A Valedictory (of sorts) by Chipper Jones, on the Durham Bulls’ Imminent Clinching of the Division Title
Photo by BaseballBacks via Flickr.
Chipper Jones visited Durham yesterday, for the first time in twenty-one years, to have his jersey number (10) retired. A few hours before the Bulls edged the Charlotte Knights, 5-4, reducing their
magic mathematical number for clinching the division title to just one, Jones gave a press conference. Although the Durham Bulls were a Class A Atlanta Braves affiliate in 1992, when Jones played for the team, they are of course a Triple-A franchise now: a much harder, much stranger level. I asked him what his thoughts were about Triple-A. His response provides a far more knowledgeable and honest assessment than I can give of the difficulty of playing baseball at this level, and a de facto toast to the Bulls for winning another division title — their sixth in seven seasons, remarkably, a run of dominance reminiscent of the one Jones helped lead as a Hall of Fame-bound member of the Atlanta Braves in the nineties and early aughts.
In his words:
My Triple-A experience was a very tough one, mentally, because if you’re on the way up, you know you’re one phone call away: one sprained ankle, one blown arm, one torn hamstring away from going [to the majors]. And it has a tendency to wear on the players. When I was in [Triple-A] Richmond in 1993, we had an abundance of talent on that ballclub. We knew that each and every one of us was going to play in the big leagues; it was just a matter of who gets the call first, and I think everybody was on pins and needles the whole time. We fought like cats and dogs in that clubhouse. Everybody had an ego; everybody was very, very good: that’s the fight at Triple-A. You get your three or four guys coming down from the big leagues, trying to hang on. They’re pissed off at the young guys who are coming up and cocky. They sort of have a feeling about who the organization is favoring: it’s the guys on the way up, not the way down. That breeds contempt in and amongst your clubhouse. As many problems as we had on our Triple-A team, we still made it to the finals that year. We lost to the Charlotte Knights, which were then the Cleveland Indians [affiliate]. That was Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Sam Horn and all those guys. Just a tremendous ballclub. Anybody who wins a Triple-A championship I give kudos to, because I know how difficult it is to win at the Triple-A level, with a bunch of different careers going in a bunch of different directions.