Red Sox

Braves' Jones ready to start new chapter in life

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Braves' Jones ready to start new chapter in life

BOSTON -- Chipper Jones remembers the water sloshing around his cleats as he walked through the tunnel from the visitors clubhouse.

The rain had collected into a large puddle he had to navigate before reaching the field. When it rains, you need waders to get down to the dugout, he said.

Once up the steps, he took in the sights of Fenway Park. He paid attention to the small nuances -- the ramps that he says give the stadium that old school feel, the advertisements posted on the right field wall that remind him of minor league ballpark, and the historic Green Monster that loomed over left field.

Its a different culture in and of itself, he said. As a southern kid, its a fun place to come and hang out and experience the city. The ballpark is a rarity. Its not something you see every day. When you play Major League baseball, you expect to go into these real modern, immaculate, huge facilities, and this is one of the two old cozy ones where tradition outweighs the pressures of modernization. I love it.

The southern kid actually grew up watching the Red Sox. Jones maternal grandparents were from Boston and shared their passion for the team with him. Even though Jones lived in Florida, the Red Sox were still close to home.

I grew up somewhat of a Red Sox fan because of my grandparents, he said. They loved Carl Yastrzemski and Carlton Fisk and Freddy Lynn and Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, and all those guys. I grew up watching them quite a bit and listening to my grandfather yell at the TV. Theres a connection there, so theres always been an intrigue for me to come here.

This weekend Jones made his final trip to Fenway Park as he plans to retire at the end of the season, his 20th in the Majors. The Atlanta Braves third baseman has played 50 games against the Red Sox over his career, with 24 of them in Boston.

When Interleague play began in 1997, though, Jones admits he wasnt overly excited about the change. An old school fan of the game, he looked forward to events like the All-Star Game and the World Series as a unique opportunity to see the leagues battle. But after coming to Fenway Park over the last 15 years, he appreciates the match ups.

I was never a big proponent of interleague play, he said. I think it takes away from some of the luster of the All-Star Game. When I was growing up, I always looked forward to watching the All-Star Game because you had the best from each league never having seen each other before. Obviously it takes away from some of the luster of the World Series because if us and Boston makes it to the World Series, youre going to have three games during the course of the summer to go back and reference.

Some intrigue when I was growing up was, you had the big bats in the American League and the big pitching staffs in the National League. Much like it was in 95 when we won it. Everybody was so intrigued. (Greg) Maddux, (Tom) Glavine, and (John) Smoltz against the big bats of the Cleveland Indians, one of the best offenses ever. So intriguing. Thats lost some of its luster with Interleague Play.

But its hard not to get excited to come here never having been, never having played. Interleague gave me the opportunity to come here. Weve never played Boston in the World Series so I never would have had the chance.

On Saturday the Red Sox presented Jones with the number 10 from the scoreboard wall. It was one of many gifts he has received in what has become a farewell tour around baseball.

After over 20 years, 2,426 games, 2,653 hits, and 459 home runs in 8,735 at bats, Jones is ready to walk away from a career that began when his name was called by the Braves with the first overall pick in the 1990 amateur draft. During that span he has won a World Series Championship, National League MVP honors, the National League batting title, two Silver Slugger Awards, and has been selected to the All-Star Team seven times.

I can do one thing better than 99.9 percent of the people on the planet, and thats play baseball, Jones said of why he has continued playing this long. And its what Ive dreamt about doing since I was four or five years old. But Ive been living out of a suitcase for 23 years playing pro ball and Im ready to start the next chapter in my life. Im really tired of the travel and the every day ins and outs of being a Major League baseball player. I want to get away from it.

"I want to do some things that Ive never done. Ive never been on a Spring Break vacation with my family. Ive never been on a summer vacation with my family. I see baseball games and flag football games sparingly. And these are all things that I want to do.

At 40 years old, Jones can still play ball. He doesnt doubt his ability. But he has established a career that will likely earn him a place in the Hall of Fame. Stretching out his time in a uniform, he worries, could tarnish his lasting mark.

Jones also remembers when former teammates Glavine signed with the Mets and Smoltz joined the Red Sox. It was important to him to close out his career on a high note with the Braves.

Turning 40 had a little something to do with it, he said. 40 is a nice round number. I think 40 years old in baseball years is like 100 in human years. Its just a situation where like I said, 23 years is a long time to be doing anything. Ive been in the big leagues 19 years and the game is speeding up on me. Its hard to slow it down.

When you start playing, the game is really, really fast. Then when you get into your prime, the game slows down, almost for the real good ones, like slow pitch softball. And then as you get older, third base gets farther from first base. The pitchers mound gets closer to home plate. The game starts speeding up on you. And thats whats happening. I just dont want peoples last impression of me to be failing miserably before I call it quits.

I still have a job every day if I want it at 40, Im still able to play at a relatively good level, and this allows the Braves and I to kind of stay on the same page and kind of part ways amicably. I learned a lot from Glavine and Smoltz when they left and some of the PR hits that the Braves and those individual players took along the way. And I just dont want to put the organization through that.

After announcing his plans to retire during Spring Training, Jones has been able to spend this season appreciating his final games while becoming increasingly excited about the future that lies ahead for him after baseball. The father of four sons ages six through 14 looks forward to having weeks and months, not All-Star Breaks and homestands, to spend with his family.

With all of the articles and interviews that have been published about Jones, he wants above anything else for people to realize his true passion.

My private life and my life away from baseball has been well documented, he said. Im on TV even in the offseason with hunting shows and what not. People are still able to see me. They know what my likes and dislikes are. But I think that in the end, I want people to know that I want to be as good a father as I have been a baseball player for the last 20 years. In order for me to do that, I have to stop playing. A lot of people dont know that because they think that Ive eaten, drank, slept baseball for the last 23 years, and thats not the case. When I had kids, my priorities changed a lot. Thats the reason why I have about three months left in my career.

There is always a possibility Jones could return to Fenway Park in his retirement. But as he leaves on Sunday afternoon, he is in a good place walking away from another ballpark he will never play another game in. Departing from 4 Yawkey Way means he is one step closer to returning to Atlanta.

Thats why I know Im ready, he said. Because were on the sixth day of a six or seven-day road trip and I cant wait to get home because we have off Monday and I get to spend the day with them. Im very content.

Red Sox can be thankful for a successful past and a bright future

Red Sox can be thankful for a successful past and a bright future

For the glass-is-half-full folks, there are those back-to-back Eastern Division titles. For the glass-is-half-empty folks, well, there are those two first-round playoff ousters (though both their conquerers made it to the World Series, and one of them won it). But, here on Thanksgiving night, there's plenty for Red Sox Nation to be thankful for, starting with . . . 


YOUR GOOD HEALTH

We know you don’t need the Red Sox to know you how important the most basic elements of life are. But sometimes, the typical fantasy land of baseball can grab our attention. The death of 17-year-old Sox prospect Daniel Flores (above) this month from complications because of cancer didn’t take away only a potentially great baseball career. It took away a beloved, hard-working young person from the people who loved him. He had just made millions of dollars in July for his talent on the field, but what does such a windfall matter compared to one’s health? His cancer was both rare and fast-moving, per the Boston Globe.

MOOKIE, JACKIE, XANDER, BENINTENDI, DEVERS

The kids deserve some love. They probably won’t be together on the Red Sox forever. Heck, the group could get broken up this winter. But while any of the Killer B’s (plus a D) remain on the Sox, there should be a sense of optimism. Two straight 93-win seasons may have resulted in a first-round exit, and 2017 didn’t meet expectations for some individual performances. But you know what? The youths are still damn good, and there’s time for them to show us they can be even better.

INSANELY GOOD PITCHERS IN CHRIS SALE AND CRAIG KIMBREL

Neither hogs the spotlight once the game ends or says too much. Sale doesn’t even have Twitter. But the righty closer and lefty starter both do two things exceedingly well: make batters swing and miss, and prevent runs. When both pitch, your seat at the park may well be worth the price of admission. (But we won’t ask what you paid for those seats.) Sale didn’t take down Pedro Martinez’s Sox single-season strikeout record this year, finishing with five fewer than Martinez’s 313 in 1999. But he could have done it. And with a little more rest next year, one can envision him plowing his way through playoff opponents too.

ALEX CORA'S NEW DIRECTION

A first-time manager’s not a sure thing, but as Sox owner John Henry noted, there was a feeling it was time for a change. It’s a little early to be thinking ahead to a New Year’s resolution, but a manager who better connects with his players and brings a different vibe to the day-to-day scene is reason to feel the Sox are following the right road map. Plus, if nothing else, Cora took that awesome picture walking toward Fenway.

A CHRISTMAS SHOPPING SPREE MAY BE AROUND THE CORNER

We don’t want to be too materialistic. But Uncle Dave Dombrowski couldn’t let you buy everything you wanted last year. The credit card companies needed him to step back for a year. Now he’s ready to spend. He might not close down Bloomingdale’s for the day for you to do your private shopping, but if you need a couple great jackets to complete your look, it sounds like he’s ready to get you some designer threads. He probably feels there won’t be too many chances to have a moment like this with you, at this stage of your life, and he wants to make the most of it.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

 

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

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Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.

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Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel.