BISHER: Chipper's spring training started after last year's surgery



Larry Wayne Jones, otherwise known as Chipper, had his introduction to the major leagues interrupted by a stopover at a surgeon’s station and missed his rookie season in recovery.

His latest season came to an end after 95 games and another trip to surgery. But this time, Chipper converted down time into an early start on spring training. No mollycoddling this time. His spring training began as soon as left the hospital, and it’s still going, of course, and there’s a story there.

Each afternoon you walked into the Braves clubhouse from late August on, there would be Chipper, first with crutches at his side, then later some other kind of walking aid. Always, though, he would be in uniform. And always he would take his place in the Braves dugout, perhaps just to remind his body of where it ought to be if all his parts were functioning.

He exercised. He made road trips. He suited up and took his place in the dugout with all the other Braves, once again, I’d suppose, not to miss a step on his course to the 2011 season. Approaching his 39th birthday, he knew he was gazing into the sunset of his career, and he had no intention of missing a beat.

Besides all his teammates, and the Braves brass who have a sharp eye trained on this season, Chipper isn’t standing this watch alone.

A few months ago I came across an article under the byline of Joba Chamberlain, a Yankees pitcher.

“Just a kid,” It began, “my idol was Chipper Jones. Growing up, I was able to watch Chipper hundreds of times on TBS. Then one day I had the opportunity to pitch to him and it was just incredible.

“I’ve always looked up to him and how he played the game, and what he means to it. Growing up, if he wore his pants up, I wore mine up. If he wore his pants down, I wore mine down. If he used a Mizuno glove, I bought a Mizuno glove. I don’t get star-struck very much, but it was really cool to meet him. ... To be able to talk to someone like that, who has done so much for the game was pretty overwhelming.

“He was really great to talk to. I didn’t tell him he was my hero, but I guess he’ll know it now.”

Well, I don’t know if he does or not, but something revved up his motor, and it does seem that Chipper has taken a sharp turn toward getting himself tuned up for his finale. He has had a solid spring in Florida, a batting average of .375, nine runs batted in, seven extra-base hits, including two home runs. His lifetime batting average malingers at .306, and no doubt, he aims at closing out his career above .300. This has been his best spring in five years, and while I pause at calling up such a figure, it is not out of order to speak of the fact that he has earned $141,443,133 wearing the Braves haberdashery, and it would be to Chipper’s credit to go out in style. Smooth sailing into the sunset, old friend.

Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.