As part of the kickoff to the baseball team’s season, Mercer University was proud to welcome Atlanta Braves third baseman and future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones as this year’s First Pitch Classic speaker.
Coming on to the Macon campus for a short visit, Chipper was glad to sign autographs for the line of adoring Middle Georgia fans before sitting down for a dinner with a UC Arena filled with Mercer sponsors, fans and players alike.
Following former Brave John Smoltz from a year ago, Chipper was invited to the podium to talk Atlanta Braves, life choices and Mercer Baseball.
Chipper began by giving his own personal life story of a kid who grew up in Florida and worked his way into the baseball system as a youngster, high schooler and eventual first-round MLB Draft pick. The 17-year veteran spoke of the difficulties and obstacles that come along with pursuing such a career and the ups and downs, travelling with the team, winning and of course losing.
He covered an array of topics that stretch out from his idol Mickey Mantle as a kid and his more recent admiration of the great Terry Pendleton. He hit a large number of sensitive topics such as his future with the team, his age and recent injuries that have affected his career. As far as his career is concerned, Chipper clearly stated that he wished to stay an Atlanta Brave for the remainder of his career. And when asked how long that “career” would last, Chipper gave the generic “As long as I am productive” answer to the crowd of attentive listeners. The 39-year-old compared his desire to stay with the Braves and be a productive part of the team to the legendary Cal Ripken, Jr. Ripken sacrificed his body and his career to make sure he stayed in an Oriole uniform. Chipper wishes to do the same. “I want to be a contributor to my team,” said Chipper. “I would never want to go over to the AL or to another team for that matter. I want my stats to be on one team for my entire career. I don’t want them split amongst four or five different clubs,” he added.
After giving a few more stories of pitchers he dislikes facing such as Kevin Brown, Kerry Wood, Mariano Rivera and Randy Johnson, Chipper spoke fondly of his inaugural 1995 season memories. He helped the Braves garner a World Series title in his first complete season in the big leagues. He claims it still remains the best moment of his career and hopes to one day sign off his MLB career in a similar fashion. “Wouldn’t that be something? I can finish my career the same way I began it – with a World Series Championship,” said Chipper.
When speaking of his own personal goals as a player, Chipper highlighted the night with a memorable quote: “Guys who want to win do not have a personal goal mentality. If your team is good in the end and you helped them get there, your numbers will be there as well.”
All-in-all, Chipper’s speech was brief and echoed his love for the game and his hate for the city of New York. He repeated his want to be a good example for young children and the importance of education and exercise. He also spoke of his two marriages and four young children.
When Chipper was done with what he had to say, he opened the floor to questions from those in attendance. Taking questions from mostly children, Chipper answered briefly and to the point the questions of those who possibly look up to him most. The reoccurring theme seemed to be the potential end of Chipper’s career and the recent transition between managers Bobby Cox and Fredi Gonzalez. Chipper made his point clear: “Fredi Gonzalez is not Bobby Cox. He will never be. He made our transition very easy though.”
When the night was all said and done, Chipper Jones didn’t speak much of the Mercer Bears baseball team. He didn’t lie to the crowd and say he has followed closely over the years. He gave a simple speech and answered questions from those who paid to do so. Chipper gave few words of wisdom and gave everyone what they really wanted to hear. He spoke of his experiences in the big leagues and no matter how you think of it that is pretty cool nonetheless.
In his final words at the podium, Chipper casually signed off by stating: Go Braves!