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Hall Of Fame Flashback: Keeping Up With The Joneses (Notably Chipper)



This article originally appeared in the July 25, 1990 issue of Baseball America.

PIERSON, Fla.—Chipper Jones can remember the first time he stepped inside a major league stadium. It's easy, because the No I pick of the 1990 draft had been to a big league park only twice, on successive days in July 1987.

"I remember being in awe," Jones says of his visit to Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. "I just looked around. It was so-o-o big. One thing that really stands out is, thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if some day could help them fill up all those empty seats.' "

Today, the Atlanta Braves share those hopeful thoughts. The sure-handed shortstop graduated from high school June 2 under his given name, Larry Wayne Jones Jr. When the Braves opened the draft they selected Larry Wayne Jones Jr. Those monitoring the selection process knew Atlanta was talking about Chipper.

A slight underdog but a real possibility for the high-pressure, high-exposure No. 1 slot, Chipper jones was selected by Baseball America to be tracked during the final days before the draft, on Draft Day and after the big day.

FRIDAY, JUNE 1

It's graduation eve and Chipper Jones plans to go to the movies.

Before the 18-year-old sets off on his date with girlfriend Leslie Braddock, a junior at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, there's some last-minute shopping to be done. One of the traditions at Bolles, a private boarding school, is that male graduates wear a blue blazer, white shirt, a tie and white pants. The problem is, the only white pants owned by this country boy from Pier-son (about 90 miles southwest of Jacksonville) are part of a baseball uniform. So, it's off to several clothing stores.

Finally, Chipper and Leslie head off to see "Steel Magnolias." But this is a quick date. Tomorrow there's an important doubleheader graduation and the junior-senior prom.

There's another reason for Chipper's early return to his family's hotel suite. The Braves are on the tube.

As soon as he walks in Chipper changes the channel from a game involving the Los Angeles Dodgers, the entire family's favorite team until now, to a Braves game. He flops his 6-foot-3 1/2, 185-pound body on the floor and starts watching America's team, which in three days may well become the Jones' team.

The draft? Well, Chipper says that can wait until Monday.

"I'm more nervous about the graduation and prom than I am about the draft," says Chipper, who only talks about the draft when someone else brings up the subject. "Ill probably start getting nervous at home Sunday night. I think my father is more nervous than I am. He'll probably be waking me up at five in the morning Monday."

Larry Jones. Chipper's father, says an early wakeup call would be a perfect way to start the day. "Oh, no. Not unless you want me to hit you," Chipper jokes, holding up his right hand, which hours earlier had been in a cast.

Lynne, Chipper's mother, good-naturedly scolds her son. "Not with your hands," she says, pausing. "Use your feet if yo'u want, but protect those hands."

The Joneses, including paternal grandmother Esther, laugh in unison. Everyone remembers Chipper's hand injury, a metacarpal fracture sustained in a one-punch fight with a teammate the day before Bolles played for the Florida Class 2-A championship.

Chipper pitched the next day, losing 3-2 to Miami. Westminster. His hand was placed in a cast two days after his first fight since grade school.

A couple of other times during the night his father makes reference to the fight, calling his son Sugar Ray Jones. Chipper takes the heat in stride. He's been kidded a lot since the fight, which he says taught him a "major lesson."

Ironically, the fight actually boosted Chipper's stock. Scouts privately admitted they appreciated this brief, fiery display. Soon after scouts were assured the hairline fracture wouldn't hinder Chipper's abilities, their praise for him reached new heights.

But the No. 1 pick? No way. Chipper wasn't buying the stories that prep right-hander Todd Van Poppel of Arlington, Texas, wasn't going to sign a pro contract. And neither were his parents.

As much as the trio hoped Chipper was going to be the first player selected. no one really believed it would happen. The general feeling was that rumors would continue to fly, setting up Chipper for a big fall when Van Poppel was selected No. 1 and Chipper fifth (by the Pittsburgh Pirates) or sixth (by the Seattle Mariners).

"If I'm the No. 1 pick, there isn't going to be anyone in the world more surprised than me," Chipper says. "I'm not going to get myself all hyped up and have a letdown"

SATURDAY, JUNE 2

Graduation day is filled with pomp and circumstance at Bolles, good luck wishes from friends, parents and teachers. And then there's the prom, a perfect distraction.

Still, Chipper is constantly reminded of the coming draft. The commencement speaker is Florida Sen. Connie Mack, grandson of the legendary baseball manager and owner.

And there's the valedictory address, given by William Davis Jr., a brilliant 18-year-old with academic numbers even more impressive than Chipper's baseball statistics.

"What other school can boast a student who scored 1,600 on the SAT," Davis says in reference to himself, "and a sure first-round major league draft choice?"

Good question.

Chipper's numbers (.488-5-25, 10 doubles, 44 runs and 14 stolen bases) were im-pressive in their own right. A three-time all-state performer, Chipper left Bolles as the Florida high school player of the year.

With diploma and a couple of trophies and plaques in hand after the graduation ceremony, it's time for Chipper to reminisce and even to say goodbye to some friends and their parents.

Tom Patrick, father of Chipper's roommate, says he hopes the Bolles Bulldog becomes a Brave. Ron Patrick, one-third of a nearly inseparable trio that included Chipper and Bolles basketball standout B.J. Thompson, often found himself the butt of jokes by the other two.

But the quarterback bound for Princeton gets a few laughs on graduation day, talking about Chipper's old Ford Escort, which he often parked at Bolles amid the sea of late-model sports cars.

"The White Elephant was a classic," Patrick recalls. bringing a John Elway-type smile to Chipper's face. "I think they buried that car somewhere in Pierson after Chipper got the (1990 Ford) Probe. The White Elephant was one of those cars with a sticker that said. Don't Laugh, It's Paid For. It was distinctly Chipper and everybody associated the White Elephant with Chipper."

The laughs about the Jonesmobile help lift the anxiety Chipper feels about the draft. He has kept it to himself and a few friends.

"It's been a tough week for him," says Thompson, a Jacksonville resident who always had room for Chipper at his house. "He did have a couple of peaceful days this week and he was able to kick back at our house. It was sort of a hideout for him."

After a quick change of clothing, Chipper is back in more comfortable duds: a Bolles baseball hat and shirt. He and his family stop at the home of teammate Al Verlander for an afternoon party, during which Chipper hears the same question over and over: "Where do you want to go?"

The real answer probably is "To the prom," though Chipper respectfully and routinely responds, "Atlanta, but I'll be happy with whatever team takes me."

Shortly, it's time for Chipper to don the tuxedo, not before some words of caution from his father.

"Son," Larry says. wrap-ping his arms around his boy's shoulders, "have a good time tonight, but remember, don't do anything you might be ashamed of. You have an awful lot to lose."

The prom, complete with limousine service and dinner, is a memorable evening for Chipper and Leslie, who gives her boy-friend a fitting, graduation gift: a book titled "The History of Baseball."

SUNDAY, JUNE 3

This is the day Chipper is most thankful for the solid support of his mother, father and grandparents.

The telephone calls, which began Saturday evening when Pittsburgh scout Dave Holliday rang several times and reporters kept trying to reach Chipper, continue Sunday morning. Holliday opens the parade, inquiring about getting an X-ray of Chipper's hand.

Soon Murphy's Law takes over. The phone goes dead, and Larry rushes off to Taylor High, where he's a teacher and football coach, to call Southern Bell. Esther Jones, Chipper's grandmother, stays home and the phone comes back to life just in time for a call from the Braves, who say they're considering Chipper for the No. 2 pick and want to meet for a "signability study."

When Larry returns, he contacts the Braves and makes dinner plans for 6 p.m. in Daytona Beach, 30 miles away.

Around noon the Dodgers (ninth pick) and Montreal Expos (11th) call, saying if Chipper is available they'll take him. By then word is filtering out of Texas that Van Poppel has turned down a final offer from Braves general manager Bobby Cox and owner Ted Turner in a face-to-face meeting.

While Larry Jones ponders his son's future in Pierson, Chipper is in Jacksonville trying to get an X-ray of his hand, not an easy task on a Sunday afternoon. About 3 p.m., with X-ray mission accomplished, Chipper is on his way home.

When he gets there two hours later, he barely has time for a shower. Then he and his parents are off to Daytona for the dinner engagement with Braves scouting director Paul Snyder and scout Tony DeMacio. Cox was scheduled to make the trip, but is tired from the dealings in Texas.

The group, including Chipper's parents, heads to an Italian restaurant for some small talk and a big dinner. Then they all return to Pierson for the really important discussions. If things go well, Atlanta will choose Chipper.
But the phone keeps ringing, interrupting the talks. Most of the calls are from the press and from other teams, including the University of Miami, where Chipper had
signed to play college ball.
Hurricanes assistant coach Turtle Thomas calls at about 9:45 p.m., wanting to know if there are any Braves running around the house. Not only are the Braves there, but by the time Snyder and DeMacio leave just after 11 p.m., they have tom-hawked Miami's chances of seeing Jones in a Hurricanes uniform.
Preparation on the part of Chipper's parents and the player's heartfelt desire to play pro ball result in smooth sailing in the signability session. Larry has a solid baseball background, Chipper wants to sign and business-minded Lynne has been in contact with the Major League Baseball Players Association.
And Bill Johnson, a family friend who's an attorney in Orlando, had given the Joneses some free advice. (Under NCAA rules, if Chipper had signed with an agent he would have lost his amateur status. As this story went to press, he still had no official agent.)
The Braves initially offer a $250,000 signing bonus, plus enough money to pay for Chipper's college education. The Joneses come back with a figure around $300,000. Then Chipper, who wants to eliminate any hassles, interjects: "Let's just split the difference."
And that's what they did, settling on a signing bonus of $275,000, a record for a high school player.
The entire process mesmerizes Lynne Jones. "I can't imagine how an 18-year-old who didn't have all the help—your knowledge of baseball and the contract bac-ground I've done the past few weeks—could handle this," she tells her husband.
So all that's left is to wait for the phone call, and then to turn the handshake agreement into a contract. The Joneses feel good about the results as they go to bed Sunday.
"I was real pleased with how the Braves' management approached us," Lynne Jones says. "I was telling them it was about as painless as a root canal, but really they made it as nice as it could be."
MONDAY, JUNE 4
On the morning of Draft Day, there are no calls. The Braves apparently sent out smoke signals, letting the baseball world know of their decision to go with Chipper. Or maybe it's because the phone company has yet to send out a repairman.
"You're the Joneses waiting for the call from the baseball draft?" the repairman asks. "Well, I'll just wait down at the end of the driveway until you get the call, just in case there's a problem."
With tension mounting, the phone rings at 1:08 p.m. The 40 or so friends gathered hold their breath while several photographers snap pictures of Chipper answering the call.
Chipper smiles and shouts, "Mom, it's for you."
Moments later the phone rings again and Chipper's face lights up. But once again it's a false alarm, causing Bolles coach Don Suriano to shout something uncharacteristic at Chipper.
"You're 0-for-2," Suriano yells, breaking the tension.
Finally, The Call comes at 1:23 p.m.
The phone rings, Jones answers it and gives a thumbs-up sign as he talks to Jim Schultz, Atlanta's director of public relations.
"Yes. I'm doing fine, sir, how are you?" Jones says during the most important conversation of his young life. "Thank you, thank you. I appreciate it."
Proud Papa is right there to slap a Braves cap on his son's head. Somehow there just happen to be two more hats around bearing the big script "A," one for Larry and the
other for Lynne.
"I just got chill bumps," Chipper says. "It hasn't really hit me yet. It probably won't until all this hype settles down. "
No chance. Media interviews, including live television segments, keep Chipper and Larry busy throughout the day, and the phone is busy until 15 minutes before midnight.
"I'm out of here after I make these two calls," Chipper says about 7:30 p.m. "Last night was the first time I really thought the Braves were interested in me," he tells one
reporter.
"I can't see putting myself in the same category as say a Ken Griffey Jr. I'm just in heaven right now and my father has been in the clouds ever since last night."
As Chipper prepares to slip out to meet his buddies from Pierson for a graduation party at a hunting camp about two miles from his house, Dad gives some instructions to the family's newest breadwinner.
"Be home no later than midnight," Larry says.
Chipper negotiates for a later curfew, but he isn't as successful as he was with the Braves. There's no splitting the difference with his dad.
"I don't care if you are the No. 1 draft pick in the country," Larry says, giving the youngster a huge hug. "You're still my son."
ON TO ATLANTA
The Braves don't waste any time. They tell Chipper they want to bring him and his family to Atlanta to meet team personnel, players and media and watch a few games.
But even before heading to Atlanta three days after the draft, Chipper receives his first endorsement offer, from a board-game company that wants to take his picture for a card in return for $1,500.
The phone continues to ring. One of the calls is from Miami's Thomas.
"He was real complimentary, saying that I deserve everything I got," Chipper says. "I felt real bad because Coach Thomas, when he was at Georgia Tech, was the first person to send me a college letter. I still have it."
On Wednesday, Chipper gives his hand a test by taking batting practice with a wooden bat at Taylor High. Although not initially expected to be a pro power hitter,
he belts a few out of the yard and swings until he gets blisters. It's a session he needs to build some confidence before going to Atlanta on Thursday.
"Everything about him is above average," Cox tells the media. "All he has to do is go play."
And that's about all Chipper wants to do. First in the minors, and, in two to three years, in the majors.
The Braves send him to the lowest level of their farm system, Bradenton (Gulf Coast), to finish recuperating from the broken hand and begin his professional career. If all goes well, he'll advance to Pulaski (Appalachian) in a few weeks.
"I'm really glad it's over. For the last month the phone hasn't stopped ringing," Chipper says. "I just want to get settled and playing. I just want to put on the jersey.
"I guess my biggest thrill will be when I walk out on the field and see that humongous stadium. Even if it isn't filled up, it will probably be 10 times as many people than I've played in front of."
And in time, maybe all the seats will be filled, fulfilling the dreams of both the Braves and Chipper Jones.
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