Chipper Jones had reported back to Braves spring training, his first since being minted as a Hall of Famer in July, and notably has reported in shape.
He’s back to his playing weight (225) at the age of 46 — although playing is not an option. It’s hard enough to get him out of the house to coach young Braves hitters for a couple weeks in spring or appraise a prospect here or there over the course of a season.
Becoming a Hall of Famer, as well as father for the sixth time shortly after his induction has left Jones happy. Before Sunday’s spring training game against Miami, at the instructions of his wife, he was on the field posing with young Cooper. “She wanted to get a picture with the little one with me in uniform. Never know when the last time is going to be. Hopefully we’ve got many more, but you never know,” he said afterward.
So, no plans yet to commit more to into this coaching business?
“I couldn’t be happier off the field,” he said. “It’s probably one of the reasons I haven’t dived back into coaching. I’m in it a little bit now — about as much as I want to — because I enjoy going home. I enjoy being with my family.”
But becoming a Hall of Famer did not make him fat.
“I got to Thanksgiving, and it was probably the heaviest I’ve ever been. Probably 240. I can’t carry 240,” Jones said Sunday. “I got back in the weight room and the treadmill and paid attention to my diet, which I should be doing a lot more anyway.”
As well as being a resource for young Braves hitters, Jones is known to be a go-to guy for anyone with a recorder or a microphone. A Chipper check-in is pretty much mandatory whenever another season takes its first breaths.
Without further delay, his thoughts on:
How these Braves fit in the redesigned NL East – “Well, we’re the defending champs until someone knocks us off. That’s the way it is, the Braves are going to have a target on their back. They’ve been the hunter for quite some time now. Now they’re the hunted.”
The impact of signings in the division, like Philadelphia’s big acquisition of Bryce Harper – “You can see some of the moves that other teams in the division have made, yeah, they’re good moves. They’re loud moves. But we’ve seen it before. That doesn’t guarantee you a division championship. That being said, I do believe the division has gotten better. That’s how we won the division last year playing so good within the division (going 49-27). With it getting better, it’s going to be a lot tougher.”
What he likes about this Braves team – “Same thing I liked about it last year. Their youth, their exuberance. You’re excited to see the next step for (Ronald) Acuna, (Ozzie) Albies, some of those young pitchers. Some are going to be the same, some might regress. You’re hoping some are going to get a lot better and take that step up.
“I think to stay up near the top of the National League East you’re going to have to see some kids taking on some more responsibility and get good results along with that.”
Just how reasonable it is to expect such a step up – “I think it is. I had a big jump from Year One to Year Two (his batting average rose 44 points, he hit seven more home runs and had 24 more RBIs his second year). A lot of that is confidence. A lot of that is going through the league one time, making the necessary adjustments the second time. We hope there are no sophomore slumps. Time will tell.”
Who has caught his eye this spring among the hopefuls, specifically that kid who plays his old position, third base – “(Austin) Riley, he’s got some more work to do, more seasoning. You can’t swing and miss as much as he did in Triple A (95 strike outs in 291 at-bats). He needs to go back for Round Two. But the sky’s the limit for the kid. He’s a great defender, all the intangibles, great make-up. I think he could be a better defensive Troy Glaus —that’s pretty fair third baseman right there. He’s not far off.
“I love the Contreras kid (catcher William Contreras). (Outfielder Drew) Waters is going to be really good. I haven’t gotten a chance to see (Cristian) Pache play that much down here. We all know he could win a Gold Glove in center field right now, he’s just got to get the bat going a little bit.
“There’s still help on the way.”