Durham Bulls set to retire Chipper Jones’ number

csmith@newsobserver.comAugust 19, 2013 

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    What: Chipper Jones’ jersey retirement prior to the Durham Bulls game against the Charlotte Knights

    Where: Durham Bulls Athletic Park

    When: Gates open at 5:30 p.m.; Jersey retirement begins at 6:55 p.m.; Jones throws out first pitch at 7:15 p.m.; game begins at 7:35 p.m.

    Before beginning a 19-year career with the Atlanta Braves, Jones spent 70 games at the beginning of the 1992 season with the Class A Durham Bulls. Jones is set to become the fourth player in Bulls’ history to have his jersey retired.

Chipper Jones did it all during his career with the Atlanta Braves. He helped win the 1995 World Series, claimed the 1999 NL Most Valuable Player award, was an eight-time All-Star and likely will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2018.

Jones, 41, finished his career with 468 home runs, third-most by a switch-hitter, a .303 lifetime batting average and 1,623 RBIs. But 20 years before Jones called it a career, the switch-hitter was a prospect for the Durham Bulls with hopes of living up to his No. 1 draft pick status.

On Tuesday, Jones’ No. 10 Durham jersey will be retired. He will become the fourth player to have his number retired by the Bulls, joining Crash Davis (No. 8), Joe Morgan (18) and Bill Evers (20).

The ceremony will take place on the field before Jones throws out the first pitch at 7:15 p.m.

Matt West, Durham’s pitching coach during 1992, said it was clear from the start that Jones wouldn’t remain with the then-Class A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.

“There are very few players, if any, that I’ve ever been around that was as instinctual as Chipper,” West said. “At first blush, we knew that it would be a fairly fast track for him, but we still wanted to stick with a crawl, walk then run kind of thing.

“It’s easy to point at the physical tools. … but I think what the coaching staff and others were keen on was just how smart of a player he was.”

At 19, Jones played for the Macon Braves, hitting .326 with 15 home runs and 98 RBIs in 136 games – more than living up to the expectations. West remembers Jones as a player who took the game seriously.

“You can’t just be ordinary when you’re Chipper Jones,” he said. “He wanted to fit in and wanted to be one of the guys with our club but with the capability and talent, it was just absolutely apparent when he put on a baseball jersey that he was special.”

During the 1992 season, Jones played 70 games with the Bulls before being called up to Class AA Greenville, hitting .311 with 13 homers and 73 RBIs between the clubs.

Despite the hype surrounding Jones, he came to Durham not only a polished player, but also a clubhouse leader, according to former teammate Mike Potts, who now is a State Trooper in Durham.

“Chipper was a class act,” said Potts, who was a pitcher. “Once he got to Durham, he knew he had to be a leader and (he) led by example. He’s a great guy and wasn’t that prototypical No. 1 draft pick guy who wanted to be left alone. I really think a lot of that is why he went on to have a great career.”

Potts signed with the Braves organization on the same day as Jones and was teammates with him with the Gulf Coast League Braves, Macon Braves and in Durham.

Though Potts called it a career after 24 games with the Milwaukee Brewers during the 1996 season, he continued to follow Jones’ 19-year major league career.

“I watched him religiously,” Potts said. “I’m from Atlanta and always loved watching the Braves. So seeing a former teammate of mine have the kind of career that Chipper had was even sweeter.”

On Feb. 18, Potts was shot in the face, hand and shoulder during a traffic stop. He survived the shooting and still is recovering.

Potts hopes to visit with Jones while he’s in the Durham area.

“It’d be great to see Chipper and just congratulate him on an astonishing career,” he said. “I almost never got the opportunity to see him or anyone else after what happened.”

One of Potts‘ lasting memories is when his daughter, Kelly, was born Aug. 17, 1993. Just after the birth, Potts brought her a on the team bus and took a picture of her and Jones.

Now, about 20 years later, Potts hopes to reintroduce his daughter to Jones.

“That was a long time ago, but she still talks about it all the time when she sees the picture,” Potts said. “When she heard he was going to be in town, she said, ‘I’ve got to go see him and show him the picture and see if he remembers it.’”

Smith: 919-829-8941; Twitter: @RCorySmith

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