Chipper Jones took the field at PNC Park for the final regular-season series of his career Monday night, but his memories of the city hearkened back to a different stadium.
"Three Rivers Stadium was one of those parks I always saw the ball good in," the longtime Atlanta Braves third baseman said. "Not to mention the fact that I'm a huge Steeler fan and always have been. Getting a chance to play where so many great Steelers played, so many great Pirates played, same field, got me a little extra jacked up to come here to Pittsburgh and play."
Jones, the eight-time All-Star selection, 1999 National League most valuable player and one of the most successful switch-hitters in recent years, plans to retire after 19 seasons in the major leagues, all with the Braves. Pittsburgh marked the last regular-season stop on what amounted to his farewell tour. The Braves had secured a playoff spot entering this week's series against the Pirates.
"You take a step back," Jones said. "You cherish the sights, you cherish the sounds, you cherish the smells, all those things. I found myself taking a lot more deep breaths the last couple weeks than I have."
Jones entered the series with 468 career home runs, 361 from the left side and 107 from the right. He is a career .304 hitter from the right side, .303 from the left.
"If you're a .300 hitter in this game, you're pretty much a Hall of Famer," said Chris Resop, who played with Jones on the Braves. "He's a .300 hitter from both sides of the plate. He's a power hitter from both sides of the plate. It's hard enough to try to master one part of the game in this game. To be as good as he is in all aspects is pretty impressive."
That wasn't always the case.
"I think what impresses me most is, if you'll look throughout his career, his splits were very skewered at times," said manager Clint Hurdle, who first saw Jones in the instructional league in the early 1990s and later managed him in the 2008 All-Star Game.
"There was a time when there was no question which way you were going to have him hit. You were going to have him hit right-handed."
Hurdle credited Jones' work with Don Baylor, the Braves hitting coach in 1999, with strengthening his right-handed swing.
"You look at the numbers today, at his age, what he's doing -- pick a side," Hurdle said. "It's not like you're catching a break either way. That's been very, very impressive that he's continued to show improvement toward the backside of his career as well."
The Pirates honored Jones with a commemorative base, presented by Andrew McCutchen, and video montage before Monday's game.
Gaby Sanchez, who played against Jones often as a member of the Florida/Miami Marlins before joining the Pirates, noted Jones' consistency as his most impressive trait.
"His ability to play hurt, and continue playing even while he was hurt, that's one of the things that you'll look at and kind of commend him," Sanchez said. "There's not many players who can do what he's done for so long and go through what he's gone through on the field. He's a Hall of Famer for sure."pirates
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG.