I have to admit. When the season first started and Chipper Jones announced he was retiring, it never really hit me that he’d never play baseball against my beloved New York Mets ever again. Just never registered. Now, as the Atlanta Braves take their final trip to New York this year, something very odd happened to me:
I became very sad.
Like, depressed even. But, why? Why do I feel this way? It doesn’t make much sense. Here’s a guy that has literally been the biggest thorn in my side. A guy that has dominated the Mets with such vigor and passion that he named his youngest child “Shea”, after the ballpark that he would destroy the Mets in. A guy that has hit the second-most home runs against the Mets in Mets franchise history. The face of a franchise that tormented the Mets for years upon years upon years in the National League East.
The reason why I feel this depressed today is, well, Chipper Jones was my childhood. He was my ultimate villain. Often I would talk with other Mets fans of my age (23, so old) and wonder allowed how different life would be if Larry never put on an Atlanta Braves jersey.
I mean, from my earliest years as a Mets fan that I can remember, Chipper Jones was there to kick me while I was down. Nobody ever put the fear of God in me as quickly as Jones, with Pat Burrell in a close game in the 9th against Armando Benitez being a distant second. No player has ever had a more active rivalry with the Mets fan base than Chipper Jones, continuously putting digs in with the media and knowing what to say without crossing the line.
And we Mets fans knew exactly how to treat him. Boos at Shea Stadium and Citi Field would chorus down to Jones, louder than any cheer we would give any homegrown Met, or even Mike Piazza. The boos would morph into long, loud chants of “Laaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrryyyyyyyy”, as only we know how. And the few times the Mets actually retired Jones in a huge situation? The stadium would shake.
Jones was the perfect villain at the perfect time. His career prime was directly in line with the most competitive Mets teams in the late-90s and early-00s. Every season seemed to come down to a big series in Atlanta, and every season the Mets seemed to fail at Turner Field behind a Chipper Jones-led attack. It was maddening. Heartbreaking. Unfair.
But, something odd happened in 2006, the next time the Mets became relevant. The Braves, well, weren’t anymore. Chipper Jones couldn’t stay on the field due to a bevvy of injuries. He became this old man in a baseball uniform, and the rivalry shifted from Atlanta to Philadelphia. I mention this because at that exact moment when the Braves were no longer our #1 rival, the views I had on Chipper shifted. My feeling shifted from pure hate to utmost respect. I began to put his career in perspective and realized that this guy was a truly unique talent that the league may never see again.
Now, today, it is sadness to see him go. Its like Wile E. Coyote walked up to the Road Runner one day and just said, “Listen, I’m tired of this game. You win. See ya.” Things just aren’t the same. Mets fans no longer have a rival we can shift our hate towards. Nobody. Not a one.
This is a sad, empty day for Mets fans of my generation.
The book is officially closed on our childhoods. Our great villain…is gone.