The interesting part of the first game of Chipper Jones’s farewell to Citi Field and Mets fans? It was over long before the teams took the field. The Mets lost, 3-0, doing absolutely nothing with bats in their hands. The pitching was good — Jon Niese and Jenrry Mejia made a bad pitch each, and Bobby Parnell got betrayed by his defense — but they had nothing to work with. It was a dull, grinding, boring game. Forget kids going free to Mets games in September — by rights the team should have paid any Mets fan who stuck this one out for nine innings instead of opting for any of about 50 million better ways to spend a Friday night in New York City.
As for Chipper, he was candid and interesting (for an athlete) in his press conference, as he generally is. The Wilpons gave him a painting of Shea that wasn’t really my thing (not that anyone cares, or should), but was a nice gesture and no doubt will brighten up a few square feet of wall somewhere in one of the Jones manses.
I don’t get the hue and cry about the Mets doing something for Chipper as part of his farewell tour. Lots of other teams have given him gifts, acknowledging a generation’s worth of fine baseball from a remarkable player. The fact that Chipper’s exploits did the Mets a fair amount of harm shouldn’t exclude them from this ritual.
Look, Chipper put together a Hall of Fame career playing for one team. Such players have traditionally been accorded accolades as they visit cities for the last time — Carl Yastrzemski and Robin Yount and Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken got such tours, to name a few. Other teams would never do that for a Met? Sure they would — if a Met put together a Cooperstown career wearing nothing but blue and orange, which has never happened. I don’t mind Chipper getting a painting. I wouldn’t mind recognition beyond that from the Mets.
Yes, the sight of Chipper’s Joker grin will burn forever in the minds of those who were Mets fans in the late 1990s. (How did he get the corners of his mouth to go completely vertical, anyway?) Sure, he said that thing about Mets fans going home for the World Series and putting their Yankees gear on. Yep, he made our lives a living hell tons of times. And OK, he did name his kid Shea.
But Chipper was never a boorish thug and a flash-in-the-pan talent like John Rocker. When he said or did something provocative, he was at least clever. And on the field he did what he was supposed to do, as a guy wearing the other team’s uniform. If you’re any kind of baseball fan, years ago you probably started admiring the player while still hating what he did to us.
Unfortunately, I can’t be there Sunday, for what presumably will be Chipper’s last at-bat before a Mets crowd. But I wish I could be. If I were there for that final AB, I’d give Chipper a standing ovation — for his Cooperstown career, for his long run of service to one and only one team, for being a worthy adversary, and because in a weird way I’ll miss not having him around to boo and dread.
With Chipper gone, the great era of the Mets-Braves rivalry will be finally, officially over. That era was mostly marked by glory for them and dismay for us, it’s true. But goodness, what a time to be a Mets fan. Those were electric days, and some of my greatest memories of Mets fandom came from them — Mike Piazza’s exclamation point in the 10-run inning, Olerud ending the Mets agony against Maddux, the Grand Slam single, the first home game after 9/11. Today, in these diminished days of meager payrolls and meek surrenders to MLB bureaucrats, such memories burn brightly. Chipper’s departure will only reinforce that those days are gone.
And if I could be there, having applauded with all that going through my head I’d then take my seat and cheer desperately for whatever Met was standing on the mound to get Chipper Jones out.