Chipper enjoying retired life as spring approaches
Braves icon doesn't feel 'the itch' to return, will make five-day visit to camp
ATLANTA -- As Chipper Jones picked his sons up from school on Thursday afternoon, he seemed quite comfortable with the reality that Spring Training will go on without him for the first time in more than two decades.
Heeding the messages being sent by his aching 40-year-old body, Jones progressed through his farewell season in 2012 without any regrets. Four months later, the iconic former Braves third baseman seems content with the memories of a career that included eight All-Star selections, a National League Most Valuable Player Award and a World Series title in his rookie season of 1995.
"Quite frankly, I have not had the itch whatsoever," Jones said. "I actually think it's been nice to go through an offseason without having to schedule an hour-and-a-half workout into each and every day to get ready for Spring Training. That lets me know I made the right decision. I don't have the urge to work at the game the way I used to."
If following the same schedule he had the past few years, this would have been the week in which Jones made an early arrival to the Braves' Spring Training complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. This year, Jones seems content to be in Atlanta as Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and some of his other former teammates make early arrivals.
Per the requests of team president John Schuerholz, general manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez, Jones will come to Spring Training on Feb. 15. During his five-day stay, he plans to catch up with his teammates, play some golf and experience Spring Training in a different light.
"I don't want to take anything away from the guys on the team," Jones said. "I don't want to be a distraction. To be honest, I don't want to deal with it. We've got to let those guys get their work in. I just don't feel that it is right for me to be down there right now."
While it might take Jones some time to get used to being around baseball during his post-playing days, there is no doubt many of his former teammates will enjoy seeing him back in the clubhouse for a few days.
The visit also will give Jones a chance to spend some time with the team's key offseason acquisitions -- B.J. Upton and Justin Upton.
"If Justin Upton returns to the form of two years ago, there is nobody as dynamic as he is when he is right," Jones said. "B.J., the same way. If those guys can motivate each other to take it to the next level, the sky is the limit. The promise is there."
While Jones sees the tremendous upside of having an outfield that consists of the Upton brothers and Heyward, he was among those who did not like the fact that the Braves had to include Martin Prado in the seven-player trade to acquire Justin Upton from the D-backs.
"If [the Braves] stay healthy, they will be competitive," Jones said. "I think they're missing a leadoff hitter, and I think they're going to miss Martin Prado, to be honest with you. I think when they're on, they're going to be exciting to watch. They're going to hit a lot of homers and they're going to strike out a ton. That is what they're going to miss about Martin. Martin was a guy who went out and threw up really good at-bats time after time after time."
Now instead of Prado replacing Jones as Atlanta's third baseman, there is a chance the responsibility will go to Chris Johnson, who was also acquired in the trade with Arizona. The Braves will enter Spring Training planning to look at both Johnson and Juan Francisco at third base.
Jones got to know Johnson while the 28-year-old was playing collegiately at Stetson University. Jones' father served as an assistant coach at Stetson. His godfather, Pete Dunn, is the school's longtime head baseball coach.
"I think [Johnson] is going to make it tough on Fredi to platoon him," Jones said. "The Braves do not have a lot of left-handed thump off the bench. Francisco could certainly provide that. But if he starts, you don't have him on the bench. I think Chris is a guy who has gone out and hit .280. He's got a .300 batting average year under his belt. He's a guy that can help you. In the long run, he's probably going to be a little more consistent than Francisco."
While Jones will keep tabs on the Braves and continue to communicate with many of his teammates, he plans to take advantage of the opportunity to see what it's like to be a full-time father from February through October. He enjoyed serving as an assistant coach on one of his son's football teams. But he says he'll likely remain in the background while guiding his boys through baseball season.
"I have other things that I enjoy doing," Jones said. "If I didn't have anything to replace the void [of baseball], I would have trouble adjusting. I think if you were nothing but a baseball player and you retire, you're going to have trouble adjusting. If you're not happy at home and you're retired, you're going to have trouble adjusting. I don't have any of those problems. I have other stuff to fill the void. I wasn't just a baseball player."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.