Former Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones discussed his path to becoming a professional baseball player and the challenges he faced on and off the field throughout his career at this year’s Class Day on Thursday, May 9.
Jones played for the Braves for 19 seasons, finishing his career in 2012 with a .303 batting average and 468 home runs. He is the only switch hitter in Major League Baseball history to hit higher than a .300 and more than 400 home runs in his career.
Jones walked up to the stage accompanied by his “walk-up” music and joked that as a “dumb jock” he had no business being at Emory.
“Well, it’s a tremendous honor,” Jones said. “I mean, when the graduating class votes to have you come, that shouldn’t be taken lightly.”
As he began his speech, he said he had no set agenda in mind.
“Everyone always asks me what I am going to talk about when I come up here,” he said. “To be honest with you I prefer just winging it.”
Jones was awarded the National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award in 1999 and helped lead the Braves to a record 11 consecutive National League East Division championships — the first being in the 1995 season, which ended in a World Series win, and the last coming in 2005. This year is Jones’ first season of retirement.
“Quite frankly, I’m retired now,” Jones said in an interview after the speech. “If I was playing baseball, I wouldn’t be able to [come to Emory], but I have the time. I love talking to young people. I love to influence someone here and there, because if you talk to enough people, you influence enough people. That’s a really, really good thing.”
Jones discussed his days growing up on a fern farm in DeLand, Fla., which he referred to as “fern country.” He credited his successes on and off the field to his parents’ work ethic and drive. Both of his parents as well as his girlfriend were in attendance at his speech.
During his career, he said during his speech, he suffered two anterior cruciate ligament tears — one in his earlier days and the other at the end of his career.
“If I was diligent in my workouts and my rehabilitation, I knew that I would come back just as strong,” Jones said. “Whether I was 22 when it first happened or 38 the next time it happened, there was no difference in the mindset. These kids will be the same way. They’re tough and resilient.”
Following remarks about his career and family life, Jones turned to the audience to lead the discussion.
Graduating seniors came up to the microphone, one at a time, to ask Jones questions about topics ranging from autograph requests to his professional and personal relationship with retired Braves manager Bobby Cox.
When asked by a student to share his parting words of wisdom for the graduating class, Jones talked about staying focused on one’s work. In order to be a “good professional,” he explained, one must compartmentalize.
“There are certain things that are going to affect your life off the field, that are going to affect what you do on the field,” Jones said in the interview after the speech. “I was able to compartmentalize and go out and do my job for a few hours every night, and deal with my own demons off the field. It takes some time, but I don’t think my performance off the field suffered all that much.”
Jones also told the graduating class about what it was like achieving fame at a young age, noting that it was “very tough for me to keep attention at arm’s length.”
“Part of you wants to soak it up and, you know, live it up,” Jones said. “Trust me, I did it — it was awesome — but eventually it comes back to haunt you. And I think it’s just one of those things. You give a 21- or 22-year-old kid that much money and that much notoriety, it’s a recipe for disaster. What I tell kids nowadays coming up is, don’t read your press clippings.”
Before Jones spoke, the University held a lottery awarding two graduating seniors a baseball bat autographed by Jones and tickets for two to sit in Jones’ personal seats at Turner Field for an upcoming Braves game. The proceeds of the lottery went to the senior class gift.
The recipients of the tickets were College senior Kevin Mauge-Lewis and Nursing School senior Jason Slabach.
— By Sports Editor Nathaniel Ludewig