Chipper shares Major League dream with dad
Slugger's father taught him how to play, become switch-hitter
ATLANTA -- As they sat in a Houston hotel room a few hours before the Braves began a four-game series against the Astros last week, Chipper Jones heard his father, Larry Wayne Jones Sr., make a suggestion to fix his swing from the left side of the plate.
"He said, 'You're going to hate it, but just try it,'" the Braves' veteran third baseman said with his confident smirk showing.
Truth be told, Jones felt the instruction was going to make him even more uncomfortable at the plate and had him destined for a rough evening. But having spent his entire life benefiting from the baseball instructions provided by his father, he made the adjustment and once again reaped the reward.
"The guy knows what he's doing," Jones said. "In all honesty, my dad is a better baseball man than half the baseball men that I've known since I turned pro. But because he didn't play professionally and because he didn't have a backer -- somebody within Major League Baseball who would take him in as a coach or instructor -- he's just been my personal guy for the last 20 years."
Jones Sr. may not have realized his dream to play in the Majors. But when Father's Day arrives again this year, he will once again have the honor of knowing that he has been able to share the fulfillment of a Major League dream with his son.
"It's what we worked for my entire life and most of his life," said Jones, who has been with the Braves since they took him with the first overall selection in the 1990 First-Year Player Draft.
As he raised his son about 40 miles north of Orlando in the rural Florida town of Pierson, Jones Sr. coached high school athletics and eventually spent time as a coach at neighboring Stetson University.
But his greatest and most successful coaching endeavors came courtesy of the countless hours he spent instructing his son how to play and act like a professional.
"I always took his word over everybody else's," Jones said. "In fact, I would let things other people would say go through one ear and out the other just for the simple fact that I knew it contradicted what my dad was saying.
"There are always those moments in your teen years when you might not allow him to know he's getting through to you because you're hard-headed and that's just how kids are. But 95 percent of the stuff, I just listened to."
When his father spoke again in Houston, Jones knew it was time to listen. He had hit just .187 with one homer in his previous 75 at-bats from the left side of the plate.
Having heard his father stress the need to alter the path of his hands to keep his bat from looping, Jones went to Minute Maid Park a few hours later and collected three hits against three different right-handed pitchers. When he lined an RBI single off the wall in the fifth inning, Jones looked behind the Braves' dugout and saw the excitement in his parents' expression. They grew more excited three innings later, when he drilled an opposite-field homer over the left-field wall.
"I go out there and think I'm going to be punch-and-Judy this and punch-and-Judy that," Jones said. "The first four or five at-bats, I hit bullets the other way. I let the pitch travel deep and then hit bullets the other way. I was thinking, 'I haven't done that all year.' So I was like, 'Let's air it out a little.'
"It took a little getting used to, but there's nothing like getting a little tip and going out and getting instant results you've been trying to get for the last year and a half."
Jones notched a number of special milestones during this season's first month. He recorded his 2,500th hit on April 8 and his 1,500th RBI on April 12. In doing so, he joined Eddie Murray as the only switch-hitters to record 2,500 hits and 1,500 RBIs in a career.
When he later surpassed Mickey Mantle's career RBI total, he could tell that his parents were fighting back tears as they spoke on the phone.
Three weeks earlier while preparing for a game in Milwaukee, Jones reminisced about those days more than 30 years earlier, when his dad began teaching him how to be a switch-hitter.
"I can't tell you how many guys I run into during the course of the season that call their dad every night and cuss him out because he didn't make them a switch-hitter," Jones said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.