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?"
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.