Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones (10) tips his hat to the crowd as he bats in the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets in Atlanta, Friday, Sept. 28, 2012. Jones plans to retire after the season.(AP Photo/John Bazemore)
ATLANTA Maybe more than anyone else on the Braves, Brian McCann could relate to the outpouring of affection by Atlanta fans on Chipper Jones Tribute Night.
The Braves catcher, after all, was once one of those adoring the future Hall of Fame third baseman from afar.
"I was a huge fan growing up," McCann said. "I think everyone my age was if you lived anywhere in the Southeast."
But living in Duluth offered more opportunities to see Jones on more than just television and McCann made frequent trips to Fulton County Stadium and then Turner Field with his father, Howard, and older brother, Brad.
"I was always a Braves fan and Chipper was definitely a big part of that," McCann said. "To get to play with him has definitely been a dream come true."
But the dream will end after this season. At age 40 and after 19 years with the Braves, Jones is retiring.
"It's going to be weird next spring," said McCann, who remembers the excitement of first sharing a clubhouse with Jones when the catcher was called up by the Braves in 2005.
In fact, Jones has always been a part of McCann's baseball life either as a hero or teammate.
"I can't remember when he wasn't with the Braves," the 28-year-old said.
Atlanta fans-- no matter what age -- share that long-term attachment.
A standing-room-only crowd of 51,910 was on hand Friday night to honor their favorite Brave, most fans making it in time for the 33-minute pregame ceremony which ended with Jones saying, "I love each and every one of you."
That loving feeling was obviously mutual.
Never again will a Brave wear No. 10 or stride to the plate to the sound of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train."
"This is a special, special night," said McCann, who represented the Braves players during the festivities before the game against the New York Mets and joined his teammates in wearing a turtleneck to honor their unofficial captain.
Jones was showered with gifts, including the promise of his Turner Field locker. Of course, he wants to keep using it as long as possible with the Braves headed back to the postseason.
"When it's over, that big gust of wind you'll feel is me exhaling," Jones said recently of the emotion-filled windup to his career.
It's been a magical final season for Jones, who has played nothing like elder statesman who almost had his career ended by a knee injury in 2010.
"I didn't want people's last impression of me to be lying on the field outside third base in Houston," said Jones, who has a .305 career average, the most RBIs (1,623) ever for a third baseman and 468 home runs -- third all-time for a switch-hitter.
Instead, Jones has treated home crowds this season to a five-hit game, a walk-off three-run homer and a two-homer game on his bobble-head night.
Best of all, the Braves are headed to the postseason for the 13th time in Jones' illustrious career.
"To have all these things happen in the final chapter, a writer couldn't have scripted it any better," he said.
Although he insisted the moment was for the younger guys, Jones partied as much as anyone after the Braves clinched at least a wild-card berth on Freddie Freeman's walk-off homer Tuesday night.
"Just an old man kind of taking it all in and breathing it all in one last time before I hit the bricks," Jones said.
Fredi Gonzalez knows just how much Jones will be missed.
"I don't want to think about the last game he plays," the manager said, looking toward the postseason. " ... I want him to be in uniform another three or four weeks, if you know what I mean."