, referring to game-ending homers that Bonds hit in the opener and the finale of a three-game series sweep in August 2003. “I’ll remember the treatment fans give pretty much every left fielder out there. It’s not a place for women and children, I can tell you that.”
One of those Bonds’ walk-off homers led to another incident that’s fresh in Jones’ mind.
“Unfortunately, for myself and the Braves, Barry is involved in a lot of those memories, good, bad and indifferent,” Jones said. “One of the only times I can every remember Bobby losing it was in here, walking through those doors [he glances to the doors to the visiting clubhouse] and exploding those doors when he walked in after the second one Bonds hit. Just a profanity-laced tirade that you don’t often hear from him. It was certainly one that whoever was in this clubhouse will remember for many years.”