Sending Him Off
Ever since Larry Wayne Jones, better known around the baseball world as “Chipper,” announced his plans to retire following the 2012 season, his final campaign has become something of a celebratory sendoff in every city in which he has played. Wednesday night’s game in The District marked the final regular season game that he would play in Washington, a place where he certainly made his presence felt since the franchise moved to town. Jones hit the first-ever home run in the inaugural game at Nationals Park in 2008, a fact often overshadowed by Ryan Zimmerman’s indelible game-winning blast later that same evening. Not forgotten, though, especially by Nationals pitchers, is that Jones’ 23 longballs against Washington trails only Ryan Howard and Hanley Ramirez for the most by any single player.
Prior to Wednesday night’s contest, Jones was honored in a pregame ceremony on the field, one that included a video tribute from former teammates Mark DeRosa and Adam LaRoche, who were joined on the field by Zimmerman. They presented Jones with the third-base bag from Monday’s matchup, as well as a framed, signed photo with DeRosa and LaRoche. Nationals EVP of Baseball Operations and GM Mike Rizzo joined the party to present the framed bat with which he hit the first home run at the ballpark.
Prior to the gift-giving, the video below played on Nats HD, and when it reached the :30 mark noting that Jones finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1995, Zimmerman turned to Jones, an incredulous look on his face, and asked, “Who won?” That the answer was Hideo Nomo is of no real importance for this story – all that matters is that Zimmerman couldn’t believe the honor had gone to anyone else.
Carroll Rogers, who covers the Braves for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and who has seen every team’s ceremony for Jones to date this season, called the tribute, “The most personal pregame sendoff ceremony yet.” Jones was clearly moved, and shared hugs with his old teammates, doffing his cap to the crowd of fans behind the visiting dugout before taking the field.
Of course, even though Atlanta won the finale, the Nationals did send the Braves away with another series defeat and another game to make up in the standings from when the three-game showdown began. Washington’s 10-5 head-to-head record against their rivals to the south has comprised nearly the entirety of the six games of separation between the clubs as we enter the season’s final five weeks. And while it would be great for baseball to see Jones get one last shot at the postseason, the Nationals will be far happier to see him get it as part of a Wild Card team.