Hargis: Chipper Jones' retirement, game perfect father-son night

Hargis: Chipper Jones' retirement, game perfect father-son night

June 29th, 2013 by Stephen Hargis in Sports - Columns

Former Atlanta Braves' Chipper Jones takes the podium during a pregame ceremony retiring his number before a baseball game between the Atlanta Braves and the Arizona Diamondbacks Friday in Atlanta.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Fans cheer as former Atlanta Braves Chipper Jones' number is retired during a pregame ceremony before Friday's game between the Braves and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

ATLANTA - They had ordered tickets and made plans to be at Turner Field on Friday months before the season began.

That kind of forward thinking earned lower-level seats for Hixson's Craig Gordon and his father, John, as well as Jasper's Shane Shoemaker and his dad Don.

Gordon and Shoemaker -- two mid-20s, self-proclaimed Braves "super fans" -- and their fathers left early enough Friday to join a sellout crowd and soak in every pregame moment of Chipper Jones' jersey retirement ceremony.

Both described Friday night as a perfect "10" for themselves and all Braves fans as the team honored Jones and then beat Arizona 3-0.

"We come to about a dozen games a year and we knew we had to be here tonight, just to see one of the Braves' legends get honored the way he deserves," said Shoemaker, whose first Braves game with his father was as a 4-year-old at Fulton County Stadium for the combined no-hitter by Kent Mercker, Mark Wohlers and Alejandro Pena in 1991.

Gordon also bought a ticket for the Best of Preps banquet last week and was able to get both an autograph and his picture taken with Jones, the guest speaker for the event.

"That was the best day ever," said Gordon, who has visited 19 major league ballparks with his dad. "I told him thank you for everything he did for the Braves. He smiled and said he appreciated that. It was a great memory.

"Chipper is my favorite player of all time, so I had to be here. You kind of feel like you owe it to him because of how loyal he was and how much he meant to the team."

During his acceptance speech, Jones thanked everyone from former manager Bobby Cox and former teammates to the player the Braves had indicated they would draft with the No. 1 overall pick in 1990.

"I'm so glad I got the opportunity to play here. I want to thank Todd Van Poppel tonight," Jones joked.

Van Poppel had made it clear at the time that he would not sign with Atlanta if he was drafted, which meant the Braves moved to their next choice, a skinny high school kid from Florida. And as we all were reminded Friday, that pick went on to become one of the most respected and beloved Braves in franchise history.

Jones also admitted that the first time he walked into Fulton County Stadium as a rookie, he looked toward the rafters and aspired to join the names along the Braves' Hall of Fame. With his parents and four sons sitting on stage as that dream came true, Jones added, "I can't express to you the gratitude that I have to the Braves organization for giving me the chance to play baseball at its highest level for a long period of time. For them to show me the loyalty here in Atlanta and wanting to keep me for 19 wonderful seasons, and be able to give myself and my boys a wonderful life, I could never thank you enough."

What always has separated baseball as more than just a game is the relaxing tempo that allows for shared moments aside from the action on the field. The timeless father-son teaching opportunities include how to shell peanuts properly and toss the hulls on the ground, how to keep a scorecard and how bunting to advance a runner is a lost art.

So once the buzz in the crowd faded after seemingly each of the 48,282 chanted Chipper's name as his No. 10 jersey was officially retired, just as the evening breeze circled through the stadium, the Gordons and the Shoemakers, Chipper and his four boys and countless other fathers and sons all sat back and enjoyed watching this new collection of Braves heroes continue making memories on another perfect summer's night of baseball.

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293.