Chipper and his love-hate relationship with Wrigley Field

Chipper and his love-hate relationship with Wrigley Field
May 10, 2012, 12:25 am
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Chipper Jones still remembers his first time walking down the tunnel, into the dugout and seeing the wall-to-wall ivy.

Jones loves visiting Chicago and seeing the city. He felt the adrenaline at Wrigley Field during playoffs series in 1998 and 2003. He respects the history, but wont particularly miss this place.

Wherever the Atlanta Braves go this season, Jones will be asked for memories. He doesnt need the attention, but doesnt really mind the questions either. He noticed how his old manager, Bobby Cox, opened up to everyone during his farewell season in 2010.

Jones is 40 years old and hasnt been programmed by handlers to speak in clichs. Last month, during one of those retirement tour interviews, he told Yahoo! Sports that Wrigley Field was the worst hitters park in the game, and promised to be there when they blow it up.

Ive always said Id be in the front row whenever they drop the plunger, Jones said Wednesday with a smile, inside the cramped visiting clubhouse. But I said that in jest, (because) Im a .220 lifetime hitter here.

When Jones retires at seasons end, the seven-time All-Star can look back on a career that might put him in Cooperstown. A career .304 hitter didnt pad his numbers at Clark and Addison.

Ten of his 459 home runs were hit here. Jones remembered that two came in one game one off Carlos Zambrano, another off Kerry Wood on Aug. 22, 2005.

Its been tough sledding here for me, Jones said. But I think when its all said and done with, Wrigley Field is good for baseball, because its a throwback. Its the second-oldest stadium still standing. Having that tradition and that feel when you walk down the halls is something that I think players still enjoy experiencing.

As much as the Boston Red Sox influence will be felt throughout Theo Epsteins organization, The Braves Way also became a model for scouting and player development.

The Braves made Jones the No. 1 overall pick in the 1990 draft, and watched it all come together, winning 11 consecutive division titles and a World Series between 1995 and 2005.

You got to have staples, Jones said. We had (Greg) Maddux, (Tom) Glavine and (John) Smoltz forever. We had guys that were just as good as those three at certain times.

We had good, young core position players, (whether) it was guys like me and Andruw (Jones), or guys like Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman now. You got to have cornerstones.

I like where the Cubs are headed. I like the two young kids up the middle (Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney). Theyre starting to get some power arms at the top of the rotation in (Matt) Garza and (Jeff) Samardzija. Thats a really good start.

I know theyre probably not where they want to be in the standings at this point. But I think theyre headed in the right direction.

Identifying and developing elite pitching and keeping those arms healthy will be a huge challenge on the North Side.

The bottom line is the Braves had unbelievable starting pitching for a long, long time, manager Dale Sveum said. The way they put the pieces together over the years the bottom line is starting pitching. When you have the consistency of starting pitching like they have (had across) the last 20 years, youre going to win a lot of games.

The Cubs hope to time their next wave of talent with a renovated Wrigley Field. Better facilities should help the players prepare each day, and there would be more revenues to pour into the on-field product.

The field itself has gotten a lot better, Jones said. The playing surface when I first came up was pretty brutal. (But) youd just like to see them expand the dugout, expand the clubhouse, expand the seats.

If you can put more people in here, why not? Obviously, Wrigley Field can sell out any time it wants. (But) it would greatly benefit from a facelift.

Maybe Jones appreciation for baseball history will lead him back here one day as a fan. It may not be his hitters park, but its not a bad place to grab a beer and watch a game.