MIAMI – The Marlins began playing major league baseball the same year that Chipper Jones did in 1993, and no hitter has done quite as much damage against them as the Braves third baseman. He leads the Marlins’ opponents’ career lists in almost every major hitting category, including hits (256), doubles (47), home runs (40) and RBIs (165).
They won’t have to – or get to — watch him add to those totals after the three-game series that began Monday at Marlins Park, Jones’ last against Miami. The 40-year-old Braves icon is retiring after the season.
“He was always beating us,” said baseball Hall of Famer Tony Perez, a longtime Marlins special assistant. “He’d come up and always get the big home run or the big hit. He’s a gamer. I’ll be waiting for him [at Cooperstown, N.Y.] in five years. Everybody’s trying to get his autograph. I said I’ll wait till he’s signing it with the ‘HOF’.”
Most Hall of Famers add those letters to their signature after being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Players become eligible five years after their final season in the majors.
Jones is winding up a season-long farewell tour, getting parting gifts and/or video tributes from every team during his last scheduled series in that team’s city. He fought back tears at Washington last month during a gift presentation from two of his closest friends in baseball, the Nationals’ Adam LaRoche and Mark DeRosa, both former Braves.
The Marlins plan a tribute for Jones before Wednesday’s series finale.
“I’ve had a lot of last trips into cities this year,” Jones said Monday, “but the ones in the East [Division] are more special because I’ve got such a history with the Mets, the Marlins, the Nationals and the Phillies. I’ve got three more cities, and one last homestand. So it’s starting to … it’s starting to get to me a little bit.”
Jones will play his last series at Philadelphia this weekend in the second stop on this two-city trip, then have a six-game homestand before the Braves finish the regular season with a three-game series at Pittsburgh.
This series is his second at Marlins Park, which only opened this season. Jones was on the 15-day disabled list in the Braves’ first visit to Miami this season, and was out of the lineup Monday for a scheduled rest day, after the Braves played Sunday night and didn’t get to their Miami hotel until about 3:30 a.m.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez plans to play Jones Tuesday and Wednesday in the last two games of the series, then either two or all three games at Philadelphia after an off day on the schedule Thursday.
He doesn’t have any history at Marlins Park, but Jones has many memories from games at what is currently known as Sun Life Stadium, the latest in a revolving list of corporate-sponsor names for what was originally Joe Robbie Stadium and remains home to the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. The Braves played the Marlins before massive crowds there during the 1997 NL Championship Series, which the wild-card Marlins won on their way to the World Series.
“We’ve had some epic battles down here,” Jones said. “The years that the Marlins ended up winning the World Series [1997 and 2003], those were some pretty good teams. We had some great battles along the way. What was it, ’97 playoffs? I’ll never forget that. Seeing Joe Robbie, or Pro Player, or whatever the hell that stadium was called, packed for a baseball game, 75-80,000 people. That’s a memory. You don’t get to play in front of that many people at one sporting event very often.”
Livan Hernandez, a Braves teammate earlier this season, had an NLCS-record 15 strikeouts for the Marlins in their Game 5 win in Miami in 1997, using every inch of umpire Eric Gregg’s exceedingly wide strike zone.
“Let’s talk about that strike zone, why don’t we?” Jones said, drawing laughs from Miami and Atlanta reporters. “I saw that on MLB the other day and I was like, good Lord, you couldn’t hit some of those pitches with a telephone pole. And Livan still thinks they were strikes. I talked to him the other day in Milwaukee, and we were just kind of reminiscing.
“He’s like, ‘Man, I think I could have pitched until I was 80 if I got that strike zone every day.’”
Jones was asked if any of his 40 homers against the Marlins was particularly memorable.
“My 400th,” he said, referring to his 400th career homer, against Ricky Nolasco at Turner Field on June 5, 2008, making Jones the third switch-hitter to hit that many. “Your milestones, they stick out in your mind. And obviously 400 home runs, that’s a lot of trots around the bases. So that’s probably the one that stick out to me the most.”