Chipper starts club-record 14th opener
Slugger becomes Atlanta's longest-tenured lineup staple
PHILADELPHIA -- While preparing to make his record-setting 14th Opening Day start Sunday night at Citizens Bank Park, Chipper Jones said that he wasn't feeling any butterflies in his stomach. But it also wasn't hard for him to remember a day when his Opening Day excitement nearly proved destructive.
During the first inning of his first Major League start on Opening Day in 1995, Jones ran toward the first-base line to catch Barry Bonds' infield pop fly. On his way across the diamond, the rookie third baseman collided with Greg Maddux, causing the Braves ace to find his flip-down glasses in his mouth.
Fred McGriff ended up making the catch, and Maddux ended up winning a fourth consecutive Cy Young Award that year. As for Jones, he's obviously enjoyed a highly successful career, but he's never forgotten the embarrassment he felt less than three outs into it.
"I've never been cussed [at] like I was that day," Jones said. "I thought he was going to run me out of the dugout. That was one of my more memorable Doggie [Maddux] moments."
On the same day that the Braves announced they're going to retire Maddux's number, Jones found himself prolonging his own storied career with yet another Opening Day start. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, with Sunday night's start against the Phillies, the 36-year-old third baseman found himself in more Opening Day lineups than any other player in Atlanta Braves history.
Some of the nerves and added excitement that Jones felt during season openers earlier in his career are now being displayed by the likes of Jeff Francoeur and Brian McCann, who reported to Citizens Bank Park on Sunday afternoon feeling an added amount of adrenaline.
"They were bounding off the walls and they were sky high," Jones said. "They asked me if I was nervous, and I was like, 'Are you kidding me? I don't have one butterfly.' This is just game one of 162. Yeah, you want to get off to a good start, and maybe you put a little extra pressure on yourself to do that. You play to win. But whether you win or lose, we're coming right back here on Tuesday.
"I just feel prepared, that's all. There's nothing out there at the end of that tunnel that I haven't seen a million times before."
McCann and Francoeur obviously understand that a division title won't be determined during the first week or first month of the season. They were in their second full Major League season when the Braves opened the 2007 season with a three-game sweep against a Phillies team that would win the National League East.
On the other end of the spectrum, Jones remembers opening the 2003 season by getting swept by the Expos. Six months later, the Braves had captured yet another NL East title with a 101-win season.
Based on his experiences, Jones understands that playoff berths aren't decided in April. But at the same time, he realizes the need for this year's Braves to gain some early confidence and forget about the struggles during last year's 90-loss season.
"You can certainly dig yourself a hole, and this a team with which we don't want to dig that hole," Jones said. "With how poorly we played last year, it's important to the psyche of some of the young guys to come out and play well."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.