07/03/12 6:30 PM ET
Chipper looks back to favorite All-Star memories
Braves third baseman to enjoy experience for eighth time in final season
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
Jones, who was in the lead on the 2012 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote ballot presented by Firestone, will now certainly be making his eighth career All-Star appearance.
"I've savored each and every one of them," said Jones. "It's a tremendous honor.
"Making All-Star teams, in a certain sense, is a popularity contest. But when you go to a bunch of them, you separate yourself as the elite of the elite. Everyone who dons a Major League uniform is an elite ballplayer. But when you get to an All-Star Game, that puts you in a different category."
As Jones moves toward retirement at the end of this season, he will have one more chance to feel the excitement that was present when he was surrounded by childhood idols Barry Larkin and Ozzie Smith as he prepared to serve as the NL's starting third baseman during his first All-Star Game in 1996.
"I took ground balls at third base during batting practice and I looked over, and there is Barry Larkin and Ozzie Smith," Jones said. "I came up as a shortstop, so the three guys I looked up to when I was growing up were Barry, Ozzie and Cal Ripken. I had two of them taking ground balls 20 feet to my left."
Jones singled in his first at-bat against Charles Nagy, and shared his first All-Star experience with fellow Braves legends Bobby Cox, John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. But the pregame conversation with Larkin and Smith was his greatest memory of the event.
"As [Ozzie] was taking ground balls, he was having a conversation with us and flipping the balls to second base without even looking, and he was hitting the guy in the chest," Jones said. "Then all of the sudden, he said, 'I want to throw a couple to first [base].' So we're talking and he's throwing them to first. He turns and looks at me and asks, 'Is that hitting him in the chest?'
"So I was like, 'Yeah, it is. How do you do that?' I looked at Barry and he said, 'Don't look at me, I can't do that.' That let me know what kind of company I was in, because Ozzie was doing things with the glove that nobody could fathom."
When the All-Star Game came to Atlanta four years later, Jones took full advantage of the chance to shine in front of the hometown fans. His three-hit performance during the 2000 Midsummer Classic was highlighted by his third-inning home run off James Baldwin.
"Not many people get to play an All-Star Game in their own ballpark, and not many people can say they have homered in an All-Star Game in their own ballpark," Jones said. "Obviously, I had a great game that night."
Looking back on some of his past All-Star experiences, Jones still brightens when reminded that he hit directly behind Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds during the 1998 All-Star Game at Coors Field. In addition, he will always savor the opportunity he had to play in the last All-Star Game ever staged at the old Yankee Stadium in 2008. His father, a devout Mickey Mantle fan, was in attendance.
"They're all great memories," Jones said. "I have mementos from All-Star Games past littered all over my basement. It's a situation where I take the time to really soak it up and enjoy it."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.