07/10/12 9:17 AM ET
All eyes on Chipper in final All-Star Game
Teammates, peers heap praise on Braves veteran, future Hall of Famer
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
"It's kind of bittersweet," Larry Jones Sr. said. "Nineteen years ago, you thought he would play forever."
Nineteen years after making his Major League debut, Jones finds himself as the seasoned veteran who is drawing the same kind of reverent respect that he paid Cal Ripken Jr., Ozzie Smith and Barry Larkin during his first All-Star Game in 1996 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.
"Seeing Chipper and his last All-Star Game is going to be a thing for the ages," Nationals 19-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper said. "I can tell my kids I saw Chipper Jones' last All-Star Game. It's kind of sad, but he has had a great career and been the face of that Braves' franchise for so long. He's an All-Star and a Hall of Famer."
When told of Harper's comment, Jones smiled and opined that the historical significance of this All-Star Game might have more to do with the fact that it will be the first of what could be countless selections for Harper.
"I get to be a part of his first one, the first of many," Jones said. "He's a classy kid. I got a chance to meet his dad earlier today. Bryce has made a huge impact on a very good ballclub. I'm glad he made it."
This stands to be a very memorable All-Star experience for each of Atlanta's four representatives -- Dan Uggla, Craig Kimbrel, Michael Bourn and Jones.
But this week's focus will be on the 40-year-old Jones, who will retire at the conclusion of this season with the honor of knowing he played for just one organization during his entire professional career.
"I love that," Commissioner Bud Selig said during his annual Town Hall meeting on Monday. "It's one of the things that you hope a lot of players will stay where they played, just like George Brett did here in Kansas City, so you like that a lot."
National League lineup
|1. Carlos Gonzalez, COL||L||DH|
|2. Melky Cabrera, SF||S||CF|
|3. Ryan Braun, MIL||R||LF|
|4. Joey Votto, CIN||L||1B|
|5. Carlos Beltran, STL||S||RF|
|6. Buster Posey, SF||R||C|
|7. Pablo Sandoval, SF||S||3B|
|8. Dan Uggla, ATL||R||2B|
|9. Rafael Furcal, STL||S||SS|
|Matt Cain, SF||R||P|
While Jones prepares for a nostalgic experience, his Braves teammate, Uggla, will make his first start and bat eighth for the National League during tonight's All-Star Game. As for Kimbrel, he is already hoping for the chance to record this year's final out.
"I'm dreaming of it right now," Kimbrel said. "That would be pretty awesome. I don't care if it's just one out."
Long before he became one of the game's most dominant closers, Kimbrel was a young kid from the Southeast who played third base, wore No. 10 and idolized Jones. He certainly was not alone.
"I've watched him my whole life," Giants catcher Buster Posey said. "He was probably in the big leagues when I was six or seven years old. I grew up watching him all the way through high school. It's cool. In my mind, he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It's always nice being around that kind of player."
When Jones played in his first All-Star Game in 1996, Posey was a nine-year-old kid growing up in rural Georgia. Now, like Harper and Cardinals third baseman and reigning World Series MVP David Freese, he counts himself as an All-Star who grew up admiring Jones' tremendous talent.
"Growing up, watching TBS with the Braves on every night, Chipper is one of my favorite players," Freese said.
When informed of this, Jones laughed and said this praise might have been sweetened by a comment he made to Freese regarding the tremendous postseason he produced with the Cardinals last year.
"I think [Freese] is blowing smoke because I told him during Spring Training that I had a man crush on him," Jones said. "To do what he did last postseason, that is anybody's dream."
Once tonight's game begins, the competitive spirits of the players will be ignited as they fight to determine whether the American League or the NL gets home-field advantage in this year's World Series.
But as Jones took time on Monday to reminisce with former teammate Rafael Furcal and get to know some of the young players who will make up the game's next wave of talent, it was obvious that this week's events also provide an opportunity to celebrate accomplishments achieved both this year and throughout storied careers.
Long considered one of the greatest switch-hitters to ever play the game, Jones has earned his place among the legends. He stands as just one of eight players in the history of the game who have hit at least .300 with a .400 on-base percentage, .500 slugging percentage, 450 home runs and 2,500 hits. The others are Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx and Manny Ramirez.
"He's going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer," Bourn said. "He was born to play baseball. He's played for 19 years and he can still play at 40 years old. That's what amazes me most, because they tell me at 40 things just don't work the same."
The 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. Pregame ceremonies begin at 7:30 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.
Fans will also have the opportunity to participate in the official voting for the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player presented by Chevrolet via the 2012 MLB.com All-Star Game MVP Vote during the All-Star Game on MLB.com.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.