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YOU DON'T become an old pro overnight, of course. It took Jones years, as it must. The role suits him. In late May, in Cincinnati, Jones had what he called "one of the worst games of my life." He went hitless in five at bats, hit into two double plays and committed a walk-off error when a ground ball skipped past his glove, allowing the Reds to score and win in the 11th. A handful of reporters and broadcasters traveling with the Braves were waiting to talk to him. "Ten years ago I would have stayed in the trainer's room until everybody left," Jones said. "Then you grow up. When you flat-out stink the joint up, you have to stand up and say just that." Which is what he did and what he said. He knew that the old Brave Dale Murphy—"a god in the city of Atlanta," Jones says—was a stand-up guy that way.
He's learned from his elders. When the New York Mets came to Turner Field last month, Jones welcomed the chance to face Johan Santana, the Mets' ace. When Jones batted against him in the seventh with the game tied at 2, Santana threw him a superb 0-and-1 fastball on the outside part of the plate. There wasn't much Jones could do with it except lace one into short rightfield, scoring the go-ahead run. The inning ended when Santana made a leaping grab on a chopper between the mound and third, followed by a twirling, off-balance, called-strike throw to second, the first leg of a textbook 1-6-3 double play. As they crossed paths on their way back to their dugouts, Jones patted Santana, 29 and new to the National League, on his backside and said, "That was a hell of a play." Later Jones realized it was the most he had ever said to the Venezuelan pitcher. "When I was coming up, Cal Ripken said things like that to me, and it gave me a lot of encouragement," Jones said. "It was like he was saying, 'You're a good young player. Now let's see what you can do with your career.' So now I feel like I'm at the point where I should be able to do that for somebody else." The old pro.
Last weekend the Braves were swept by the Phillies at home, and through Sunday they trailed Philadelphia by 6 1/2 games in the National League East. They're still in it, even with John Smoltz on the DL for the rest of the season. That leaves two old-pro players on the Atlanta roster, Jones and Tom Glavine, the veteran lefthander. They first met in 1990, when Jones was chosen by the Braves as the first pick in the amateur draft. Jones loves to watch Glavine, now 42, at work, "treating each game like it's the final game of the World Series," Jones said last week. "I wish we had 23 other guys on the club like that."
When Atlanta was in Philadelphia in May, Glavine started the second game of the series, still looking then for his first win of the season. In the fourth, with the Braves leading 5--0, Phillies cleanup hitter Ryan Howard headed to the plate. With the Howard Shift on, Jones moved from third to short, and the shortstop, Yunel Escobar, a young Cuban émigré whom Glavine barely knows, moved to the outfield grass just to the right of second base. Glavine walked out to Jones and said, "I'm hearing whistling, from their dugout or bullpen—from somewhere. I don't know if they're stealing signs or what. Tell me if you hear or see anything."
Jones was surprised. He could never remember Glavine coming off the mound to ask him a question before, let alone one about possible sign stealing. He was flattered that Glavine recognized that Jones could stay focused on the batter but also open his ears to the external sounds of the game, if that's what his pitcher needed him to do. More than anything, he was impressed. He could feel Glavine's urgency, his need to win a baseball game.
Glavine retired Howard, and when the inning was over, Jones told Glavine that the whistling was coming "from one of our guys"—from Escobar, a serial whistler—and that fans in the stands were whistling in response to him. Nobody, he said, was stealing signs.
The Braves won, and Glavine got the decision. The box score shows that Jones went 2 for 4, with a home run. It doesn't show how he helped settle down his pitcher. What Chip Jones did that night was nothing and everything.
He went to the team hotel, slept in, woke up, got his old body moving again and headed back to the park, looking for any little baseball thing that he could do right.