Yesterday it was announced that Chipper Jones(3B, Atlanta Braves) will be replacing Matt Kemp(OF, L.A. Dodgers) on the National League All Star roster for Major League Baseball. Now it would be easy for me to write a post all about how this is the big bit of politicking and how it’s just a creative way to ensure Bryce Harper(OF, Washington Nationals) makes it into the All Star game. Lord knows that Major League Baseball wants him involved anyway possible and I’m fairly sure he’ll win MLB’s final vote with Jones gone but that’s not the story I want to tell here. The story I want to tell has a bit more heart.

A lot has changed since Chipper Jones broke into the league back in 1993. The Braves no longer are unfathomably a western division team, Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz are all retired, Bobby Cox has bid farewell to baseball, there is no longer a team in Montreal and once again a team in the nation’s capitol, social media has made the game much more accessible and, Fulton County Stadium no longer exists. Even Chipper himself has gone through a myriad of changes. He no longer plays shortstop, he’s not nearly as nimble as he used to be, and he takes more days off than he ever has before and yet… he’s still here.

He is now in his 20th season as a major league ball player and before spring training he announced it would be his last. In an old school way that befits him, it has allowed him to have a farewell tour of sorts and given the whole league(fans, players, and managers alike) a chance to celebrate the career of an amazing individual. In my mind he’s a sure-fire hall of famer and I’ll get into that argument and his numbers in another post but all that aside he’s been a joy to watch.

One of the things I’ve always liked about Chipper is how much fun he has. Whether you’re watching him in the batting cage or you’re watching make plays on the field he looks like he’s having so much fun. So many times over the years. I’ve seen the camera cut to him smiling and laughing with teams, cheering them on, and ribbing opponents after a hit. This man tormented Mets’ fans so much that they taunted him by his birth name(Larry) at the plate. In response he decimated their team every chance he got, and then named his kid Shea(I was so sad to see that stadium torn down) after their stadium which is sure to serve as a life long reminder that it was always him who got the last laugh. It was hard to watch him later in his career as injuries started to over take him and he sat out many games as he watched his team lose dominance. Probably wondering all the while if they might be doing better had he been healthy. But this year all that seems to not matter when you look at him.

He’s by all indications enjoying his last year. He’s resting a couple of times a week now to prevent injury and even though he has had some injuries he’s doing well when he plays. He has a .313 batting average and is coming up with clutch plays, some timely rbi’s. and is providing a ton of leadership to a young Braves team that needs it if the team is to reach their potential. Just last night he had 5 hits and 4 rbi’s proving he’s still got it in him. The Braves aren’t quite where he’d like them to be I’m sure but coming into the break they are right in the thick of things. With a few adjustments they could very well take a wild card spot and maybe even win the division for the first time in years.

As he’s gone from stadium to stadium fans and teams have done a lot to show them how much they appreciate his career and to Chipper’s credit he’s accepted their praise and occasional gifts humbly. He’s seemed very content and happy with his role this year and his pending retirement. He’s smiling and joking all the way through the season. He’s playing the role of elder statesmen perfectly. Telling stories about former Braves pitcher Greg Maddux cussing him out, helping the hitting coaches adjust the hitters swings as necessary, giving scouting reports to hitters coming to the plate, and proving he’s got enough left in the tank to justify this last year of play.

Two things about Chipper hasn’t changed in his twenty years. First he still plays for the Braves. As a fan it is so nice to see this. In an age where personalities, circumstance, and promises of riches in free agency rarely see a player in any sport finish his career playing for only one team it is refreshing to see a player like Chipper make a home in Atlanta and stay. Chipper has had to watch many things conspire to see lots of players who started with the Braves go many places. This year and last he’s played without the only manager he had ever known in the majors with retirement of Bobby Cox. Yet he’s still here and anyone should be able to appreciate that. The second thing is something a bit simpler. I’m just glad he’s still smiling and loving the game. He’s still in so many ways the kid drafted first overall in 1990, the shortstop that got hurt after his call-up, the World Series winner from the 95 team, the MVP from the 1999 season, and the batting champ from the 2008 season. In other words, he’s still Chipper after all these years.