On Saturday morning, Chipper Jones walked back into the Atlanta Braves’ clubhouse, donned his famous No. 10 uniform, and grabbed a bat. For a little while, all was right with the world.
The only problem with that image was that it was a fungo bat, and Jones was only in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. to serve as an instructor, not a player.
Reality will set in quickly for the 2013 Atlanta Braves, who will spend their first full season since 1994 without the future Hall of Famer at third base. What he brings on the field will be missed, sure, but it’s more likely that Jones’ absence in the clubhouse will be more of a growing pain for a fairly young ballclub that’s trying to keep up with the Diaper Dandies that play in Washington, D.C.
In the last three seasons, the Braves have lost three of the most fiery pieces of their team. First went manager Bobby Cox, who was known to light a spark under a disinterested squad with the occasional ejection. Then came the retirement of Jones, who was legendary for closing the clubhouse doors and having a come-to-Jesus meeting with his teammates if he felt the wheels were falling off the proverbial bus. Finally, the Braves traded away Martin Prado, whose gritty play was known to inspire teammates.
Basically, this is now catcher Brian McCann’s team, and he has to lead from the get-go. Chipper knows it, and so does everyone else — it’s time for the Georgia boy to lead the way for the Braves.
— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 16, 2013
But there are reasons why this might not be a seamless transition from Chipper to McCann. For one, McCann isn’t guaranteed to be healthy when the season begins, and a nagging injury could shift his focus from leading the ballclub to his own personal issues. He hopes to be ready by Opening Day, but that’s not a guarantee, reports CBS Sports. He’s also in a contract year, and if the Braves choose to negotiate with him during the season, it could serve as an additional distraction for the 29-year-old catcher.
Leaders don’t make excuses, though. If the Braves are going to make the playoffs this year, he will have to produce and lead while juggling multiple distractions. There simply isn’t any other option.
Luckily, McCann is in camp with the rest of the Braves, working hard to achieve his goal of starting on Opening Day. Chipper will eventually leave Lake Buena Vista, and when he does, the page will officially be turned and the new-look Braves will be left to write their own story.
Let’s hope it’s not a comedy.