ATLANTA — Chipper Jones still can’t believe how much he’s adored in Atlanta.
A near capacity crowd at Turner Field showered him with cheers and praise on Friday night as the Braves retired his No. 10 jersey.
“It still doesn’t seem real,” Jones said. “I played baseball. I haven’t cured cancer or anything. It’s almost embarrassing to be getting all this attention and all the accolades. It’s so humbling.”
Jones, the 1999 NL MVP and eight-time All-Star, was honored before Atlanta’s game against Arizona. The former third baseman retired after last season’s playoff loss to St. Louis having played his entire 19-year career with the Braves.
Wearing a gray suit and a red tie, Jones spoke to the Turner Field crowd before he threw out the ceremonial first pitch and was driven around the field to adoring cheers.
Most seats in the stands were filled as Jones stepped to the microphone while “Crazy Train,” the 1980 hit single by Ozzy Osbourne that used to play before his at-bats, boomed through the public address system.
“That pregame ceremony was something else,” Jones said. “I never could have imagined it. I tried to picture it in my mind for the last week or so, but it exceeded all expectations.”
Among those joining Jones on stage were former manager Bobby Cox, former owner Ted Turner and former outfielder Dale Murphy, Braves president John Schuerholz, second baseman Dan Uggla, his parents – Larry and Lynne Jones – and four boys.
Former President Jimmy Carter and former first lady Rosalynn Carter sat in Turner’s box near the home dugout.
“I made it a point not to look my mom and dad in the face because I know if I would have I’d have probably lost it,” Jones said with a grin. “I take great pride in the fact I made it through that whole thing without shedding a tear.”
The Braves inducted Jones, the 2008 NL batting champion, into their hall of fame during a luncheon Friday at a downtown hotel. Hank Aaron, baseball’s No. 2 career leader in homers, spoke at the luncheon to congratulate Jones.
Jones’ jersey number joined Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, Phil Niekro, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Aaron, Murphy and Cox on the franchise list of retired numbers.
His number was unveiled alongside other stars of the 1990s and 2000s — Maddux, Glavine, Cox and Smoltz.
“The hair on the back of your neck stands up,” said Jones, who ranks as the career leader among third basemen with 1,623 RBIs.
Other than the attention given Jones, the crowd at Turner Field cheered loudest for Cox, Murphy and Turner, though Arizona’s Martin Prado, a Braves regular from 2006-12, drew a loud ovation when Jones pointed to him in the visitors’ dugout.
Glavine, who was working Friday as a broadcaster on the Braves’ television network, remains close friends with Jones. The two were star teammates from 1995-2002, a stretch during which Atlanta won the ’95 World Series, NL pennants in ’96 and ’99 and eight of Cox’s 14 consecutive division titles.
“I think people forget sometimes how athletic he was,” said Glavine, a 300-game winner and two-time Cy Young Award winner. “He really should’ve made our team as an outfielder that first spring training (1994) if he didn’t get hurt. He did a lot of things really well.
“To see him play at third base, go to the outfield and come back to third base tells you what kind of an athlete he was. He certainly established himself as one of the great third basemen in baseball history.”
Jones sometimes considers becoming a coach or manager one day, but still needs more time away from the game.
It sounds as if retirement is treating him well.
“The reason I want to take some time away from baseball is that I want to rekindle that flame,” he said. “At the end of last year, I was done. I wanted to play opening day this year. That’s the only day that I’ve missed it. I woke up the next morning and was thrilled that I didn’t have to go to the ballpark.”