Strange words tumble out of an athlete’s mouth after 17 seasons and two major knee surgeries. They say things at 39 that they never imagined themselves saying at 25.
“It’s amazing how your standards go down as you get older,” Chipper Jones said. “It used to be if I didn’t come away from the ballpark with two hits, I was ticked. If I didn’t produce a run, I was ticked. Now I’m hitting .250, .260. That disappoints me. But when the team has absolutely needed me to get a big hit, I’ve done it. I’ve been solid. Not great, but solid. That’s all I came into this season wanting.”
Welcome to Chipper Jones’ new reality. It’s really not all that bad. Fact is, it still has a chance to be pretty special.
When the Braves resume the season Friday night, Jones will be rehabbing from minor knee surgery – if there is such a thing as minor surgery at 39 – to repair torn cartilage. The injury forced him to miss two games against Philadelphia and a start in the All-Star game.
“A little bit of a downer,” he said of missing the All-Star game.
But it was an easy decision. Last fall, after the second torn ACL of his career, Jones missed the stretch run of the season and the playoffs. That can’t happen again. The Braves’ last remaining link to the World Series teams hasn’t played a postseason game since 2005.
Though he doesn’t want to think or talk about retirement right now, he knows there aren’t many of these runs left. Conceivably, this could be his last. So the surgery had to happen now.
“The All-Star game had to take second place to helping this team get back to the playoffs,” he said.
“Obviously we lost three one-run games to the eventual World Series champion [San Francisco],” he said. “You would like to think you would’ve been able to make a play here or had an at-bat there that would’ve affected the course of a game. That will always stick in the back of my mind. The other downer was I didn’t get a chance to be on the field for [Bobby Cox's] last game. It was hard to sit back and watch that.”
The Braves are in a terrific position to win the National League East. They trail Philadelphia by only 3½ games despite injuries to Jones, Martin Prado and others, as well as unexpected struggles by Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward.
Jones’ critics never would acknowledge this, but he is one of the reasons the team is this close to the top.
He probably should have had surgery several weeks ago when he first was injured. But the Braves were undermanned and in such an offensive funk that he didn’t think the timing was right. So he took cortisone injections. The geraniums who contend he’s only extending his career for the money don’t think about things like that.
As for the numbers, they’re misleading. The .259 batting average – that’s relatively anemic for Jones (a career .304 hitter) and a No. 3 hitter. But he is hitting an improbable .403 with runners in scoring position (career average .304) and .429 when there’s a runner on third. He is second on the team in RBIs with 46.
Where would the Braves be without that?
“The days of me putting the team on my back and carrying it for stretches – I don’t know if that’s going to happen again,” Jones said. “But I can help the team win.”
He says he is riding a bike and walking without a limp. He hopes to start jogging in a few days. His best-case scenario: He’ll be back 15 days from last Saturday’s surgery – or roughly the start of a homestand on July 25 against Pittsburgh. That leaves plenty of time to get ready for August, September and certainly October.
“My motto in life is to not worry about things I can’t control,” he said. “I can’t control next year and the year after that. But I can control a little bit what happens this year. I wanted another chance to get back before I rode into the sunset.”
By Jeff Schultz